Diversifying Design: A Q&A with Ambra Medda

Diversifying Design: A Q&A with Ambra Medda

Prior to joining Christie’s in London as global creative director for its recently expanded 20/21 Design department, Ambra Medda made her mark as co-founder of Design Miami and creator of the online collectible design platform L’ArcoBaleno. Anna Kats talked with her about the plans to increase the audience for the design category at Christie’s and the lessons she has learned from past ventures.

What are the biggest changes in the design market in recent years? 
There’s a lot more interest now than when I launched Design Miami a decade ago. At that time, exhibitors tended to bring as much merchandise as possible and hope for the best. Now, dealers are more likely to present a curated exhibition that tells a story or highlights the work of one designer. Design has been elevated and presented in a way that does it justice. 

When you created L’ArcoBaleno, was there a niche in the market you were seeking to fill? 
Like it or not, digital is a big part of the way people are consuming culture and exercising buying power. While there was a lot of information out there about design broadly, I saw there really wasn’t anything in the digital sphere that justified and explained why pieces are important — be it because of the way they’re made, the legacy that they represent, or because of their provenance. 

The Internet offers an opportunity to inform people and present some of the most exciting material to an international audience that may not have access to galleries and fairs.

Do you see the emergence of more cultural diversity in the design realm? 
Clearly there’s a lot more design coming from all over the world, and that’s incredibly exciting, especially since we’ve had a European orientation and aesthetic for so long. I saw wonderful shows of Japanese design at the Japanese embassy this past year; I’ve seen phenomenal Korean crafts being presented at Maison et Objet as well as at the London Design Festival. At the Royal College of Art, which has a very strong design program, a notably high percentage of the students are Asian. Whether you go to Maison et Objet or the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, or even to the Salone del Mobile, which is happening this month in Milan, you will see pieces by a number of emerging Asian designers.
Is there a balance that you will seek in the variety of historic decorative arts and contemporary design that Christie’s will be offering? 
The beauty of design is that it’s such an elastic field. Because it includes so many things, we are at liberty to mix things and create unexpected combinations of merchandise that may make you look at things very differently. So I think that’s my quest: to introduce people to something new through interesting juxtapositions.

What do you see as a good investment at the moment? 
Since the great recession, traditional pieces have done the best. I think people have felt more confident spending money on things that have a steady track record or are big names. I think now we’re sort of moving out of that safety phase. People are starting to open their eyes and be potentially more open to buying some things that are less secure. 

I also see a lot of opportunity in Italian design. People such as Ettore Sottsass, I feel, are kind of undervalued. You can buy a beautiful piece from the 1980s that is a complete masterpiece, utterly unique, and it actually costs less than an emerging talent. 

A successful piece of design, for me, is both functional and beautiful. You can love your tea strainer, because when it’s well designed and functional, there’s something really encouraging and refreshing and comforting in knowing that. As always, I’m a tremendous advocate of following your gut and being honest to your own instinct. At the end of the day it’s design—hopefully you’re using it, you’re living with it, and it’s enriching your everyday life.