Iconic Italian Design: From Workshop to Worldwide

Lazy by Calligaris


Join over 8,500 people who get our free newsletter about Italy, travel and style.


Listen to this article

There are three elements that distinguish iconic Italian design: humble beginnings, hard work and innovation. The artisans of Italy are world renowned for their detailed, handcrafted skill and design. Italian furniture manufacturing and interior home design are highlighted at the Salone de Mobile hosted every year in Milan where thousands of visitors come to see the exhibitions of design week. 

Italian furniture design

Here are five Italian furniture design houses who started out with humble beginnings and with hard work and innovation became world leaders of furniture design.   

Calligaris

Annie chair by Calligaris

The Annie sofa chair is an iconic design of the Calligaris collection/ Photo courtesy Calligaris, Scalo Milano  

In 1923, Antonio Calligaris opened a small artisan carpentry producing the traditional “Marocca” chairs, a typical straw chair of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. They later expanded their collection to include upholstered furniture.

In the 1960’s the company industrialized with the first automatic upholstery machine which reduced the processing time of two hours down to one minute and 40 seconds. By the 1980’s they were producing 1500 chairs per day.

When the third generation of the Calligaris family took control, design production expanded beyond chairs, to tables, beds, sofas, furniture and furnishing accessories. Today there are store locations and showrooms all around the world including London, Paris, Munich and Los Angeles.

Poltrona Frau

sofa by Poltrona Frau

Poltrona Frau creates timeless classics like the Divano Chesterfield / Photo courtesy Poltrona Frau, Scalo Milano  

It all started with an oversized, overstuffed leather armchair. Renzo Frau founded his workshop in Turin in 1912. After having worked abroad in the UK, inspired by the Chesterfield armchair, Frau returned to Italy and opened a workshop producing his own Italian style interpretation. His designs soon became centerpiece furnishings in luxury hotels, cruise liners and for the Royal Palace of Savoy. Poltrona Frau prides itself on its tradition of craftsmanship excellence and has been an iconic Made in Italy brand for over 100 years.

The design house is not only well known for fine furnishings, but Frau leather is considered the highest quality leather and has even been used for Ferrari automobile interiors.

Kartell

Louis Ghost chair by Kartell

Louis Ghost designed by Philippe Starck / Photo courtesy Kartell, Scalo Milano

Kartell was founded in 1949 by Giulio Castelli, a chemical engineer who thought plastic could become an innovative element in the world of home design. Kartell, a Made in Italy brand based in Milan was the first Italian company to use polycarbonate for everyday objects and furnishings. The transparent furniture line has been produced in several variations, styles and colors.

In the early 1990s the company was transformed into a leading Italian design house by Castelli’s son-in-law, Claudio Luti who had worked with Versace and introduced Kartell to a new pop-culture and fashion audience. In 2002 at the Il Salone de Mobile furniture fair, Dolce & Gabbana ordered 50 new Louis Ghost Chair designed by Philippe Starck for their show rooms and Karl Lagerfeld bought 70 to furnish the salle de bal of his Hotel Particulier. 

Natuzzi

living room by Natuzzi

Natuzzi Italia is known for elegance and fine craftsmanship/ Photo courtesy Natuzzi Italia, Scalo Milano  

At the young age of 19, in 1959, Pasquale Natuzzi opened his first workshop in a 9m2   workspace, in Taranto. With the help of three other artisans, they built sofas and armchairs for the local market.  In 1962 he expanded and moved to Matera but later had to leave after a fire destroyed the entire factory. The company was transferred nearby to Santeramo in Colle, where the group’s headquarters are located today.

In the 1970’s Natuzzi made its debut at the Bari Furniture fair where buyers from the Middle East and Americas made Natuzzi Italia a sought-after Italian design brand.  Natuzzi sofas, armchairs, furniture and furnishing accessories have defined style and comfort in Italian homes for over 60 years.

Scavolini

Scavolini kitchen

Scavolini high-end, functional kitchen design/ Photo courtesy Scavolini, Scalo Milano  

Founded in Pesaro in 1961 by cabinet makers and brothers Valter and Elvino Scavolini, the Scavolini name has become synonymous for high-end kitchen design. Scavolini was the first furniture manufacturer in Italy to advertise using mass media television in Italy. Their successful ad campaigns throughout the 70’s and 80’s during prime-time evening variety shows featured celebrity testimonials. The familiar slogan “Scavolini, la cucina più amata dagli italiani” (Scavolini, the kitchen most loved by Italians) is a mainstay of Italian pop-culture.

Scavolini designs are sleek, minimal, yet very practical. In recent decades they have also added bathroom and living room design. A new line called BoxLife offers solutions for small studio apartment living featuring integrated, modular furniture and accessories perfect for optimizing small spaces.

BoxLife by Scavolini optimizes small living spaces / Photo courtesy Scavolini, Scalo Milano  

If you love design or want to make your home more “Italian style” these designers exemplify the three elements; humble beginnings, hard work and innovation that make a Made in Italy brand.

Where to buy

shopping at Scalo Milano

Scalo Milano Outlet & More has the largest Design Outlet District in Europe / Photo courtesy Scalo Milano   

Calligaris, Poltrona Frau, Kartell, Natuzzi Italia and Scalvolini all have flagship stores throughout Italy, but the best place to find them all in one location and with up to 70% savings is at Scalo Milano Outlet & More.

The Scalo Milano outlet houses the largest European Design District with 15 mono-brand showrooms, in addition to to over 150 fashion stores.

Shipping abroad or local delivery can be arranged for all purchases at Scalo Milano Outlet & More.

Located just 15 minutes from the Milan city center, get there by Free shuttle service or the S13 railway link which stops in front of the outlet at the Locate di Triulzi station.

Non EU tourists can benefit from Tax free services.

See a complete list of Fashion and Design Stores: 
https://scalomilano.it/en/stores/

Article by Celia Abernethy for Milanostyle.com
All images courtesy Scalo Milano Outlet & More   

Celia Abernethy

Celia is the founder and managing editor at MilanoStyle.com. Originally from New York, she now spends her time between Milan and Lake Como sharing her discoveries and experiences living in Italy. Follow @CeliaAbernethy on Twitter