The words of Nico Moretto, the founder of Alpes-Inox, lead us through the history of the company and of Italian industrial design in general. A design process that has won many important acknowledgments but that above all tells the story of a man, his life and his passion for one material: steel.
Why have you decided to focus exclusively on steel?
When as a young man I went to work as an assistant-draftsman in the technical division of Smalterie Metallurgiche Venete, I saw stainless steel for the first time in my life. It came from Sweden, packaged like a precious metal, and there it was pressed, shaped, welded, polished and finished on the surface.
It was a magnificent material: complete, clean, essential. Years later, as soon as I could, I began to work with it too.
I remember that at the beginning I pressed it in an old hydraulic press with the molds that I used for porcelain sinks: the sinks kept breaking, and I kept trying over and over. Finally, using soap shavings that I ground very fine with a bar-quality coffee grinder, I achieved my first unbroken sink. It was like being on cloud nine. This was the beginning of a long friendship, and I believe I can say that I have made my own contribution to steel, when I invented the “silver satin finish”: perhaps it is not a coincidence that my products do well in Sweden too.
Nico Moretto, a life dedicated to design...
I began to work early, in June 1940, as an apprentice in an automobile repair shop. After several months, I began to study drafting at the School of Arts and Vocations in Bassano del Grappa. Then I found work as a gofer and assistant-draftsman in the technical department, as I said earlier, at the Smalterie Metallurgiche Venete. So I went from ignition engines, dynamos and batteries to parallel rules, tracing paper, and ink. Ten years in that factory-school and then (again as a draftsman or technical director), I spent several years in other medium-sized companies in the area. But I needed to perfect my skills, so at night I studied. I enjoyed building models of sailboats that I launched on Sundays, and drawing gliders that flew silently over the fields around Vicenza and Asiago. In 1954, I decided to found Alpes. I began working in a shack in the suburbs, making metal sink-cabinets: the cabinet was stove-enameled, and the sink was porcelain-coated. These products were rather successful, and that’s when I felt I could go ahead. So I went on to make modular furniture for the kitchen, boilers, clothes dryers, etc. In the early Sixties, I made my definitive choice: I would work with nothing but stainless steel, to produce sinks, cooktops, ovens, kitchens, barbecues, grills, deep fryers, kitchen hoods, and in the end I came to produce today’s system of free-standing kitchen elements.
Do you feel more like an entrepreneur or a designer?
I am an entrepreneur-manufacturer, who designs his own products. This is normal for me: I spent my life studying, drawing, designing. And I dedicate at least half my time to supervising the entire process in the company, from the concept to testing the finished product. But I must say that in this area of the country, many other people interpret the figure of the entrepreneur in the same way.
What type of designer do you feel more akin to?
To one who worries about everything, from feasibility to safety, from function to form: one who wants to go beyond the boundaries of his profession, who wants to see everything, to understand what people might need, who wants to feel useful to someone.
Are you thinking of expanding your company?
The current size feels right to me. Rather than a change of scale, I am thinking of improvements.
However, it is not a coincidence that very few companies our size produce and market full collections of products. When it comes to technology, you can’t really say that “small is beautiful”: smaller companies can’t make certain investments in advanced technology, but it is a problem if they don’t.
In any case, I am lucky to be able to share these problems with my sons, Aldo and Bruno, who work in the company and give me great satisfaction.