I am neither a designer nor a craftsman. I am not lucky enough to have the vision that can take a germ of an idea, from the initial flicker of inspiration, through the necessary innovative thought processes and practical considerations to create and then skilfully craft an object of aesthetics or function, or even cleverer – one of unique beauty and yet at the same time absolute practicality. I wish I was, I expect I would end up with the proverbial ‘chocolate teapot’ – it looks great, in a childish kind of way, and is definitely not up to the task. I can, however, fully appreciate such special products of aesthetic function as well as the individual, and their creativity and expertise, that lies behind these distinctive pieces.
It is from this appreciation that I have been lucky enough to meet one such talented individual, Alberto Tabellini, a designer and craftsman, who works with pewter in the third-generation family-run company Cosi Tabellini. Cosi Tabellini is the foremost pewter manufacturer in Italy today, based in the Northern Italian historic city of Brescia, near Lake Garda, and supplies the US market through the well-known brand Match Pewter and the Cosi Tabellini brand elsewhere.
The versatility of pewter as a material is tremendous; it can form replicas of classic styles, looking like something reincarnated from a Dutch Still Life painting, beautiful household objects artfully arranged, soulful enough to be the real thing, or it can become a contemporary design classic, fresh and modern using a timeless material. Alberto has stayed true to the company’s origins in terms of production; his designs are both classic and contemporary, complementing the past with the present, by combining, for example, hand-cast pewter with other locally produced highly regarded materials, such as Lombardy stainless steel, Italian ceramics, Italian crystal glass, and European Cherry woods, to create contemporary versions of timeless designs, which can be bought as comprehensive sets or one-off pieces.
For the most part, Alberto articulates, in his own words (translated from Italian for us, of course), what it means to him to design, create and craft the beautiful pewter objects that Cosi Tabellini has become renowned for over the last 60 years; objects that we have all, no doubt, unconsciously seen on the silver screen, in such films and productions as Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Casper, and most recently Vikings, and sold through luxury stores as Barneys New York, Geary’s of Beverly Hills, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.
It’s not easy to describe what I want to express when I draw a new object…it’s like walking on a rope and the rope symbolises the qualities which I want to communicate. I wish that each object could be described with the following adjectives: popular, simple, discreet, sober, rigorous, accurate, enticing, elaborate, solid but at the same time I’m aware that each of these properties can be interpreted slightly differently and have a different meaning for each person so that I intentionally avoid doing it.
I aspire to a popular object but not a common one, simple but not elementary, discreet but not dull, sober but not austere, rigorous but not spartan, accurate but not ostentatious, enticing but not provocative, solid but not heavy (weighty), traditional but not peculiar, allusive rather than obvious, elaborate but not sophisticated.
It’s quite hard to keep a balance and it’s easy to fall into banality, become rhetorical or end up being ostentatious and pompous.
Fortunately the materials we use complement our aspirations:
Pewter is a discreet material by definition, it is ductile, malleable and this allows us to shape our objects and to give them soft, smooth and uneven surfaces. Even when polished it retains a simplicity that deviates from the sumptuousness of silver.
We combine pewter to ceramic rather than to porcelain, in order to maintain the perception of popular sobriety that porcelain could hinder.
Even the glass, thanks to its transparency, can assume each shape without affecting the aesthetic beauty of the content. We match pewter with glass, being careful not to steal this peculiarity but attempting to add value and uniqueness to the object. Anyone who sips wine from our glasses can appreciate the colours, experience the sensation of owning a valuable object and can also enjoy the tactile perception of contact with the pewter.
Anyone who owns a piece of the Cosi Tabellini collection will have noticed that its colour changes with time. Personally, and many customers agree with me, I find the warm tone that our pewter assumes after two years beautiful and compelling. When we combine the wood with pewter we prefer cherry wood for the same reason; cherry wood changes its colour throughout the years and the tones become warm and charming.
Finally, our purpose is to communicate through our products a sense of security and peace of mind that is tied to tradition together with the awareness of owning an object that will maintain or increase its value over time.
We like to sum up this concept in a single phrase: The future of memory.
The end result then, Cosi Tabellini pewter is unique due to distinctive design and craftsmanship of Alberto, guiding the labour intensive and traditional manufacturing process. The pewter pieces that emerge from this special workshop possess a patina (surface) that is evolving and gently ‘antiquing’ over time, whilst the feel of the object is soft, tactile and reassuringly weighty, yet not heavy or cumbersome. It can look antique and classic as well as minimalist and modern; it makes for an extremely versatile object, as you can dress it up or down – like a true beauty, just as stunning in a ball-gown and heels as jeans and T-shirt.
To further expand on this marriage of pewter with other materials, the most popular and long-standing designs within the Cosi Tabellini collection is the Convivio range, which is the fusion of pewter with ceramic, emerging 30 years ago as a natural progression of traditional Italian hand-painted wall-plates (a pewter rim held in place with clips). It has evolved under the steady hand of Alberto into the 21st Century; the Convivio plate still has the pewter rim yet without the use of clips, glue or any other bonding materials, instead relying on the natural physical characteristics of the pewter and ceramic when heated and cooled, in terms of rates of expansion and contraction. This simple concept actually entails a hugely tricky process, which no other workshop has successfully emulated. The result is an almost seamless connection between the two materials which further enhances the simple elegance of the product. This is just one example of pewter being manufactured in a traditional way to give each individual piece depth and character reminiscent of historical objects, yet able to sit equally naturally in a modern setting.
Amongst white table linen and place settings a Cosi Tabellini pewter dinner service, with a classic-yet-contemporary twist of handcrafted pewter fused with crisp white ceramic, can add formality and enhance a special occasion. However, for everyday use, it can look relaxed and unfussy, just reassuringly good quality; for example, a simple, yet striking mug, again marrying the tradition and modernity of pewter and ceramic, can elevate your morning coffee to something a little bit special.
Or in the evening, an expensive aged single malt whisky slowly sipped and savoured in a reassuringly weighty double rocks tumbler; the solid Italian crystal glass enhanced by the equally solid pewter base, sufficiently tactile to feel simply good to hold, all giving that little bit of gravitas to an already special moment. Whatever the occasion Cosi Tabellini pewter, handcrafted in the Lombardy region of Italy, just looks and feels ‘right’.
A Cosi Tabellini piece is a special object of historic craftsmanship and integrity in a contemporary form, complementing the most traditional as well as the most modern of homes, as a distinctive item to be both used and cherished, and ultimately passed onto nearest and dearest in the decades to come, as Alberto Tabellini so eloquently, and yet so heartfeltly, puts it ‘The future of a memory’, or as I attempt to articulate it; ‘tomorrow’s heirlooms for using today’. In other words, Cosi Tabellini pewter is for sharing and savouring, not simply storing.
For further information on Cosi Tabellini: www.italian-pewter.co.uk.