We kick off our inaugural In My Room Milan series with Chicco Ferretti, who sits at the helm of Haier, a renowned home appliance company, as the head of design at their innovation centre in Milan. Through our conversation, we learn that he finds himself at a pivotal juncture in his life after more than 25 years in the industry—a moment characterised by introspection and contemplation. Amidst his professional success, he confronts a professional turning point—a moment not rooted in discontent with his current position, but rather in a broader existential questioning of the role of design in an increasingly technologically-driven world spearheaded by the advent of AI. While he remains deeply passionate about design and its potential to shape the world, he wrestles with the inherent contradictions of his craft and the culture around it.

Raised in the bustling capital of Milan, his upbringing, deeply influenced by the wisdom of his grandfathers, instilled in him a profound appreciation for the intersection of design and humanity. From his mother's father, a dedicated doctor, Chicco learned the importance of empathy and understanding, principles that underpin his approach to design. On his father's side, his grandfather's role as an educator imbued in Chicco a passion for sharing knowledge and fostering growth. Chicco’s worldview is one of boundless curiosity and relentless inquiry. He finds joy in unravelling the stories behind everyday objects, recognizing the inherent beauty in the mundane. For Chicco, design is not merely a vocation but a calling—a journey of exploration and discovery that transcends the confines of tradition.

As his desire to work more closely with people over product becomes greater, Chicco's legacy reverberates far beyond the confines of his studio, shaping the landscape of innovation for new generations to come. His vision—a world where design serves as a catalyst for positive change—inspires others to reimagine the possibilities of tomorrow.

ReFramed: Chicco, can you talk to me about the moment you find yourself in at this point of your life?

Chicco: I’m in the middle of a turning point in my design journey at the moment. By trade I am a designer and I am the head of the design innovation centre in Milan for a company called Haier. My juncture is not connected with the company in which I'm working at but it's more the fact that it doesn't make sense to design a product today. We make connected home appliances, which I love because it's one of the few companies that make products that are needed more than others. These are products that are connected with our daily survival. For example, what would happen to you if your fridge breaks down, how much would it impact your everyday life? I'm questioning myself how much we still have to make products and how much people need the work of industrial design. Especially with all the recent advancements in AI, and how it is already impacting our processes from ideation to design and manufacturing. We have to pay a lot of attention to this.

RF: Deep reflections Chicco, would you mind elaborating a bit more on your thoughts of AI?

C: In my mind, the advent of artificial intelligence is the final shift in the long journey from aesthetics to ethics. Maybe you're familiar with the concept of kalos kagathos, a Greek concept in which beautiful and good are the same. If you think about it from today's point of view, the concept of beauty today is almost the opposite, that if it's beautiful, it's probably fake or superficial and not deep, while in the past it was the same thing. Maybe artificial intelligence will help us to return there because we can start to focus more on the ethical aspect as the aesthetic will be completely automated by an algorithm. This will lead us to question if we really need to make a product or maybe it's better to adjust to what we already have, or make a product that lasts longer. So that is somehow connected with my midlife professional crisis. But again, maybe artificial intelligence will save us all. I don't know.

RF: Have you always been so curious?

C: I find a lot of joy in discovering the story behind things. Being curious is my hobby and understanding the fragility of human beings. Design in my perspective is a constant research about what is human and what is not human, and what might make us different from animals and now from machines. I'm always questioning what I'm doing, which is maybe why it's connected with my passion, which is about thinking about the future, that in the end also ends up being a profession, which is designing. I like to understand what is the next big wave in the change of, not only the discipline of design, but of the culture of design.

RF: Who have been some of your most important teachers in your life

C: This is something that I recently thought about. My mentors were my grandfathers who had nothing to do with design but had the biggest impact on me. From my mother's side, my grandfather was a doctor, and on my father's side, he was a teacher. So it's not necessarily connected with design, but it's connected with how I do design, because you do design in an educational way, and you can also do it in a medical way. For example, if someone comes to you with a problem, your job as a designer is to help them understand the problem from different diagnoses and connect them better with the environment, their body to then reach a potential solution. That is the doctor's side of design. Then you have the other example, where you are trying to educate a person to change or learn a new behaviour so they can be more conscious of what they are doing. 

