Even before Andrea Panico received her BS in nutritional biochemistry, a desire for a more creative field nagged at her. Courses at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., proved satisfying, and a job at the international design firm Studios Architecture followed. After earning a graduate degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute, Panico created products for West Elm and architecture/interior firm Clodagh Design. In 2005, her admiration of building design served as a blueprint for Pico Design, a jewelry line Panico calls “little architecture.” Short for piccolo, pico means small in Italian and is also an abbreviation of the designer’s last name. The modern collection features seemingly simple geometrics that are more complex than meet the eye. Pico Design is available in Montclair at Dot Reeder and Nest & Company, the Princeton University Art Museum store and at her website.
New Jersey Monthly: Is there a conventional wisdom for translating designs from such a large scale as architecture to jewelry?
Andrea Panico: I’ll try anything if I’m inspired. The biggest challenge is often balance. In jewelry, we need some level of symmetry or pieces don’t hang right, whereas in architecture, we often see cantilevers and asymmetry with success. In our SC Johnson necklace [based on an element of the namesake building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright], while the piece is symmetrical, I wanted a material change and used a single brass ring with a laser-cut wood piece. At first, the brass was too heavy, the necklace hung crooked. It drove me—and everyone else—nuts! I hollowed out the brass to create balance.
NJM: Tell us about the dimensional aspect of your designs.
AP: One of the concepts that inspired this line was how space can frame experience. The most obvious example I use is the Guggenheim Museum, where Frank Lloyd Wright’s rotunda design completely changed the experience of going to a museum. Being there does something to your experience of viewing art. I’m trying to capture that same feeling on a smaller scale—to create spaces and voids and forms and movement.
NJM: Which is your most challenging piece?
AP: The work involved is something for which we often lose credit. When you have designs that look simple, people assume they are easy to make. Our cube-drop earrings require precise finishing work; our V earrings look complicated, but are straightforward. I strive for pieces that are impactful and easy to produce. But sometimes the design takes over, even if it is cost prohibitive.
NJM: What’s behind your choice of materials?
AP: I wanted the line to be accessible to people who wanted art, but couldn’t spend thousands on a necklace. The design is about taking an affordable precious metal—silver—and making something beautiful.
NJM: Are there buildings near your home in Montclair that inspired you?
AP: The residential architecture here is amazing. My home is over 100 years old. Including beautiful details was part of basic craftmanship then. It reminds me that people want beautifully made things.