Tartaruga Design – a perfect match of art and technology

At Tartaruga Design, our cast stone historically-accurate fireplace mantels and kitchen hoods are considered the benchmark for excellence.

With the investment of millions of dollars in equipment and technology , , we are able to create hand-finished cast stone statement pieces with genuine character far more effectively than any other cast stone company.

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We’re always happy to talk all things mantels!

Meet the artist

The president of Tartaruga design, Luca Savazzi sculpting an architectural detail for the Dalou with Overmantel and lion detail.Years ago, Luca Savazzi, an Italian born sculptor, noticed a need for historically accurate architectural stone details. His strong connection to Europe and frequent visits to his birthplace, Milan Italy, have made Luca sensitive to proper classical architectural vernacular.

Out of respect and admiration for the great masters of art and architecture, Luca founded Tartaruga Design to imagine and create pieces that pay homage to them using only the finest materials available. To do so properly means to study and understand every line, every curve, and every shadow, in order to grasp the essence of the piece.

By studying the past masters, Luca has become adept at designing pieces that have a universal appeal. This has been proven repeatedly by the number of imitators of his works.

Meet the technology

Luca Savazzi is not only an amazing artist but also a very technically-minded creator. His studies of mechanical engineering at University inform his in-depth knowledge of material science as well as mechanical design. Through Tartaruga Design, Luca has received many research and development grants for advancements in his field.

As Tartaruga Design has evolved over the years so has the technology it uses to create the beautiful pieces in its collection. Tartaruga Design now has five computer-controlled carving, and cutting machines used for steel, wood, foam, and cast stone. The most recent addition to its machinery is “The Buttercup”, a large envelope CNC machine that Luca designed and built himself when there was no such machine to suit his purposes.

Luca and his team at Tartaruga Design use several different software programs to design and present custom work to clients including CAD, 3D modelling, and CNC software. The technology allows Tartaruga Design to design and create with precision and accuracy.

Interview with Luca Savazzi

“The sculptor serves only as a medium to work the material and give way to the evolution of the piece, allowing it to develop of its own accord. I believe it has always existed somewhere, waiting for the right moment to take its earthly form.”
Luca Savazzi, Tartaruga Design

Luca Savazzi is the master sculptor and founder of Tartaruga Design. Over the last 30 years he has designed, sculpted and hand-carved high-end projects for countless movie stars, famous musicians, business leaders, and individuals alike.

Luca’s unique combination of skills is much appreciated by top interior designers, builders and homeowners. His expertise and understanding of both the artistic and technical aspects of architecture and materials elevate every Tartaruga project. His expertise mirrors those of classical sculptors who blurred the boundaries of materials to create enduring masterpieces.

Indeed, one builder Luca works with regularly calls him her modern-day Michelangelo!

In this interview, Luca explores how his passion for architecture led to his discovery of the centuries-old technique of Scagliola cast stone. He also reveals the long process of experiments and testing led to the unique formulation of Cortina Stone™ that Tartaruga uses today.

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 beautifully 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 almost three decades since launching  Tartaruga Design, and I’m still passionate about what I do.

How did you discover the Scagliola technique that is 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. 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 back to Canada, 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 had 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.

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 can take me the day 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 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 boats and listening to the water.

I remember taking my daughter to Venice when she was four 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.” It’s our hand-finishing that sets us apart from the mass-producers. Their products look and feel mass-produced. Ours look and feel like the custom, artisanal works that they are.

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?

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.” It’s our hand-finishing that sets us apart from the mass-producers. Their products look and feel mass-produced. Ours look and feel like the custom, artisanal works that they are.

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.

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