Fantini - rogerseller

Partner Stories:
a moment with Fantini

Founded on the shores of Lake Orta, leading tapware manufacturer, Fantini, reflects the rich history of a family business and their strong passion and professionalism across their sophisticated product range. With water as their inspiration, an entourage of leading designers at their fingertips and advanced technology to ensure their elegant designs remain of the highest quality, it’s plain to see why Fantini has remained an Italian icon for over seventy years.

Interview with
Davide Mercatali, Fantini

Davide Mercatali of Fantini is behind one of the most iconic tap designs in modern history. Drawing inspiration from Walt Disney and Pinocchio, the colourful pop-art ‘Balocchi’ design was a true game-changer and almost 40 years on, has proven to be an enduring modern classic in bathrooms world over. We spoke to Davide about his early career and the importance of creative risk taking.

Davide, what can you tell us about your professional background?
My background is actually in illustration and advertising, then I worked for many years in design. I originally studied architecture but have never practiced it. Design work was very strong in Milan during the seventies, which is one of the reasons I chose to pursue a career in design.

One of my earlier notable designs before joining Fantini was a sofa design called Nomade. The factory where I was working at this time was rather traditional, so you could say I was pushing the boundaries a little. Then I joined Fantini, which was a very traditional company at the time. I introduced some very modern designs and they started to change their product offering. It was a big departure for them, but in the end they were very happy for the success.

Fantini - rogerseller
Diverter mechanism for a built-in shower mixer that is used to choose the water outlet (e.g. showerhead or hand shower).
Fantini - rogerseller
Testing built-in part for Fantini shower mixer. Using compressed air, each part is tested to check for correct assembly and to detect any leakage points.
Fantini - rogerseller
Before being chrome plated, every product undergoes a series of cleaning procedures to ensure that all dirt and oils are removed from its surface.

What can you tell us about your early days at Fantini and the evolution of the Balocchi?
My friend, Paolo Pedrizzetti [product designer and co-designer of the Balocchi series] said his partner had an uncle who knew one of the Fantini brothers personally – it’s like this in Italy. At the time, the company was run by the two Fantini brothers, Giovanni and Ersilio, so my friend’s uncle put us in contact.

When we first went to visit the company, I was asked to draw something: taps. Just taps and only in the traditional sense. Paolo and I made a few studies and one of the results was a draft sketch of what later became the Balocchi.

At the time, we were in the middle of the pop art mood. The shape of the Balocchi was very influenced by this movement; big shape and very colourful. When they saw our design for the Balocchi, they loved it. So they began to think about how the company might be able to produce it – with colour, of course. After the Balocchi, I was everywhere – like celery. In Italian, if someone is seen around town a lot, we say “you are like celery!” because in Italian food you put celery everywhere.

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As part of the manufacturing process, a random Balocchi tap is inspected to see if it measures the precise dimensions (75 millimetres) using a Vernier ruler.
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Container filled with Balocchi taps that have been machined and ready for sanding.

What was the key inspiration behind the Balocchi design?
I actually designed this tap with Disney cartoons in mind. I asked myself: “What kind of tap would Walt Disney design?” and the result was the Balocchi. I would have loved to have met Disney, because the subsequent success of the product was unimaginable. This was the first tap to be coloured in the world.

Do you think it was the colour that made the Balocchi so successful?
The colour and the shape of the tap made it successful because at the time, taps were only ever produced in chrome and in quite traditional designs. Today these taps are considered an icon. People who’ve had them since the seventies or eighties just want to keep them, even though they’re decades old.

What can you tell us about the name?
In Italian, balocchi means toys; it’s a very old name. In the story of Pinocchio, Pinocchio goes to a place called “the country of toys.” The name was very important as it relates to the shape and image of the product looking less like a practical tool and more like a toy.

What aspects of your work do you find satisfying?
Meeting people like Giovanni Fantini. I have encountered a lot of people in my time, but never like Fantini.

What attracted you to work with Giovanni?
An entrepreneur must have a strong capacity for risk. And it was a very big risk to produce the world’s first coloured tap. At the time, the sales people at Fantini were completely against the idea. They thought it was too novel.

Looking at the story from the company’s perspective, Giovanni understood that this idea was innovative and completely different from what Fantini had been doing up to that point. For that reason, he realised that it could be something very strong and successful. So, he took the risk and followed our design. And it paid off.

What advice would you have for emerging designers?
To think about their life experience. I encourage any designer to remember their childhood and what they liked as a child. This process can really help to develop strong concepts and provide inspiration for designing new objects. Everyone has unique life experiences which can lead to making novel designs.

Who or what are some of your influences?
Obviously Walt Disney, due to the inspiration for Balocchi and Calibro. Danish designer, Arne Jacobsen is another key influence, especially with his designs of Drop, Egg and Swan chairs.

Fantini - rogerseller
Fantini - rogerseller
The shining Balocchi tap sitting among various sanding components after three rounds of sanding.

"An entrepreneur must have a strong capacity for risk. And it was a very big risk to produce the world’s first coloured tap."

Davide Mercatali, Fantini
Fantini - rogerseller
Main body of a Fantini basin mixer (Lamé collection). Here, the component is raw and ready to be machined.
Fantini - rogerseller
The Fantini logo is etched in into the metal back plate of each product to ensure authenticity. This is a wall back plate of a Fantini shower mixer. The pieces are marked with code and batch number stating the date of production.
Fantini - rogerseller
Every Fantini product is manually packaged after a series of stringent quality assurance tests.