2003 National Design Award winner Lella Vignelli passed away December 21, 2016. In honor of her memory, we are sharing an Object of the Day blog post from earlier this year dedicated to her design philosophy.

Lella Vignelli has spent a lifetime as a designer examining the ongoing expressions of pure, modern form. Working in collaboration with her (late) husband, Massimo, at the eponymous Vignelli Associates, Lella was largely responsible for the design of many of the firm’s projects in the areas, among others, of furniture and product design. The Colorstone collection of tableware shown here was developed for the Japanese china company, Sasaki, in 1986.

The Colorstone collection is in many ways a quintessential reflection of Lella Vignelli’s design philosophy. Trained as an architect, Lella has always held firm to the belief that materials and production processes are integral to the design process, and are not merely concerns to be addressed at the manufacturing stage of an object. To that end, Colorstone took into account an examination of firing and glazing processes to accomplish what Lella, and her Vignelli Associates collaborator, David Law, referred to as a “subtractive” finish.

Each of the pieces was dipped into a colored glaze and then the edges were wiped clean to reveal the underlying material. As Lella herself explained, “therefore decoration is achieved by subtraction rather than addition as tableware is typically made. Subtraction is an essential part of our design, and here we have one more demonstration of how to achieve it.”

This respect for the inherent nature of materials and allowing them to provide for the “adornment” of a particular object has been the hallmark of the Vignelli’s work since the opening of their design office in 1971. The Colorstone collection is a handsome and stylish result of this philosophy.

Bill Shaffer is a graduate student in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies program jointly conducted by The New School/Parsons and The Cooper Hewitt Museum.

3 thoughts on “Addition By Subtraction

Thank you for this post! This tableware is my everyday set. I’ve noticed clues of the production technique that you point out—you can see the odd “wipe” mark along the rim.

The Vignelli’s will be greatly missed. I knew them both only slightly. Massimo always wearing the suit of his own design. Lella always elegant and often wearing minimal jewelry that she designed for herself. Every New Yorker who rides the subway knows their work, even if they don’t know their names, for much of the signage, the numbers and alphabets on all trains were designed by them. Their clear headed rational minimalistic approach has helped quiet a city, and perhaps a world that leans toward the chaotic in design.

Hey Bill, I really like the Colorstone collection. It’s so classic. It should be registered against trademark infringement. That would be perfect to preserver it. Thanks for sharing.

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