With its holographic finishes and ultra-’80s-inspired patterns, the Italian ceramic tile company 41zero42 shows it isn’t afraid to break through boundaries in an industry shaped by decades of tradition.
By Rachel Gallaher Photographed by Christian Daolio and Punto Immagin
The Franz line is part of the Paper41 Lux collection, which is made with high-definition digital prints in cold-glazed porcelain, and the Pulp collection’s marble-esque look is seen here in the gold colorway with a double-polished finish.
Seven years ago, 41zero42 was little more than three people sharing one crowded desk and the idea to try something different in the ceramic tile industry.
Founded by Martino Manni and Antonello Leonardo—who met at a dinner party in Bologna in the late 2000s—the company launched with one strict rule: Rather than focusing on market trends, it would allow the staff creative freedom to develop and define the company’s style and product lines based on their aesthetic leanings and interests.
“41zero42 was born from a desire to do something different; to try [to look] outside the ceramic field and interact more with interior design,” Manni says. “Over the years our research has evolved to bring our audience one step at a time toward an increasingly current and experimental language.”
The son of the owner of Colli Ceramics—a five-decades-old tile company located just outside of Modena, in northern Italy’s ceramic tile producing region—Manni was looking to uphold the legacy and quality of Italian tile, but also to infuse the aesthetic with a more contemporary edge. His company’s name, 41zero42, is the postal code for Fiorano Modenese, the region in which it is located. According to Manni, it was chosen “specifically to identify us to a place we belong and all the values that are related to it.”
Manni may have been born into the tile industry, but his path didn’t always follow his father’s footsteps. “I studied graphics during my university days,” he says, “and if someone had asked me then if I would work in ceramics, I would have definitely answered, ‘No way.’” But life after university eventually brought him back to Fiorano Modenese, where Colli Ceramics was looking to create a brand solely for the North American market. In 2013, 41zero42 presented its first collection at Coverings, the annual tile and stone show in Atlanta. Named Burlington after the slate quarries in northwestern England, the collection of porcelain tile was digitally colored to look like quarried stone: The hetero-geneous pattern featured the differential shading and inclusions made by nature—and proved so popular that the brand-new company came away with 15 projects, which included a mix of residential and commercial designs.
FROM LEFT: Black double-polished Pulp wall tile is seen here in 4-by-24-inch strips; the Pack collection has boldly irregular patterns inspired by the fragmentation of polar ice floes; green Pulp tile with a raw finish.
Continuing on the tile show circuit that year, 41zero42 upped the ante at Cersaie, the decades-old international tile and fixture show held annually in Bologna, Italy (just 30 miles east of Fiorano Modenese), with the debut of its second collection, U-color. Inspired by the industrial wood floors of the 1970s, the innovative, cold-glazed porcelain series featured punchy tones—grassy greens, deep grape purples, spicy chili reds—that previously hadn’t been seen in, or considered appropriate for, ceramic tile. Nevertheless, U-color was a hit, and the collection won the Good Design Award in 2014.
At tile shows and international design fairs, it’s not hard to find the 41zero42 booth. Hip-hop or pop music sets an upbeat tone as a team of stylish young people gives tours of the company’s latest styles and lines, which are never just subtle variations on last year’s designs. The creatively acrobatic team has presented everything from large-format photograph-printed tile (think: panels in sizes as large as 2-by-4 feet) to 3D patterns to last year’s wildly popular, holographic Spectre collection: The iridescent pastel-hued tiles are the result of a study that examined various glaze applications’ reactions to light.
“Craftsmanship is the result of the creativity of people who have devised a technology to perfect production processes that allow the product to have aesthetic qualities while respecting work ethics.” —Martino Manni, cofounder, 41zero42
After studying various glaze applications’ interactions with light, 41zero42 developed a finish capable of drawing on the light spectrum to create a holographic appearance. Here, the wall is covered with Spectre tile with a rose hologram finish, the desk with Spectre in rose with a glossy finish, and the floor with black tile from the Futura line.
“Every time we plan or talk, we always try to find an element of surprise or an out-of-place aspect that would give an intensity and contemporaneity to the aesthetic,” Manni says. “There is always a way to experiment. One time it can be with just a picture, other times through technology, and other times [with] an idea. There is always a new road or a different point of view that you can take. When blocks come your way, sometimes you just have to go around them or wait to see if something might happen.”
Earlier this year, the entire world experienced a roadblock when the COVID-19 pandemic led many countries to declare strict quarantines. In northern Italy, when manufacturing plants temporarily closed, the economy came to a screeching halt. Despite the closures’ impact on 41zero42, Manni says that the team forged ahead creatively, producing two new lines, one of which the company plans to launch by the end of the year. “It’s the mind and the passion that have to never stop.”