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Sustainable design interviews: a conversation with coki

in sustainable interviews

A sustainable design approach that combines circular design, tradition, natural materials, and a strong local identity. These are the elements that raised my interest in the work of COKI Studio.

The identity of COKI Studio is rooted in natural materials and traditional craftsmanship, as well as a fascinating view of sustainability that blends with the notion of beauty

What follows is a conversation I had the pleasure to have with COKI Studio’s founder: Coki Barbieri.

Stone vase with greenery.
Credit: COKI Studio
Stone vase with flowers.
Credit: COKI Studio

Introducing you as a designer; how did you choose to make sustainability an important part of your work?

Of course, sustainability is an important part of my work! From the beginning, I decided to work with natural and safe materials – both as architectural and product designer. So COKI Studio is what we can call green oriented.
For me, sustainability has something in common with the word respect. It means respect for all living beings. I was born and raised in the middle of nature and this has influenced me so much! I think the most important thing I’ve learned from that is really this respectful approach. So I’ve decided to bring it into my work, giving the meaning of sustainability to the word respect.

What does the word sustainability mean to you?

As I said, for me sustainability has something in common with the word respect and with a kind way of living. Every time we design something – a new object, a new house, a new service – we have to make some changes to what already exists. Sustainability – and being sustainable in general – means making sure that these changes do not bring long term negative effects with them, or that these effects are not too many and devastating.

The materials you use are all-natural and – looking at the final products – they look simple and straightforward. Yet I’m sure there’s a lot of work and research behind them. Where do you find inspiration for materials?

This is a wonderful question! I can say that – since I started this job – I have set myself three rules in the choice of materials: natural or recyclable, Italian origin, and combined without the use of glue (or with mineral and vegetal glues).
So, my second rule can answer your question. I always find inspiration in travelling around my country (Italy) and discovering materials, often in their wild state in the middle of nature. For example travertine, visiting Marmore Waterfall, or calcarenite, visiting Matera.

Glass table lamps filled with natural rock salts.
Credit: COKI Studio
Pet bed made of hemp felt.
Credit: COKI Studio

Your products are also made for disassembly, they use no glues and are easy to take apart. Which are some of the techniques to make it possible?

Well, there are really no techniques. Or rather a technique is to prototype a lot. Creating an object in which the connections have no glue or weldings takes much more time than if you could join the elements with glue or weldings. I always work combining several materials together and the difficulty is in the connection areas. Overall, it’s all in artisans’ skills. And this is the reason why I always choose the best artisans in Italy.

Would you say it is more difficult to design keeping disassembly in mind?

The first few times, yes, it was. But now this has become my way of designing. I always keep in mind that it needs to be possible to disassemble any new object in its original components. So if it breaks, you could take it apart and throw its parts away separately, recycling them.

I’ve found an interesting thought about sustainability on your website. It says nothing is less sustainable than something that remains unused. How do you go about designing objects that will not remain unused?

I think that the secret is designing for feelings. For me, the emotional part of design has nothing to do with art, but it is part of the functionality of an object. When I design, I always keep in mind that one of the main functions of my objects is to last. If an object can give you emotions, can keep you company, I’m sure that you will not throw it away. Rather, you will pass it to your sons and – in this way – you’ll also give that object its second or third opportunity to live and be useful.

The world we live in has urgent need of sustainable development in all fields. In your opinion, what would speed up the change in the design field?

I think that reflection is what can speed this process up. Reflecting on the beginning of the design process: which materials shall we use? How can we combine them together? How can we recycle them? Are they recyclable? But, first of all, we have to consider product design as a serious thing. Because product design is all-over and can change everything around us, including the way we live. So – as all serious things – product design needs some rules, that designers and design companies must follow. The time has come to stop having so many choices, so many possibilities. We need rules to follow, both as designers and as consumers.

Do you think that these rules have to come from the outside, or can they also be self-imposed?

I think both, but in this particular historical moment, I think there is the need for someone to impose these rules from outside.

What are your next projects?

I want to answer you with a little surprise. I promised to COKI‘s followers that I would present my new project very soon, and that time is now! I have my new project COCHLEAE next to me, and I can show it to you for the first time.
COCHLEAE is a collection of vases inspired by snails, by their strong but fragile shells and their soft body. They’re formed by two different Italian materials. The shell is calcarenite – the historical rock of Matera – and the body is glass. From now on, you can find this project on COKI’s social media (Instagram and Facebook) as well as on COKI Studio and COKI‘s page on Isola Goes Digital. And that’s all! I want to thank you again and thanks to Isola for this opportunity to tell you something about me!

anooi studio x Isola Design District.
This interview is an editorial collaboration with Isola Design District. A video version is also available.