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Lecturer, Students Celebrate Annual Cortona Design Retreat

CSULB’s Fifth Annual Cortona Design Retreat returns April 12-27 when university design majors travel to the prestigious “Salone Del Mobile” furniture fair in Milan, Italy.

Joe Ricchio, a 1980 CSULB industrial design graduate and owner of Ricchio Design in Seal Beach, created the annual Cortona Design Retreat in an effort to share his 25 years of design, furniture and Italian cultural experience with current and future design students at CSULB.

The retreat is meant to provide a select group of undergraduate design and art majors with the opportunity to experience the Italian culture and its influence upon design. To participate, students submit a resume, portfolio of work, biography and paper stating what the value of the trip would be to them. Upon their return, the participating students give a slide show of their experience in May in the Design Department gallery and host a public exhibit of their design projects executed while in Cortona.

“Salone is the biggest furniture exhibit in the world,” said Ricchio, a lecturer in CSULB’s industrial design department. “In 2004, there were approximately 150,000 square meters of exhibits, 1,500 exhibitors and 180,000 visitors to the show. It takes four or five days just to attempt to see everything.”

The visit is supported by donations from many of Ricchio’s clients, CSULB alumni and friends. Funding for the 2008 trip comes from such furniture manufacturers as Arcadia, Davis Furniture, HBF, ICF, MTS Seating, Peter Pepper Products and Wilsonart. CSULB alumni contributors include Brian Graham of Brian Graham Design, Carl Muller of Carl Muller Design, Matt Duncan of Morphix Design, Joe Ricchio of Ricchio Design, Patricia Ridgway Mariash of Ridgway Associates, and Shelly Takahashi.  Friends of the program contributing are John Caldwell of John Caldwell Design, Dave Dahl of Dahl Design and Brian Kane of Kane Design Studio. Previous student participants of the Cortona Design Retreat also contributing are David Miller, Joel Perez and Patty Yuan.

Many of the sponsors have been to or exhibited at the faire. “The manufacturers that contribute, the other furniture designers that contribute and even the alumni that contribute do so for one very simple reason; they are all aware of the value of stepping `out-of-the-box’ and experiencing design and other cultures on a global level,” said Ricchio. “For some of the students it is a very eye-opening experience with it being their first time out of the U.S. Most years, some of the sponsors have met us in Milano for dinner to discuss design, the fair and simply everyone’s time in Italy. It is great exposure for the students to have this kind of first hand casual exposure to clients and professionals.”

Besides the sheer size and international flavor of the show, each year students report really enjoying the student section of the show titled “Satellite.” “There are usually 50 or 60 schools from across the world exhibiting,” Ricchio explained. “It is great for the students to see whom they will be competing against in the marketplace. Also, each year everyone enjoys Zona Tortona, a neighborhood outside the fairgrounds where up-and-coming young designers and firms exhibit their work. There is always lots of cutting-edge design, exploration and very hip evening parties and openings.”

 “In past years, we visited Vinci, the hometown of Leonardo da Vinci, and saw his home and a museum of his work,” Ricchio said. “We also visited Venice, Florence and Siena. And of course, hence the name of the retreat, we based ourselves in Cortona, a medieval hilltop town about 45 minutes southeast of Florence. The goal is to expose the students to the contrasts of Italy, from very small towns like Cortona to the hustle and bustle of big cities such as Milano.”

Since graduating in 1980, Ricchio has stayed in touch with CSULB, its faculty and his classmates. “Simply put, CSULB was a great value and experience from the Design Department to International Programs. I have been fortunate and successful in my career and believe it is a result of my schooling,” he said. “Also, I very much believe it is important to give back when possible. The school was good to me, so I felt it important to return the favor. My involvement in the department, my part-time instruction of furniture design and the Cortona Design Retreat is my way of sharing my experience, knowledge and good fortune. It allows me to share about design, my professional experience and my understanding of Italy.”