Whilst history would suggest that the furniture and decorative arts worlds have been completely owned by France from the Louis’ of the 17th and 18th centuries to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco of the 1910s-30s, the late 20th century decades brought an exciting newcomer to the design realm: Italy. The contribution of contemporary Italian designers has left an indelible mark and has established the country as a major exporter of modern-day classics.
“Nowhere else in the world can one find so many varied examples, both in terms of conception and of formal outcome; so many applications of diverse forms, from fashion and graphics to product and set design; such an extensive and multifaceted documentation recorded in literature; and such an international resonance,” says Paola Antonelli, senior design curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and renowned expert of Italian design, in the preface of Design Directory: Italy.
Consider the Castiglioni brothers, Vico Magistretti, Ettore Sottsass, Gio Ponti, Gae Aulenti, Marco Zanuso, Fornasetti, Harry Bertoia, Joe Colombo, Carlo Scarpa and Gabriella Crespi – all names which have become ingrained in the design world’s vocabulary for their nonchalant Modernist style. These lodestars of Italian design were proof of the country’s creative vision in the second half of the 20th century and, these days, the same fervour for innovative design remains.
Paola explains, “To this day, Italian design companies have been able to maintain their status and their experimental verve and, in a time short of great indigenous designers, are attracting the best talents from all over the world. They keep the flag of Italian Design flying high.”
These Italian furniture brands represent 10 of the best of those design-minded flag bearers.
Image Credit: Marioni
Known for: Confident, statement style with a penchant for 20th century Maximalism
Exquisite, channel-tufted sofas, sculptural metallic table lamps and dining tables delicately trimmed with decorative glass panels – not bad for a brand which started as life as a small pottery workshop. Marioni has come a long way in the last 5 decades (it was founded in 1966) and, whilst its brand name might not be as well known as the designer style it evokes, its pieces are no less impressive.
Its Maximalist tendencies (just look to its brilliantly named Notorious collection) showcase a confidence in its abilities as well as an appreciation of the Modernism movement which its country contributed to greatly. Monochrome striped marble recalls the Memphis Movement, metallic elements nod to Carlo Scarpa architecture and Milo Baughmann-esque swivel chairs complete the collection. Traditional design characterises the rest of its range but it’s these statement pieces which really inspire.
Image Credit: Sahrai Milano
Known for: Interesting collaborations and ultra-luxe, large-scale designs
Sahrai Milano’s story hails from 1830s Teheran before winding its way along an exotic trail by way of Istanbul, St Petersburg, Cannes and, finally, Milan. Understandably, its creations are as rich as its story.
Mastering designs which run the gamut from Swarovski crystal-encrusted silken plains to artistic textural designs and statement graphic designs, the brand delights traditionalists, modernists and everyone in between.
It’s also proven itself as a destination for collaborations with exciting artists, architects and designers (including illustrious fashion house Gianfranco Ferre), earning its status as one of the industry’s most exciting rug designers.
Image Credit: Opera Contemporary
Known for: Contemporary finishes and informed, slightly dramatic silhouettes
The modern offshoot of Angelo Cappenlini, purveyor of French-inspired furniture (think Louis and Regency styles), Opera Contemporary enjoys all the history of its predecessor’s Brianza heritage (which extends to the 1880s) but with a renewed aesthetic for the modern age.
Its collection exchanges intricate rococo lines for clean, angular ones and rich damasks for luxurious plain velvets – interpreting historical design in a unique way. A button-back sofa, for example, features a dramatic undulating back and a roll-back bed is updated with sabot-ended tapered legs and a simple split quilted headboard. Each design harks back to a time of tradition but with the modern luxuries of exotic high-gloss veneers, modern engineering (cantilever chairs for one) and simple metal trims.
Image Credit: Selva
Known for: Harmonious room sets and a diverse catalogue of styles and finishes
“Love of tradition. Courage for innovation.” Selva’s tagline represents the brand well. On one hand, its heritage informs some of its collections and all of its faultless processes but it’s the brand’s innovation that will take it into the future.
