In 2017, British-Italian architect Francesco Paini came across a small drawing at the Frieze Art Fair in London. The artwork created by American artist Saul Steinberg in the 1950s seemed to depict a group of rectilinear forms that represented the idea of a family as it relates to the time period – that is, a father, a mother, two children, and a domestic pet.

This simple yet simultaneously complex drawing is the inspiration for Paini’s Family Project: customizable furniture that celebrates families, friendships, and relationships. Each made-to-order piece is a portraiture of the family, crafted only after a conversation of its intended use, where it’ll be stored, and the type of family to be represented. The wood is either sustainably sourced or leftover wood from Paini’s other projects.

drawing of rectilinear forms resembling a family

Untitled, Mid 1950s, Saul Steinberg

I try to use a very reduced alphabet of signs to express ideas that can be very complex or complicated, which is why drawing is very close to poetry, which uses ordinary words to explain very complex matters.

– Saul Steinberg

While the definitive story behind the drawing hasn’t been discovered, Paini believes it illustrates quite clearly the traditional patriarchal family. This concept of a family has changed and evolved over the time, with today’s modern day interpretation to be very multi-faceted. What is also quite true of the drawing is that it conveys a sense of affection as it shows the figures’ closeness, both in proximity and figuratively, with the left hand of the tallest figure gesturing a hug towards the shorter figure, as well as the enveloping, protective position of the adult figures around the two children.

sketches of furniture

Early sketches by Family Project

sketches of furniture

Three-dimensional views from Family Project’s framework

wall-mounted wood storage cabinet comprising etched faces of a family

two woman and child standing in a kitchen next to a wooden cabinet

Woman arranging opening wooden cabinet on a white wall.

With Family Project, Paini aims to create furniture that has an emotional tie to the families that will use and treasure them. Ultimately, he is creating completely bespoke pieces that are now rendered timeless because they portray a feeling versus a style or aesthetic.

Wall-mounted wood cabinet with etched faces of a family on the surface with a gray cat sitting on top of them.

wooden cabinet in a sunlit room with decorative items on a desk below.

Two men sitting in front of a large wooden cabinet with faces etched on the top.

Man arranging items on a wooden shelf in a bright room.

man, woman, and baby next to a wooden cabinet

woman, and baby next to a wooden cabinet

wooden cabinet and stool with faces on them

low cabinet with doors open

person sitting on stool with face on it

person standing behind sheets of wood with faces on them

bouquet for flowers on wooden stool

To learn more about the Family Project, visit and follow them on Instagram.

Photography by Sophie Davidson.

As the Senior Contributing Editor, Vy Yang is obsessed with discovering ways to live well + with intention through design. She’s probably sharing what she finds over on Instagram stories. You can also find her at

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