RF: As someone who has been in the industry for more than 25 years, what kind of changes have you seen in our relationships to our homes.

C: I think the big change brought about by the post pandemic was the discovery of the different dimensions of our homes—they became not only our shelter but also our workplace. Initially serving as a protective cocoon during the pandemic, our homes evolved into a confining environment. Now, as we strive to regain a sense of balance, we are reevaluating the boundary between work and leisure within our living spaces. This shift has brought advancements in both the furniture and connectivity industries, with an array of home office solutions emerging. Looking ahead, there is a growing need for tools that facilitate relaxation and disconnection from work. As we navigate this transition, our focus has shifted from the comfort of pre-pandemic times to creating spaces that offer sanctuary. It is a rethinking of our living environments—a space where we can retreat and unwind, distinct from the demands of work.

RF: How has your personal relationship with your home evolved over time?

C: The relationship is changing because the space is changing. I love products, especially the one that lasts forever, and I keep on filling my space with a lot of things. Recently, I started to realise that I have too many things around and that I need more space. At the beginning it was like buying stuff that I like but now it is more buying stuff that I like that lasts forever. So I have a lot of things made in porcelain or in glass or in wood. Things that I can pass to someone else one day.

RF: Talk to me about the things you are referring to in your house…

C: I’m a collector. I have beautiful aluminium chairs, called Landi chairs from Vitra. They don't rust and stay perfect and shiny. It was a big inspiration for the ReFramed aluminium bed. When I saw it I said “that’s perfect”, that’s why I was so crazy about it because it’s the most simple version and the one with least processing to make it.

RF: What other things have you collected in your house?

C: It keeps changing because I have to find a new passion to start to collect something else. So I just keep on changing. My partner is also a designer but she's really scared about how many things I’m collecting. But right now, I’m obsessed about Memphis designs because of all the colours they have and their shapes are so archetypal it could be something from an ancient civilization in the future. I’ve also collected a lot of chairs even though we only have two asses in the house. I pride myself on having a black belt in eBay bidding.

RF: Do you have any routines and rituals you have in your home that are important to you.

C: I think one of my rituals is really analog, I listen to CDs. I'm still one of the few people buying CDs out there, I love to listen to music at home. Reading books is also a classic ritual, which I can only do properly when I’m home but I don’t do that in bed. Another thing that I can only do at home is sketching. When I need to concentrate, I need my pen and the right mood that is created by my home.

RF: What constitutes the right mood in your home?

C: It looks like the scene in Blues Brothers when they're in the theatre about to perform. In my house, there is a certain kind of light at the moment of the day that is inspiring to sit down and relax. I usually have a small ‘taccuino’, a small moleskine, but the one that is a flip notebook. I like to sketch on it because it forces you to only use the space safely and properly instead of being super experimental and trying things out. I really have to focus and carefully sketch on the white page. Usually it isn’t related to work and it starts with ideas that I have in my head.

RF: Have you ever designed any furniture for your own home?

C: Not any products. More like wardrobes and shelves, architectural pieces for the house. My dream when I retire is to be a carpenter. There is this small town in the south of Italy, which my grandparents come from called Ostuni. I have a small house there. Every time I go there is an old man, who is a carpenter that has helped me make some furniture in wood. I always think, “well, when I get old and retire I’ll take his place”. I will just chop wood and make things only for the special people. It will be design as a present, not design as a business.

RF: That’s beautiful. Back in ancient civilisations when people died they would be buried with objects or animals to bring into the afterlife. I’m curious to know, if you could be buried with something, what would it be?

C: It would of course be my partner. This is super romantic but…

RF:  That's a good answer for when your partner reads this, but I want you to pick an object. 

C: Ah shit… it would be a piece of wood and then I will have the chance to give a meaning to it in the afterlife, because design comes from Latin, which means designare, “to give a meaning to something”. 

RF: How very poetic, Chicco. Thank you so much for your time, I really enjoyed our conversation today.