Founded in 1954 by Nico Moretto, who has headed the company ever since and designed all its products, Alpes Inox began its operation with the manufacture of metal cabinets for the kitchen. In 1964 it started producing built-in kitchen appliances made of stainless steel: sinks, hobs, ovens and exhaust hoods. The company soon gained a distinguished reputation for the high technical and quality standards of its products, their sophisticated design and the accurate machining of steel, a high quality material characterized by its stainless, hygienic and resistant properties, whose 19/10 chrome-nickel alloy and special finish determine its exclusive “silver” colouring. The basic qualities that characterize the Alpes products are quality, functionality, safety.
The words of Nico Moretto, the founder of Alpes Inox, lead us through the history of the company and of Italian industrial design in general. A design process that has won many important awards but above all tells the story of a man, his life and his passion for one material: steel.
Why did you decide to focus exclusively on steel?
When as a young man I went to work as an assistant-draughtsman in the technical division of Smalterie Metallurgiche Venete, I saw stainless steel for the first time in my life. It came from Sweden, packaged like a precious metal, and there it was pressed, shaped, welded, polished and given a surface finish.
It was a magnificent material: complete, clean, essential. Years later, as soon as I could, I began to work with it too.
I remember that at the beginning I pressed it in an old hydraulic press with the moulds that I used for the porcelain sinks: the bowls kept breaking, and I kept trying over and over. Finally, using soap shavings that I ground very fine with a bar-quality coffee grinder, I achieved my first unbroken bowl. It was like being on cloud nine. This was the beginning of a long friendship, and I believe I can say that I have made my own contribution to steel, when I invented the “silver satin finish”: perhaps it is not a coincidence that my stainless-steel products do well in Sweden too.
Nico Moretto, a life dedicated to design…
I began work early, in June 1940, as an apprentice in a garage. After a few months, I began to study technical drawing at the “Scuola d’Arti e Mestieri” in Bassano del Grappa. Then I found work as a messenger and assistant-draughtsman in the technical department, as I said earlier, at Smalterie Metallurgiche Venete. So I went from starter motors, dynamos and batteries to parallel rules, tracing paper, and Indian ink. Ten years in that factory-school and then (still as a draughtsman or technical director), I spent several years in other medium-sized companies in the area. But I needed to hone my skills, so I went to night school. I enjoyed building models of sailing boats that I launched on Sundays, and drawing gliders that flew silently over the fields around Vicenza and Asiago. In 1954, I decided to set up Alpes. I began working in a shack in the suburbs, making metal sink-units: the units were stove-enamelled, and the sinks were porcelain-coated. These products were quite successful, and that’s when I felt I could go ahead. So I went on to make modular furniture for the kitchen, water heaters, clothes dryers, etc. In the early sixties, I made my definitive choice: I would work with nothing but stainless steel, to produce sinks, hobs, ovens, cookers, barbecues, grills, deep fryers, kitchen hoods, and in the end I came to produce today’s system of free-standing kitchen units.
Do you feel more like an entrepreneur or a designer?
I am an entrepreneur and manufacturer who designs his own products. This is normal for me: I spent my life studying, drawing and designing. And I dedicate at least half my time to supervising the entire process in the company, from the concept to testing the finished product. But I must admit that down our way there’s lots of people who feel the same way about being an entrepreneur.
What type of designer do you feel most akin to?
To the ones who worry about everything, from feasibility to safety, from function to form: the ones who want to go one step further, who want to see everything, to understand what people might need, who want to feel useful to people.
Are you thinking of expanding your company?
The current size feels right to me. Rather than a change of scale, I am thinking of improvements.
Nevertheless, it is no coincidence that very few companies of our size produce and market complete product ranges. When it comes to technology, you can’t really say that “small is beautiful”: smaller companies can’t afford to make certain investments in advanced technology, but woe betide them if they don’t.
In any case, I am lucky I can share these problems with my sons, Aldo and Bruno, who work in the company and are a great credit to the business.
THE 18th COMPASSO D’ORO
The projects that have won the award over the more than fifty-years of the Compasso d’Oro also include the Flip-Up Hob designed by Domenico Moretto, which has become part of the Historic Collection of ADI’s Compasso d’Oro Awards, along with an Honourable Mention for the Electronic Extractor System. The citation reads as follows:
“Its cutting-edge materials and technologies embody the classical principle that it is the responsibility of design to make life easier for the people who use these objects: the easy-to-clean grill-burner complex (that can also go in the dishwasher) and the way the entire appliance flips up from the work top create new qualities in terms of economy of space, domestic hygiene, and user comfort, without abandoning a typically traditional configuration”.
The Compasso d’Oro award is conferred on the basis of a pre-selection made by ADI’s Permanent Observatory of Design, a commission of experts, designers, critics, historians and journalists specialised in the field, who are members of ADI or independent, who are all involved in constantly gathering information, year after year, and in assessing and selecting the best products, which are then published in the annual ADI Design Index.