The designer and managing director of Toscot, Colin Patrick Dinley, talks to us about the artisanal appeal of Tuscany, how the brand merges traditional craft and innovation – and why they make lamps, not plates.
August 6th, 2021
When the 21-year old Colin – a design graduate from Worcester in the English Midlands – set out on his European trip in the mid-80s, pursuing his passion for ceramics quickly became his navigational tool. This quest to find a temporary job in the industry took him all around European ceramic hotspots – from Limoges to the South of France and to Faenza in Italy. But only as he was about to leave for Germany to continue on with his journey, Colin found himself in Tuscany. “I wanted to see Carrara marble before going to Bavaria,” he says with a smile.
He never left. “The size and variety of the artisanal production here is incredible,” Colin tells me about his first impressions of Tuscany. “It’s like Disneyland – within a 20 square kilometre radius you have people turning brass, to – at the time – glass, and metal work. It’s an incredibly fertile area in that respect. You can design your own products and work with a variety of artisans to make them. It was one of the main reasons I stayed. ”
The second reason was undoubtedly the fact that Colin got married. And it’s with his wife, Lorella Zuffanelli, that the designer started Toscot. I ask Colin about the genesis of the company. “We designed and made a clay product for the outdoors. Many people asked about the clay – there was a lot of it in the area that couldn’t be used so everyone was interested in the one we used. So I decided to call the material Toscot.
Next thing we knew, we started receiving orders addressed to Toscot – and so we became Toscot,” Colin explains, laughing. What started as a bit of a side project, today is a small, family-run operation that promotes traditional Tuscan craft and the artisanal capabilities of the area across over 30 international destinations – such as Enlightened Living, the exclusive distributor of Toscot’s lighting fixtures for Australia.
Based in Sesto Fiorentino near Florence, Toscot has become synonymous with beautiful, locally hand-made ceramic lighting fixtures. I ask Colin what attracted him to lighting in the first place. “If you make a plate, it’s just a plate. But if you put a hole in it, and add a lamp holder, it becomes a light – and it becomes much more important, ” Colin says. This appeal of combining utility with local craftsmanship results in an incredible array of unique lighting products that make it easy to understand Toscot’s world-wide popularity.
Their unique brand fuses a variety of classic and contemporary forms with traditional manufacturing techniques and unique charm, often expressed through the rustic aesthetic of terracotta. And while not all the fixtures are made with terracotta or have that customary Tuscan look – the contemporary slip cast clay Battersea being a fine example – the company’s identity is certainly deeply anchored in traditional Tuscan artisanship and local handicraft. Colin appreciates the ability to work with suppliers and artisans based in the same area.
“The relationships you can develop when working in the same region are vital. When we design something, we can talk to our local partners and discuss the best ways of producing it. Often, they will show us something they may think is interesting too – like, ‘we’ve come up with this colour’ or ‘we’re doing this effect,’” Colin says and adds that when an order arrives, it creates work for a whole lot of people around the area. “That’s really important too,” he adds.
This exchange of ideas encouraged by geographical proximity lends itself to bringing to life concepts that wouldn’t have been as easy to achieve otherwise. For instance, making colours. “We collaborate with local companies that make colours – and so many colours we work with are actually ours. We, quite literally, paint on a piece of cardboard and they produce a set of samples for us to choose from,” describes the designer. “Then we figure out who will be best at glazing that colour – depending on a finish, one craftsman will exceed at shiny glass, the other one at achieving a matte look,” he adds, highlighting how precise the areas of expertise amongst the local artisans can be.
Toscot’s bespoke approach to colour-making is the brand’s vital point of difference which contributes to generating remarkably unique lighting fixtures. A stunning example of that is Match , one of their latest releases, which not only offers a magnificent choice of colours but also manifests wonderful visual effects that can be achieved through a manual manufacturing process.
The name of this tubular lamp comes from the idea of matching colours – and from one of its versions which, made with dark brown copper and red-brick-coloured part in ceramics, looks like a match. Colin talks me through the craft behind the colouring of the new copper-coloured lamp. “This flame colour was achieved by putting the metal tube in a type of acid that will decorate it, and then the tube gets flamed with a welding torch. The visual result is unique – none of the lamps will be the same,” he explains.
This incredible, hand-made quality touches everything Toscot does and Colin goes on to explain how the vast majority of their clay products are made. “You start with clay in solid form, like a sculptor. You then push it into the mould, carefully assessing its thickness. You have to learn how to do that because the only way to judge it is by pressing the clay with your finger and feeling it. In that respect, it’s quite similar to being a chef,” Colin smiles and shares a video showing one of Toscot’s artisans hand-pressing the clay into the mould to make a terracotta ceiling lamp called Notorius.
Inspired by domes present in Italian architecture, it’s one of the most difficult products Toscot makes. “There’s no other no other product that you can buy that involves so many different processes,” Colin marvels at the multi-step process behind the ceramics. “One of the things that we try to do through our work is to convey the idea of quality and value ,” he says.
These traditional manufacturing techniques and methods are used to produce high tech products which, says Colin, is the most exciting thing about their offering. That, in turn, goes hand in hand with innovation – both in the technical and the more traditional sense. “We obviously deal with finishes, and so we work out new glazes and new colours,” Colin explains. “We’re also looking into different kinds of clay. For instance, we have just introduced new clay which is a lovely off-brown colour. We used it with Jules, a hand-pressed garden lamp.”
Pushing the technological advancement further, Toscot were the first lighting company to introduce spotlights using terracotta a few years back. They have also incorporated onboard LED lights into a series of outdoor lamps. “We worked with an engineer on designing these waterproof lights,” Colin says about Smith outdoor lighting. “We designed and made small aluminium components that would fit into the terracotta in a way that allowed for LEDs to be replaced if need be.” Beautifully packaged in hand-made ceramic shapes, the charming lights demonstrate that for Toscot, traditional manufacturing methods and innovation are the most natural fusion. Colin says that solar and battery powered products may be something Toscot explores next.
As a sole distributor of Toscot for Australia, Enlightened Living offers a wide range of lamps designed and produced by Toscot in Tuscany. From the impressive dome-like shapes of the Notorius series, the alluring silhouettes of the Battersea range inspired by the electric isolators of the early 19th century – to the bespoke take on colour in the latest Match range , Enlightened Living can help bring some of that Tuscan glow to any Australian home.
Whether you’re after the rustic charm of terracotta or the more contemporary appeal of less traditional fixtures, explore Toscot’s collection of pendant lights, chandeliers, floor lamps and sconces here.
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