The first of three brothers, he was born from his Jewish father and Catholic mother, in a rich merchant class family in Venice. After classical studies, he attended the University of Naval Air Engineering in Genoa to become an aeronautical Engineer. After the failure of his father’s business he had to leave his studies and his family moved to Milan. There he took a job as salesman to make ends meet.
His first lamp was made when a friend asked Sarfatti to turn a glass vase into a lamp. He used a light fixture from a coffee machine and placed it in a vase. Soon after and with no real experience he opened his first workshop “Rational Lighting” to produce more lights. Entirely self-taught, he developed nearly 700 floor lamps, chandeliers, spotlights and “other light fittings” as he called them during the 1930’s and 1970’s. During that time Sarfatti experimented continually with new types of light sources, wiring, switches, transformers and other components. In 1939, only a few years after his first light he co-founded Arteluce.
During WWII when Milan was bombed he moved his production to Brianza and lived there with his family before fleeing to Switzerland. To escape racial persecution, he and his family spent the rest of the war living in secrecy in a Swiss convent before returning to Milan in 1945 and taking charge of Arteluce again.
Initially his focus was on creating directional beams that would move wherever the user wished. After war he became fascinated and fixated on creating much more sophisticated lighting effects by using weight and hooks to adjust the shape of his lamps. He used slabs of marble as the basis of floor lamps, and added an ashtray to one light, and a walking stick to another.
A true altruist, he decided that the lamps would have no names but identified by a number that is progressive in the category:
· the nº 0 reflectors and special equipment from the wall, (much later will start from 50 mirrors with lights and lamps for bathroom furnishings)
· nº 100 from the wall luminaires,
· nº 500 from the board equipment,
· nº 1000 from the ground equipment (rods and torches)
· by nº 2000, hanging lamps,
· nº 3000 from the ceiling.
Sarfatti was an inventive designer. His roots were in Engineering which defined his way of working, and he believed that a products design should be determined by its function. He always strove to make lights, slimmer, stronger, faster to manufacture (therefore cheaper), and easier to repair and maintain.
Deprived of conventional training, he would improvise and develop each product by working directly with the artisans in the workshop instead of sketching ideas and producing prototypes as most of his peers in Design did at the time. His earliest pieces are simple and modest in style, qualities which became more refined over the years as his work grew more technically accomplished.
His last project was one of his most specular; hundreds of plexiglass pipes which he installed in Teatro Regio in Turin in 1972, which was being restored by Carlo Mollino. It was known by a name “The cloud”, not a number.
After selling his business to Flos in 1973, Sarfatti retired in Lake Como to peruse another passion, dealing in rare stamps until his death.