I first came across the work of Elisa Cavani, whilst doing research for my book Upcyclist. Hailing from Bologna, Italy, Elisa makes whimsical lighting, desks and furniture pieces made from found objects, all of which can only be described as the epitome of one-of-a-kindness. Now Elisa’s fantastic furniture designs, also known as Manoteca, have been documented in a beautiful book.
Elisa deliberately seeks out poor and forgotten materials which after being treated with respect, become ‘priceless matter’. With her unique ability to rework them into new and contemporary geometric and organic forms, she creates stunning furniture items that blur the boundaries between art and design. If you love the patina and poetry of old things – you’ll love Manoteca.
Elisa sees her work as a rebellion against rules and preconceptions, but is also about preserving history and imagined stories or memories. She says:
For me, preserving means remembering where I come from, because the history of the world passes through our homes.
In the book she recalls a man named Signor Danio who was 80-years-old and smoked a pipe. He used to tell her stories when she was a little girl, and she describes how he captured her imagination. She says, “My objects are like Signor Danio, crammed with times long gone.”
Elisa has made a series of desks from old doors. As with many of her works, pieces such as ‘Indoor Table #10’ pictured above, have playful elements. The chestnut doors (which date back to the 1800s) open to reveal hidden compartments and sliding drawers underneath. Placing the old doors onto a sleek metal frame with slender legs, results in a piece of furniture that looks both modern and timeless. All components are painted with eco paints and natural beeswax.
‘Autumno’ pictured above featured in an installation called ‘In Mobile Carta’ – a collaboration with origami artist Marisa Cortese for the International Music Museum of Bologna. The piece features a room filled with thousands of origami birds. See it in action here:
Not knowing where an object has come from means that its stories can be imagined.
Elisa Cavani, Manoteca
The book is full of stunning photography, including detail shots of worn, warm woods, gnarled branches and rusted metals. Above is a piece called ‘La Nuit de Noèl’ and is dedicated to the late Signor Gianni who sold paints and resins. His daughter Irene had given Elisa 5 litres of resin as a gift, along with handwritten instructions from Gianni as to how it should be used.
“In nature everything is constantly recycled. We must learn how to produce objects and goods that can be absorbed by the environment. Until this is entirely achievable, we must get used to creating value by re-using the objects we produce, instead of throwing them away.”
Elisa Cavani, Manoteca
The artist has also made a series of 10 pieces from vintage tricycles from the 1960s. Pictured above is ‘See-Clo’ which is described as ‘a wandering library with a headlight’. Elisa’s furniture somehow takes on a persona of its own and she even admits that she decides whether a finished piece is male or female.
‘Olmo G’ used to be an artisan’s work bench, owned by a carpenter called Lorenzo from Mantua, who made office furnishings. Made from elm wood, the bench was used for 20 years until the recession caused the business to close. Elisa brought it into its next life as a kitchen bench. It now contains an industrial sink by Pozzi Ginori with a stainless steel kitchen mixer and faucet.
This beautifully put together catalogue of works would be the perfect gift for any collector of beautiful vintage objects or unique furniture. Manoteca is published by Logos Edizioni and can be purchased here.