Long before Nike had swoosh, Pininfarina wrote the design book on vroom.
Pininfarina's sporting style is well-known to Ferrari fans, who have reveled in the company's advanced designs and sleek contours for three generations. Now, the circle is widening.
Think red-hot curves.
Italy's revered industrial design firm is known first for great-looking cars. But through July, a local exhibition called "Extradesign: Pininfarina Design in 20 Objects for Daily Use" shows those distinctive curves on far more. An array of products on view, from an aerodynamic sport shoe to sophisticated titanium eyeglasses to an organic bathtub faucet, bear the company's signature streamlined styling.
"That faucet is like a Formula One," said Paolo Pininfarina, grandson of the firm's founder, pointing out drawings of a favorite object. The faucet looks as liquid as the water that will pass through it. "It was extraordinarily difficult to design. That's why I named it `Extradesign.' "
Pininfarina provided a guided tour before the show's opening this week at the Italian Cultural Center. The faucet itself was missing from the display, along with a circa $2,000 mechanical sport watch, whose face was inspired by the instrument panel of a Ferrari. Pininfarina was considering lending the one he wears to the exhibition.
Farther along, he pointed out gleaming blue and red video projectors, favorites with Ferrari enthusiasts at $10,000 and up, and told the story of the world's most fashionable pneumatic wrench, in silvery gray and purple. A Ferrari-owning executive had commissioned it after complaining to Pininfarina, "Our wrenches are ugly. I want to have the best-looking wrench in the world."
Pininfarinas have been enthusing over design at least since the 1930s, when Battista Farina set up shop in Turin to design auto bodies. His cars delighted the eye as well as the driver. Farina's nickname was "Pinin." Eventually, the two names became one. The family -- including son Sergio and grandson Paolo -- adopted the name in 1961.
Sergio is on Ferrari's board. Paolo, now in his forties and an engineer by training, branched out from cars. Since 1986, he has built the Pininfarina Extra label, designing products for everyday life. Headquarters are in a renovated farmhouse on the edge of the main plant, not far from a high-tech wind tunnel where some design prototypes are tested.
The evolution from styling one of the century's most desirable automobiles to rethinking the look of household products began with a matte black telephone. It was inspired by the Ferrari prototype "Modulo." The cradled phone has the distinct profile of a car.
His second project has a family resemblance. A kitchen design for the Italian company Snaidero, it comes in high-gloss Ferrari red. Cabinet fronts are curved, as if the room had passed through the wind tunnel. A section is on display; a full-scale kitchen will be set up at the Washington Design Center's new Snaidero showroom.
The exhibit is a traveling show that opened in Italy six months ago. It will go on to Mexico, Buenos Aires, Chile, Tokyo and Seoul. The catalogue is online at www.pininfarina.it/extra.
Pininfarina designs can be as routine as a door handle. He calculates that half a million of a lever-style model are sold each year. "The grip is very simple," he explained. "The secret of success is simple design."
Pininfarina demonstrated satin-finish aluminum fountain pens with adjustable nibs for comfort.
For an interactive transmitter helmet for video games, the challenge was to produce a lightweight headset that would allow a pointing device on the helmet to connect with an emitting machine, accommodate a microphone and link to earphones while feeling comfortable and looking attractive. The silver-blue headgear would qualify as a techie tiara. "It's different from an auto-racing helmet," he said. "It doesn't have to protect you."
Turning out designs at the behest of other companies has its drawbacks. He is waiting for someone to commission a television before technology renders it obsolete, and he'd like to design sound systems but needs a partner.
And there's the anonymity issue. Pininfarina calculates he has created more than 100 Extra products. About half are "confidential." That means the company that commissions a design would rather keep that contribution a secret.
That's easier said than done. If it's truly a Pininfarina, he said, "you can tell by the shape."
Italian Cultural Center, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. 202-387-5161, ext. 27.
CAPTION: The "Modulo" telephone was inspired by the shape of the Ferrari prototype.
CAPTION: Faucet designed for the Nobili company.
CAPTION: Pininfarina's satin-finished aluminum alloy fountain pen.
CAPTION: Eterna's sport watch was inspired by Ferrari's instrument panel.