Alessi Toasts its Home at Biltmore Fashion Park

Alessi -- the innovator behind the iconic Kettle with a perched bird and the Alessandro Mendini lines of corkscrew people -- is now open for business in Biltmore Fashion Park following a move from CityNorth last March. The store smartly postponed its grand opening celebration until the temps returned to the double digits and kicked off the shopping season last night.

"I always wanted to join the family business for as long as I can remember," says Matteo Alessi, the great-grandson of Alessi founder, Giovanni, and the company's trade marketing and international development director. "I feel a sense of pride. I want to contribute and leave my mark on the company, hopefully in the right direction."

By "not setting boundaries on designers," Alessi products turn regular household goods on their heads (i.e. the iconic Philippe Starck lemon squeezer that resembles a spaceship and was the artists' response to an assignment to make a tray). "The typical Alessi approach is taking a typology and reinventing it, providing the same functionality in something completely different," Alessi says.

Click through for Alessi's top product picks and designers to watch.

"We don't see ourselves as a manufacturer, we see ourselves as a mediator between the world of applied arts and consumers," Alessi says. "We try to bring creative ideas from fine art to the market. As a mediator, our role is not to interpret or change these ideas but to transfer them from one world to the other, influencing them as little as possible."

Alessi doesn't have any in-house designers but contracts with more than 200 artists worldwide in hopes that ideas will be multi-cultural and draw on various influences. But not all the ideas make the cut: About two-thirds wind up stalling in the "Italian Dream Factory" for either not pushing the envelope far enough or for pushing it too far for the market to respond just yet.

Up-and-comers who Alessi says are ones to watch include Gabriele Chiave who made the Tripod Trivet and Frederic Gooris who's behind some pieces in the kitschy Objet Bijoux collection, like the cat-and-mouse Minou purse hook and Pip key ring.

Alessi says classic mainstays include the Alessi Bombe Tea and Coffee Set, the last product designed by his grandfather, Carlo, which is 65 years old and still in the catalog.

Asked to pick just one item for his home, Alessi says he'd choose the 9090 coffee maker by Richard Sapper: "It's the perfect example of an Alessi product. It takes 100 steps to make it exactly the way the designer wanted it."

The tripod trivet was already sold out when we stopped in for the grand opening and the store was down to its last ghost-costumed corkscrew man, a Halloween limited edition.

Still, Alessi is brimming with the types of gadgets we could spend hundreds of dollars on, if not for that pesky little thing called fiscal responsibility. Oh well, we can always stop by to ogle, right?!

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Hannah E Williams