An interview with Luca Savazzi, life-long sculptor and the founder of Tartaruga Design
Do you remember your first sculpture?
When I was four years old, I discovered plasticine. I remember I spent hours making this small nest with birds in it. I found it fascinating that I could reproduce life with this malleable material. Ever since then I’ve sculpted — I’ve had to.
How did you become interested in producing mantelpieces?
I’m passionate about architecture and I love sculpting. Mantelpiece design seemed like the perfect combination, because it’s about articulating beautiful detailed forms and creating an architectural focal point in a space. Back when I first started, no one else was doing this kind of specialized work. There was a definite need in the marketplace for a research-driven, historically accurate approach. It’s been nearly twenty years since I incorporated Tartaruga Design, and I’m still totally committed and passionate about what I do.
How did you discover the Scagliola technique that’s so central to your production?
Years ago, in a cathedral in Italy, I came across a material I had never seen before. It wasn’t carved stone, and it wasn’t cast stone — at least, not like any cast stone I was familiar with. So I did some research, which led me to a 400-year old process called Scagliola that involves mixing plaster, stone and dyes in precise formulations to create a cast product that’s extremely durable, rich and beautiful. As soon as I got home, I bought five different types of cement and started mixing. But it was extremely difficult to get the right effect. I remember one Christmas Eve, after many tests and trials I made a piece of stone and polished it in the sink. I took one look and knew — I got it. That small piece of stone paved the way, so to speak. Today we’re still building on the tradition of cast stone, using the latest technology to constantly innovate new colours, textures and patinas.
How do you ensure a mantel is historically accurate or architecturally correct?
The only way to ensure an authentic product is by constantly researching, traveling, sketching and observing. I’ve studied the art and architecture of Italy, France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Austria and the United Kingdom. And at least once a year, I’ll pick a location with an architectural style that I’m not that familiar with and I’ll go there. Specifically, I study the carved stone detailing. It’s part of my Research & Development process. When I’m in Paris, it takes me two days to walk a block, I’m sketching and taking so many photos! I then take that knowledge and experience and apply it to the mantels I custom design. That’s part of the benefit I bring my clients, whether they’re architects or homeowners. If you identify the style you want, I can hone in on what’s historically correct or architecturally appropriate. That authenticity makes a big difference.
What is your favourite city to visit?
There are so many. Barcelona is a favourite from an architectural point of view. Paris is where my heart is, sculpturally speaking. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of hours of sculpting that went into the Paris Opera House alone. It’s astounding! And then, of course, there’s Italy. My family comes from the same area where the famous architect and sculptor Palladio was born. I love to visit and study the Palladian Villas. But my favourite spot in Italy has to be Venice. The interiors of the buildings are so exquisite and surprising. I’m so happy there, just riding the transit and listening to the water.
I remember bringing my daughter to Venice when she was five years old. At one point, she started walking on her own down an alleyway. I chased after her, and she said, ‘Don’t worry Daddy, I know where I’m going.’ When we were leaving by train, she was so pensive and quiet. I’ll never forget what she said to me, ‘I’m sad to leave here. Venice needs me.’ She was at home there. And in a lot of ways, it feels like my home too.
What do you feel sets your work apart?
It’s that attention to detail that sets us apart. The honesty of the form, the integrity of the architectural style and the beauty of the sculptural line. It just makes sense to the eye. Often when clients visit our showroom they say, “There’s something about your mantelpieces — they’re different.” I think what they’re seeing is the universal geometry of form. I get a similar feeling when I’m sculpting, and it’s how I know I’m finished. The form suddenly sings. It’s an unmistakable feeling. With our competitors, I see how the pressures of running a profitable business can get in the way of producing the best possible product. But I just keep doing what I like, at a level that I’m happy with. For me, there’s no other way.
What should a client expect when they come to Tartaruga Design?
We genuinely enjoy what we do, and that’s why we do it. It’s immediately apparent in the way we work with our customers and clients. We don’t have any commissioned sales people. When you call Tartaruga Design, you are talking to a skilled technician. If you’re unfamiliar with the process of selecting and installing a mantel, we’ll make it as easy as possible, providing guidance every step of the way. If you’re an architect or designer, we’ll get the job done professionally and on schedule. We’re passionate specialists and we stand behind our locally-made product. That’s why we’ve been in this business nearly twenty years.