Felicia Ferrone has become known for her continuous ability to deliver the unexpected—a skill she perfected while living in Milan and working with some of the best designers in the business. But with a degree in architecture, Ferrone only started designing after living in Milan and being immersed in Italy’s strong cultural heritage in design.
Currently based in Chicago, Felicia’s brand fferrone allows her to constantly reinvent archetypes through her fundamental approach to design. Her architecture background translates seamlessly into her work as a designer. “The range of broad thinking is simply part of architectural practice, and they are one in the same. The two influence each other simultaneously, and this is also how I think about design,” Ferrone says. “To me, it should be that the design—even the smallest detail—is a manifestation of the larger idea. And the idea is then manifested from the form of the design.”
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“I try to recognize patterns and understand where the possibilities are.”
Working with some of the most notable luminaries in Italy, like Antonio Citterio and Piero Lissoni, she quickly developed and formatted her own philosophies and design fundamentals. It was in Milan that she also strengthened her belief that all aspects of design are highly interdependent. “I approach design as an architect would approach building—by first looking at the existing typologies through a precedent study, in order to understand what has been done and to learn from it,” Ferrone says. “I try to recognize patterns and understand where the possibilities are, in order to contribute something new to the topic. That ultimately results in an understanding of an object, or a new interaction to the design.”
Not only was Milan the place where Ferrone made her crossover from architecture to design work, but also where she began to blur the boundaries between the practices. “All the great Italian designers of the past were trained as architects, so their studios have always tended to be multidisciplinary with architecture, graphics and design,” Ferrone says. “I naturally developed this sense of blurred boundaries, where by one discipline is the natural extension of the other at times sequentially, and at times simultaneously.”
“Being surrounded by and having worked for the best had a tremendous influence on all aspects of my design.”
For Felicia, it was a slow crossover between careers that all started with her “Revolution Collection,” glassware designed by Felicia and handcrafted by Master glassblowers in the Czech Republic. She designed the pieces while she was living in Milan, but it wasn’t until several years later that she decided to start her own studio and brand. “Deciding to put the Revolution Collection into production and distribution under my own label was the initial impetus to commit to design,” Ferrone says. At the same time, she was also offered a solo show by Volume Gallery, and she created five limited edition pieces. Things developed and grew very steadily for her, but to this day, the glassware collection is still the item she’s most associated with. “It really came from an idea to clean up the tablescape. It was the first thing I ever pursued on my own, and it was instantly well-received. It was published internationally in several magazines, but I literally had nothing other than a prototype,” Ferrone says. “No plans whatsoever, but it took off! At this point, it’s become somewhat of a trademark that’s associated with me.”
Today when she’s designing, Ferrone often creates things from personal need. “My Talise water filter carafe came about because I didn’t like the aesthetics of the standard plastic one, which was also hard to keep clean. My Magazine Table came from my love of print — I’m quite a traditionalist! The table provides the perfect receptacle to contain all the the magazines that pile up over time,” Ferrone says.
With obvious European influences and a minimalistic aesthetic, Ferrone’s mastery of proportion and her thoughtfully considered details are the very cornerstones of her work. “Being surrounded by and having worked for the best of the best had a tremendous influence on all aspects of my design work,” Ferrone says. Everything she does today has come from careful observation of the world of design she was surrounded by when living in Milan. “That’s where I developed the philosophy that all design is related, and that an object is no longer just an object alone. It’s instead part of a larger system of meaning,” she says. “It’s almost like a pebble thrown into water, that creates a ripple effect.”
“I try to educate myself as much as possible in terms of where everything fits into the larger timeline.”
Her objects are timeless, as she aims to create things that fit seamlessly into everyday life. Ferrone also believes in the intersection and crossover between form and function. “The underlying factor for all of my work is that there must be some reason for these designs to exist,” Ferrone says. “Our world is full of so much shit! And honestly, no one needs another chair. We’re good! We could actually stop producing chairs forever, and we’d be just fine. There needs to be some reason for a new design to exist. A new object needs to contribute to some new aspect of the topic in a meaningful way, in order for it to be brought to fruition. Otherwise, just don’t do it!”
Through her own studio fferone, she embraces her passion for reinterpreting conventional design work. “When I started, I was quite versed in the field. I already knew all the major players and knew my design history. I think a lot of people entering the field today are uniformed of the context in which their piece would be entering the field. They sort of throw it into the world but don’t really understand how it adds to the conversation, or if it does at all, and I think that’s a mistake,” she says. For Ferrone, it’s all about striving to stay original and continuing to add to the conversation. “I try to educate myself as much as possible in terms of where everything fits into the larger timeline. I start there, and then each piece has to have a concept that can be articulated. There has to be some goal in mind that you are rigorously pursing—I think that allows for the object to then have a place to reside in the timeline of that object typology.”
Her design inspiration continues to come from within. “I’ve lived in lots of places—Los Angeles, New York, Chicago. But I would say they haven’t had a direct impact on my work,” Ferrone says. “Even the more I travel, I find less and less external stimulation. Maybe that’s just happening as I mature into my own design practice. It continues to come more from an internal place, instead of an external place.”
Flip through the selected works of fferrone
“One of my highlights is working with fabricators, using their materials in a new way, which is exciting. “
Ferrone has also won a multitude of awards with her work, including being part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection, a GOOD DESIGN award recipient, and is included in various exhibitions both nationally and internationally. Looking back on her success, there’s nothing she really wishes she would have known initially. “Ignorance is bliss! There’s something good about that time of not knowing everything that you’re one day going to end up knowing.”
While she enjoys all stages of design, Ferrone’s work makes her the happiest when she’s collaborating with fabricators. She collaborates with master artisans to handcraft each piece she dreams up, which allows for a highly intuitive production approach.
“I find creating to be exhausting. It’s a labor of love, but when it’s done it’s like getting a present,” she says. “One of my overall highlights is working with the fabricators. You’re trying to use their materials in a new way, which is always exciting for me. Those brainstorming conversations always give me a natural high.” She also finds joy when people tell her they own something she’s designed. “I always ask them if they actually use it! I believe in creating objects that people really bring into their lives. You know how every woman has that pair of high heels that they only wear once a year? They’re totally impractical, but you still love them? I don’t want to make things like that,” she says. Instead, she aims to design things that can be easily incorporated into our everyday lives—things that will bring people a spark of joy.
Felicia has an eye for minimalistic simplicities. She translates this ability seamlessly into creating objects that enhance the lives of consumers, while also offering aesthetically pleasing design solutions. Currently based in Chicago, her namesake brand allows her to constantly reinvent archetypes through her fundamental approach to design. “I strongly believe in creating timeless work. Fewer things, better things, and objects that you don’t get bored of,” she says. “I aspire to create things that people want to grow old with.”
Thank you, Felicia for inviting us into your beautiful design studio! For more information on Felicia’s designs, visit her website.
Felicia Ferrone is founder of design studio fferone, and is the Director of Graduate Studies in Industrial Design and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her designs often combine the talents of skilled artisans from around the globe with her unique attention to detail and admiration for purposeful objects.
Photography: David Johnson