Italy is known for quality products in many categories. They’re known for their cars, their clothes, and most importantly, their Italian furniture like B&B. They not only produce wonderful designers, but also the companies dedicated to bringing these designs to life, for a lifetime. This unrivaled mix of beauty and quality is what attracts collectors in droves.
Before his death in New York in 2016 pop icon David Bowie had been quietly collecting the provocative and colorful work of Italian furniture designer Ettore Sottsass. A true radical in every sense, Sottsass founded the Memphis group in 1981, storming the design world with a postmodern flourish while hanging out with the Beats in California, photographing the famous (Dylan, Helmut Newton, Picasso) and womanizing on a grand scale (he reportedly photographed every bed in which he had sex).
1980s design movement started in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass and a group of young designers who wanted to challenge the established notions of good design at the time. Photo by Zanone.
Of course, not all icons of Italian design were or are as out-there as Sottsass. Most Italian furniture design is known for its quintessential class and elegance. There are some things, however, that all fine Italian design has in common – an innate individuality and a quality and level of craftsmanship that’s unsurpassed.
Just the names of Italy’s leading furniture companies hold an allure -- B & B Italia, Cassina, Minotti, Cappellini, Poltrona Frau, Maxalto – and the Milan Furniture Fair becomes the epicenter of the design world in April each year.
And it’s not just classic Sottsass pieces collectors are clamoring after on the secondary market. Such exceptional quality does not come cheap, so upscale designer resale sites such as 1st Dibs and Modern Resale are worth searching for gently-used Italian classics at lower than new prices. On Modern Resale, for example, a B&B Italia Tufty Time sectional sofa that retails new for $19,900 can be purchased for $11,500, while a Tom Dixon S Chair by Cappellini will set you back $1,500 rather than the retail price of $2,500. What makes Modern Resale so special is they've got a store dedicated to Los Angeles Furniture Consignment
B&B Tufty Time sectional sofa designed by Patricia Urquiola (left) and Cappellini S Chair designed by Tom Dixon (right) available for resale through Modern Resale shop.
So what makes modern Italian furniture so exceptional?
Take B&B Italia, for example. Founded in 1966, and owned by the family of founder Piero Ambrogio Busnelli until two years ago when it was acquired by Invest Industrial, the company has produced the designs of Sottsass, Gio Ponti, Renzo Piano, Antonio Citterio, Patricia Urquiola and Zaha Hadid.
B&B italia Charles sofa and Minotti Catlin and Neto coffee tables purchased from Modern Resale for a Venice, CA home. Photos by Modern Resale.
Current CEO Giorgio Busnelli, son of the founder, recently told Architectural Digest that his father “saw a huge opportunity in design, and consequently in new technologies and industrial processes, to reach the highest expressions of quality and designers’ creativity, to be exported worldwide – in a moment when classic furniture seemed to be the only possibility. We honor this technical approach by continuing to commit to research and innovation through our internal Research & Development Centre."
Busnelli’s personal favourites from the B & B Italia stable include the Charles sofa, designed in 1997 by Antonio Citterio and the Diesis sofa, designed in 1979. Other iconic designs include Gaetano Pesce’s Up chair and Antonio Citterio’s Harry sofa.
Minotti Comodini Nightstands and Tatlin Soft bed with two B&B Italia Grande Papilla Armchairs in the background purchased on consignment and installed in a Palm Springs home. Photo by Carlos Antonio.
Minotti, which remains a family-owned company, was founded by Alberto Minotti in 1948. Minotti is currently run by his sons, Roberto and Renato.
In a recent interview, Roberto explains why so many high-end design brands come out of Italy: “Italy has always been the cradle of high-quality craftsmanship. Minotti is located in Brianza, the so-called design district, which is halfway between Milan and Lake Como. It is a well-to-do area, in which over the past two centuries noble and affluent families built many villas, for which highly qualified craftsmen were required in order to furnish these beautiful homes. This explains why there is such a fine know-how in this area that cannot be found elsewhere in Italy.
“All the best Italian-made products meld tradition and technology in an indissoluble way: artisan expertise puts the finishing touches to products that are manufactured employing cutting-edge production methods, while intelligent hands lend sensitivity and emotion to industrial precision.”
Founded in 1946, Cappellini is another Italian brand synonymous with high-end design. Though the company is now owned by Haworth, Giulio Cappellini, son of the founder, remains its creative director. Giulio Cappellini, an architect and designer himself, was one of the first of the Italian design leaders to reach beyond Italy in search of emerging talent and helped launch the careers of Tom Dixon, Jasper Morrison, the Bourrellec brothers, Marc Newson and Barber Osgerby among others.
Cappellini furniture with marble Bong table designed by Giulio Cappellini. Photo by Cappellini.
In an interview with Dezeen, Cappellini pointed out that no more than 30 per cent of the prototypes the company works on eventually go to market. “If today we do something new, we have to try to do something better than what we made 15 or 20 years ago. Sometimes it is better to rework and reengineer an old project instead of doing a new product. The spirit of Cappellini is to try to create a collection of contemporary classics. I like to work on what they call long sellers and not best sellers.
“We have some products that were designed by Morrison and other designers 20 years ago that were at the beginning maybe too avant garde, but we sell more now than in the past. This is very important to us, not to do just fashionable products. This is the guarantee for the consumer. If a consumer sees a product on the market for 10, 20, 30 years, maybe in a different color, maybe in a different finish, but that product, they will say ‘wow’, if it is still on the market, it is a good product.”
B&B Italia George sectional sofa finds a second home in Indiana.
There’s a great treasure trove of Italian furniture classics dating from the 1940s to today to be discovered and displayed in the home on the level of art pieces – some refined and pared back, others expressive and still others positively outrageous.
The list of designers to look out for goes on and on: Gio Ponti, Gae Aulenti, Achille Castiglioni, Joe Columbo, Mario Bellini, Carlo Mollino, Carlo Scarpa and Marco Zanuso to name but a few.
No matter which of these designers you choose to introduce into your home and life, you can be sure of an investment for a lifetime – a sexy thing of beauty combining cutting edge technology, quality materials and the essential touch of intelligent hands.