In northern Tuscany, far away from the well-trodden travellers route through mythical locations such as Chianti, Siena and San Gimignano, lies the province of Massa-Carrara. Tucked up at the junction where the region meets Liguria and Emilia-Romagna, it’s the part of the world where the craggy peaks of the Apuan Alps appear most prominent, a dramatic backdrop to the dazzling azure blue of the Mediterranean Sea as they seemingly tumble down towards the waterfront.
If you’ve had the good fortune to enjoy this stretch of coastline by boat, dropping anchor off glamorous resorts such as Forte dei Marmi, this scene may be one you’ve marvelled at yourself. Even in the height of summer, the peaks of the range are dusted in a coating of white to give the impression that snow from the previous winter has yet to melt. For, high up in the Massa-Carrara there is a source, but it’s not the one you would expect as your gaze lingers upon this ivory summit from the water. What appears so snow-white from a distance is actually marble – cascading deposits of what has, for most of history, been considered the finest marble in the world. It is here, to the quarries that surround the town of Carrara, that the Renaissance masters turned to acquire material of unsurpassed beauty for their art; none more famous than Michelangelo, who first made the pilgrimage to the mountain town as he prepared to sculpt The Pietà. He would return nearly a dozen times and carve another of his masterpieces, David, out of a slab of marble sourced from local quarries.
More than five hundred years on, the reputation of this exquisite stone still lingers just as strong, with today’s design masters also placing their trust in these valleys of marble to fulfil more modern visions. And, while we can only admire from a distance the oeuvre of Michelangelo as we visit St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican or the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, the new wave of marble disciples have carved out a place for this precious material in our own homes. For Tuscan designers Donata Mariasole Betti and Valentina Satti, it went without saying that they would continue the artistic tradition of their homeland. Using Carrara marble as a base, their stylish and contemporary, yet ultra-functional designs take form. Founded in 2013, and with a design studio in the enchanting city of Lucca, the duo – known as Bettisatti – embody the Milanese architect Ernesto Roger’s famous design philosophy ‘dal cucchiaio alla città’ (from the spoon to the city) as they approach both small and large scale design projects.
Like the Renaissance masters before them, there is a certain alchemy that runs through all their creations; the invisible seams where other materials such as brass find themselves embedded into this valuable marble canvas. Part of the Cum Vivere – or living together – collection, the duo’s stunning centrepiece table is a wonderful example of this; a celebration of the union of natural stone and precious metals. The fine marble tabletop has been carefully inlaid with a decorative metal place setting at the exact location where it would be customary for the head of the family to be seated. Inlays and mosaics are also characteristic features of the Intarsia project, a fully customisable catalogue that showcases the duo’s reinterpretation of classic Tuscan marble. Geometric shapes, bright combinations, monochrome designs, straight lines and vintage curves all have a home in this collection of that draws much of its energy from nature.
The designers explain that many of their pieces are inspired by some of Tuscany’s other great traditions; food, wine, and the spirit of shared experiences, particularly during meal times. The Isoipsa series is a reflection of the ceremony and symbolic ritual that surrounds this culture of food, and how this also acts as a vehicle for the expression of local identities. This collection of five projects takes its name from the Italian word for contour lines (isoipse). Here elegant marble meets wood and stainless steel to create a range of complementary home accessories, each more versatile than the next. Designed to become one of your kitchen’s most precious objects, the Totem Aperitivo is a perfectly proportioned, stackable cocktail toolkit; where the marble base serves as the ultimate drink shaker, complete with muddler.
Yet, on closer inspection, you’ll discover an assortment of circular shapes, designed to serve as coasters or even individual finger food trays. Totem Cucina, with its identikit design, is similarly minimalist and multi-purpose, opening up to reveal three individual containers, a tray and a meat tenderiser. The knots and veins that distinguish each piece of marble add a unique fingerprint to every piece hand made by the design duo, a collection of minimalist treasures from modern marble masters.
Credits Photos: © Bettisatti