Having produced typically decorative Italian designs in the past, Selva’s recent Phillip Selva collections (the brand’s contemporary branch) have thankfully introduced a modern sensibility. Resulting in clean-lined designs to suit a design-savvy clientele, the oeuvre retains the penchant for quality detailing acquired through the brand’s years of developing heritage furniture. Its bestselling pieces include the Vendome armchairs, Piccadilly occasional tables, Peggy chair and most anything from the Downtown collection.
Image Credit: Terzani
Known for: Impactful lighting designs which are as much metallic sculptures as they are lighting solutions
To not know Terzani’s Atlantis chandelier is to have been living under a rock for the past decade. The design takes pride of place in restaurants, fashion boutiques, hotels and luxury residential projects around the globe. The remarkable creation is made up of nearly three miles of delicate chain, each hand-placed like the drape of a couture fashion gown by Italian craftsmen. This singular piece epitomises the lighting brand’s ethos – traditional craftsmanship which lends itself to a modern arena.
Other designs include a flurry of suspended metallic discs, waterfall-like chain sheets and light-distorting glass droplets.
Image Credit: ARCAHORN
Known for: One-of-a-kind, super-luxe horn furniture and home accessories handcrafted and polished to perfection
Working with a raw material as beautiful and multifaceted as natural horn shouldn’t be difficult but very few brands transform its raw beauty into something which highlights its intriguing character. Arcahorn is not one of those brands. As one of the greatest proponents of the natural finish, its catalogue applies horn, teamed with flawless exotic woods and supple leather, to everything from coffee tables to photo frames in the most refined way.
“With its incessant drive to innovate ARCAHORN has set itself apart from the others, and has never stopped striving for absolute perfection,” the brand says.
Perfection is one way to describe these glossy treasures.
Image Credit: Ceramiche Dal Pra
Ceramiche Dal Pra
Known for: Super-glossy, highly thematic conversation starters which demands a rethink of ceramic
Expert Ceramiche Dal Pra is a brand nonpareil. Its diverse subjects and sometime slightly tongue-in-cheek collections (its Jurassic Park and White Bear collections are particularly charming) set it apart from any other in the ceramic industry.
It’s true that the brand is no stranger to playful design but its quality is anything but an afterthought. Although it’s best-known for glossy coral designs, gilded petal-decorated vases and grand museum-inspired urns, its particularly modern matte Obsession collection is edgy to the nth degree.
Image Credit: Cedes Milano
Known for: Horn, bamboo and exotic wood pieces which make an event of even the simplest daily tasks
Quality checking each of its items by two standards – the value of its raw material and the accurate craftsmanship of its manufacturing processes – Cedes Milano ensures that each of the pieces which leaves its workshop floor is nothing short of perfection.
Its offering? Carefully crafted interpretations of everyday items to make daily living all the more enjoyable. For its tableware collection, think zebu-horn-handled cutlery sets and mother of pearl caviar serveware; for the living room, ebony and pearl chess sets and tusk-topped saffiano leather boxes; and for the bathroom, carbon fibre shaving sets and ox horn manicure sets.
Image Credit: Casamilano
Known for: The form-conscious silhouettes, clean lines and plain but textured upholstery loved by subtle luxury enthusiasts
With an almost 80-year history in furniture making and a predecessor company which had the backing of illustrious designers such as Aulenti and Magistretti, Casamilano enjoys a design sensibility well beyond its years.
The well-informed, family-run company debuted at the Milan Furniture Fair in April 1988 focusing on producing understated furniture designs of the highest quality which, equally, respect the environment. Its made-in-Italy pieces are characterised by curving lines which mimic the lines of the body and unadorned finishes which allow the integrity of the material speak for itself – a respect which has roots in the Brianna tradition of casegoods manufacturing.
Image Credit: Riviere
Known for: Faultless woven leather, good enough for luxury handbags
The appropriate reaction to a Riviere product is, without fail, the same every time – the instant need to feel its carefully woven texture of supple leather. The motif which is used prolifically throughout the brand’s entire catalogue has become its calling card; the craftsmanship behind its creation akin to that of Bottega Veneta – a fellow Italian name which has based its entire empire on this eternally classic feature.
As the brand’s name would suggest, inspiration for its product collections is courtesy of “la bella vita”. Rattan leather ranges suggest the wide-brimmed hats of sunny summer days by the lake and quilted leather ones the saddlery of beach-ridden horses. Everything about this brand is inviting – most importantly, the life it represents.