Luca Boscardin | Toy Designer
From Venice's canals to Amsterdam's IJ river,
journeyed near and far to discover his love for a particular kind
of design: toy design. Similar to the freedom in creative self expression he has experienced while living in Amsterdam, his toys encourage children to be creative and give them free
rein to let their imaginations run wild. After working for numerous toy companies for four years, Luca decided to start his own toy brand,
, to bring to life his own projects; his first is
, a collection of rocking animals so simple, so classic and so very beautiful. We took the ferry up to
NDSM in the north of Amsterdam to talk to Luca about his favorite toys and dreams for the future. -
Text and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us about yourself.
I studied architecture in Venice for four years. When interning at an architecture studio after finishing my bachelor degree, I realized that although I loved the field, I felt I couldn’t express myself in it. I decided to do a master’s degree in graphic design. For my graduation project I designed a toy. I was able to combined elements of graphic design and illustration to build something I really liked. Then I moved to Amsterdam with my girlfriend Valentina Raffaelli . As a graphic designer, I felt I had to find work in graphic design so spent my first six months here at a studio. It was interesting but being there didn’t really excite me. It was there that I was introduced to the toy design Studio ROOF (formerly KIDSONROOF). I decided to do an internship there and realized that this, this thing I really enjoyed, could actually be a job. I never expected to be designing toys but if I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped playing. Because I have fun when I’m designing toys.
What characterizes your work?
My toys are objects that you can play with. My ‘clients’, the children, need to use their imagination to build and to create the toys as he/she wants. There are no rules. Most of my study comes from Bruno Munari and the Montessori system. According to them, we should allow children to test materials, to smell and smash them, to experiment. This is the main idea behind my toys. You have to build them, touch them and try again. Because I believe that the children have a lot of imagination. If you let them free to imagine they can create something really great. For example, in Archiville , which I created for Studio Roof, I give children the opportunity to build the city as they want it to look. The parts can be matched and mismatched and the children are free to build whatever they want.
Have you seen children actually interact with your work?
Yes, I organized a workshop for Archiville. Twenty children attended and each child had his or her own Archiville to play with. I told them a little history about the city and then let them create their own city. It was so great to see them play. There was one long and tall Archiville. One child was using just mountains and trees. Another was using just bridges and straight roads. I realized it really works. And it’s really the most satisfactory experience, to create something and see others using it and actually enjoying it.
How does a project like this work – do you have the freedom to create what you want?
Most of the time the studio contacts me with an idea and they are open to listen to mine. For most of my toys I have been given several restrictions, and these have helped me in my work. The restrictions with Archiville were to use cardboard and the construction of joints. I was able to choose my own subject and the illustration style and I decided to unify the size of the joints, all the same size, in order to let the children play and build as he/she wants/prefers. Several studios I work with are open to using different materials and techniques, so they just say, Luca, design a toy. And that’s even more difficult because there are too many options!
And Cavalcade is your own project.
Yes, it’s the first project that I’m developing by myself, and it’s a lot more complicated. Not only do I have to design something for the market, I have to take care of the distribution, production and certification. The idea came from children’s drawings. Their drawings are very simple, strong and yet the shapes and objects are usually universal. Everyone can understand what is depicted in a children’s drawing. So that was the idea, let’s create rocking horses, giraffes and crocodiles in a very simple way. I worked with an artisan in Italy, which was an incredible experience. We combined our crafts and decided to use just one piece of wood to create the rocking animals. Just one beam of wood, cut into different sizes and painted in different colors. Paint one yellow and add a longer piece for the neck and you have a giraffe. It was really that easy. The design, what I consider to be the fun part, is done now so now I’m looking into production processes, finding distributors, arranging certifications, taking care of promotion… There’s a lot involved. It’s an adventure, for sure.
What is it like to work in the toy design industry?
Here in Holland there is a lot of attention for design. Design is not just linked to luxury as in Italy; it is something that can make your life easier and better. In many design shops here in the Netherlands you can find an object for children; it’s like design can be used and appreciated by all ages. And the studio I’ve worked with since becoming a toy designer, Studio Roof, is one of the first toy design studios to go mainstream. And since I started working in this industry four and a half years, I’ve seen quite a change. There is more interest in the world of toys. Toys aren’t just created for fun, they can actually help to educate the world’s children. Toys aren’t seen as a very serious business but it’s actually a very important one.
And would you say the city of Amsterdam has inspired you over the years?
Valentina and I moved here because we really liked the city. During our studies we were introduced to Dutch design and were fascinated by it. At the time, we were living in Venice so moving to Amsterdam was almost like a natural step. We left Italy because it was difficult to start something after university. You’re seen as the young graduate, the young boy who doesn’t know anything about the real world, someone who should listen and not talk. Here in the Netherlands, you are seen as the one with the fresh ideas, the one who’s sharing things others maybe don’t know yet. That was so great. We also met so many creative people. The scale of the city helps with that, it’s so human. Dutch people are very flexible and easy to approach. With this approach you become more enthusiastic, and you want to try things, to experiment. I think that is the reason why there are so many creatives here, despite the fact that it’s hard to find an apartment. As soon as you are in the circle Amsterdam is like a big mama [laughs].
Do you have places you like to visit in the city?
The Stedelijk Museum is definitely my favorite museum. And the bookshop, I love the bookshop. But you don’t have to visit the museums to find out the latest trends in design. You can just visit shops in the city, like Restored on the Haarlemmerdijk, to see them (and buy them!) But I also really like the traditional Amsterdam brown cafes, a lot. The atmosphere changes throughout the day, and the people do too. I love Noordermarkt on Saturdays and Mondays; I find a lot of objects there, like this snake [picks up toy snake from a shelf]. It’s just one piece of bamboo and some iron pieces but it moves just like a snake! Oh and I really like Di Vino, Valentina and I work there some evenings.
What does an average day look like for you?
I wake up early in the morning. I love biking to the boat in the morning to get to work. The boat is fantastic. It almost feels magical, taking the boat across the IJ everyday. I usually spend my days here at the NDSM. I don’t really have a work routine, and I’m not working as a toy designer every day of the week. Usually I reserve some time at the end of the day just to draw. I sit at Noorderlicht or head to one of the brown cafes on the Zeedijk. It’s important for me to go around, to be in different environments. I find inspiration for my toys just about everywhere.
Do you have big plans for the future?
My dream is to have my own brand, to design things I believe in and to put them into the market by myself. I would love to work with a team of passionate people, people in charge of the production and the promotion, for example. But that’s a long-term dream. More short term would be to work with more artisans. I find so much inspiration working with others. I was recently in my hometown close to Venice. It’s an area famous for ceramics and clay, and we visited several artisan laboratories. While talking to one artisan, he showed me how clay is a really strong material, just as strong as the diamond. Just by talking to him, I arrived a new idea of a toy. Here are some sketches [pulls out his sketchbook]. It’s a circus with different characters, all moving in different directions, inspired by the way ceramicists work with their hands and create symmetrical objects. But there are so many different techniques to learn, to build with to create new things. Considering how many materials are out there, how many techniques are being used… There are still so many toys to be made.