The hands of noble artisans in Italy are procured to create the Trulli Bottles, a part of our glassware collection rooted in craftsmanship. These thoughtfully designed bottles are multi-purpose and created with the intent of olive oil and vinegar bottles for one’s tabletop or kitchen. Every bottle is mouth-blown and accompanied by a cork spout and hand-turned wooden lid. Borosilicate glass, known for its resistant quality, makes up the bottles’ central material while the design captures simplicity. No trivial decorations surround these bottles. The objects solely exhibit modest elegance and functionality.
Trulli Bottles draw their design inspiration from the vernacular of stone farmhouse structures in the olive orchards of Puglia whose distinct architecture underlines proportionate balance. Such ethos, along with residing in Italy and being true to one’s roots, influenced designer Tommaso Caldera for his collaboration with us on Trulli Bottles. His eye for shapes and proportions - along with the contemporary and the conventional design - informed his approach. The culmination of the collaborative effort peaks through Trulli Bottles, a project dear to Caldera whose mission to sustain novelty through artisanal craftsmanship has grown in tangible products.
For this issue, Caldera let us in on his design journey, architectural and travel influences, and unprecedented challenges he conquered in this first collaboration project with our studio that reflects our shared beliefs in elegant simplicity.
R+D.LAB: Could you give us an insight into the design brief behind the creation of the Trulli bottles? How about the consideration of other materials such as wood and cork along with the Borosilicate glass as the core material of R+D.LAB glassware? What roles did they play in the overall functionality and design of the bottles?
Tommaso Caldera (TC): The idea to work on this typology came during a meeting with Jay (owner and founder of R+D.LAB). We were talking about adding new items and materials to the collection, a few weeks before the ceramic collection had been added to the catalog. From here, we decided to work on a family of serving bottles made of glass and one or two additional materials and for the very first time, R+D.LAB utilized different combinations of finishings, materials, and colors with the same product.
The glass is the perfect material for the bottle itself, and we immediately thought that solid wood could nicely match the look and be the ideal material for the cap. The cork came later during the development process, while we were researching pouring components. This is an industrial-made component from natural materials.
R+D.LAB: How did the architectural vernacular play a role in your design process?
TC: Living in Italy, it is quite impossible to design and create something without any references to the past. We grow up in a continuous balance between the contemporary and traditional. Shapes, colors, and proportions from the past leave imprints on our brains and eyes. Being a designer who loves to work on shapes and proportions, I can’t be disconnected from this landscape of conscious references.
R+D.LAB: What places did you visit and what experiences did you go through to conceptualize and materialize the series?
TC: When I showed the collection to Jay for the first time, I used an image of the typical Trulli house for the cover of the presentation because I liked the formation that starts thin at the top and becomes rounded and generous at the bottom. Furthermore, Puglia is the region in Italy where I think oil is better produced.
R+D.LAB: What did artisanal craftsmanship mean to you when you developed the design concept for the Trulli bottles? How did the journey into making the bottles change this perspective?
TC: Working as a freelance designer for brands with large-scale productions, I often work with artisans in creating samples, prototypes, and unique pieces only midway through the process, just before production and distribution. Working with R+D.LAB was different because its supplier managed the middle scale of production, so the person you work with to create the first prototypes and samples is the same artisan who will produce the production. This is an interesting and peculiar aspect since it radically changes the way products and processes develop.
R+D.LAB: What were the challenges in creating a functional bottle based on the artisanal production process? How did this affect your design thinking?
TC: Keeping a high level of precision using a manual process was the most challenging part. Using three components and three different materials meant the bottles would be produced in different places by different people. In the end, they had to be held and fixed together without any glue or fixing element, and this was tricky to handle and set up in the final production.
For example, we worked a lot on the precision of the stem or the neck of the bottle because the cork spout needed to be held in its position and, at the same time, be easily taken off to fill the bottle. The wooden cap needed to touch the glass without touching the spout.
It is a matter of millimeters, but working with Italian artisans means you can work on details while feeling the vibrancy of artisanal craftsmanship.
While Tommaso Caldera worked on the design of Trulli Bottles, Stephanie Stamatis, a long-time collaborator, elevated the glassware’s true purpose as she styled and photographed the collection with her signature conceptual approach to timelessness and beauty without distraction by focusing on materials and the functionality that define the natural artistry of Trulli Bottles. She used references such as images found in the 80s and 90s cookbooks in creating images that are relevant and modern.
Through Stamatis' eyes, the compositions ensure that the bottles present their purpose: the backbone of any home’s kitchen and tableware. She fills Trulli Bottles with oil and vinegar, positions them in the same frame, and captures transparency through their lines and shapes that work well. Some angles slant to show the evident movement of the liquid inside while others highlight the rudimentary functionality of the bottles alongside the other objects.
For R+D.LAB, Stamatis reveals how she conceptualized the shoot for us and her pursuit of perfection through simplicity, a visual vernacular we resonate well with.
R+D.LAB: When you saw the Trulli bottles, did you immediately have ideas on how you would approach the collaboration?
Stephanie Stamatis (SS): I knew how I wanted to capture these bottles right away. Because of their simplicity and clean design, I felt like the photos needed the softest touch when it came to styling, which means I would be relying on photography as the main stylistic choice. I did not want anything to take the focus from the bottles themselves. I wanted to hero the beauty of the bottle shape and their slight variation in size and materials.
The biggest challenge was making sure that they remained the hero of the photos. I planned on shooting them in a still-life setting, so the propping was like putting together a puzzle. A beautiful, elegant puzzle.
R+D.LAB: Could you guide us on the concepts you ended up adopting for the shooting and why?
SS: When I plan a shoot, I try to give myself rules when it comes to the art direction. This informs the world I am creating. I knew I wanted to shoot this as a still-life to highlight the bottles. For me, anything lifestyle-inspired would have been too noisy. All of the stylings are as rudimentary as oil and vinegar themselves, acting as building blocks for bread, salt, and pickles.
Next, I adopted different lighting setups to create variations in the set of images so I could keep the styling simple. I also thought it was important to show how the bottles are used, which informed some of the compositions. Still, what I wanted to capture the most was the beauty without distraction.
R+D.LAB: What references did you draw your inspiration for the styling and shoot? How do they relate to the design and functionality of the Trulli bottles?
SS: My brain went straight to Irving Penn’s work, as it often does. I drew on his use of the endless white set and honest food props, that he employed in his still-life work, and combined it with the filmic way in which cookbooks of the 80s and 90s were photographed. What I was pulling from these references was the studio setting and also elemental propping. I wanted it to feel as timeless as the design of the Trulli bottles.
R+D.LAB: What does simplicity in styling entail for you?
SS: Simplicity is notoriously the hardest thing to achieve because it is an effort in the pursuit of perfection. It relies on every element in the photo to be speaking the same language and requires us to step away when we want to question if we’ve done enough. For me simplicity isn't even about minimalism, it's more about stripping back to the essential elements needed to tell a story.
From Tommaso Caldera’s design to Stephanie Stamatis’s photographs, Trulli Bottles provide the impetus for a collaborative exchange between creatives and artisans joined by a collective belief of functional elegance. Simply replacing one’s traditional olive oil and vinegar bottles with Trulli Bottles already implies the acceptance of novel Italian know-how and the sincere attention and care to craft the run along with it.
PHOTOS: Stephanie Somebody (IG: @stephanie_somebody)
WORDS: Matthew Burgos