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Design DNA: the story of Molteni&C

The furniture brand that helped put Italian design on the map through its passion for quality craftsmanship

italian design brand moltenic

Although his entrepreneurial spirit would see him become a hugely influential figure in Italian design, when it came to his passions, Angelo Molteni didn’t fall very far from the humble roots of his family tree.

He learnt to love wood from a young age thanks to his uncle, a joiner, before becoming a craftsman himself.

newlyweds angelo  guiseppina molteni

In 1934, the ambitious young maker setup his own artisan workshop behind his house in the province of Monza and Brianza, a region celebrated for its expertise in fine furniture-making.

The business grew steadily thanks to Angelo’s reputation for turning out high-quality pieces, while his wife Giuseppina joined the firm after attending accounting school to learn how to look after the books.

moltenic workers outside the factory in1947
A snapshot taken in 1947 of the Molteni employees; Angelo can be seen standing on the far left end of the front row, while his four-year old son Carlo stands further in to his left

By 1947, ‘Arredamenti di Angelo Molteni’ (the Furnishings of Angelo Molteni, as it was known) was less of a workshop, more of a factory, with over 60 employees – although craftsmanship and quality remained paramount.

In the post-war boom, Italians were starting their lives again from scratch and the demand for furniture accelerated. In response, Angelo began producing pieces not just to order, but to hold in stock – an unusual approach for the time. He also began buying the raw materials, gaining full control of his own supply chain, from tree trunk to finished furniture.

molteni’s first modern piece of furniture designed by werner blaser in 1955
Molteni’s first modern piece of furniture designed by Werner Blaser in 1955. Though not produced at the time, a limited number were reissued in 2016 as MHC.1 and two new non-numbered versions are now available

In 1955, Molteni asked Swiss designer Werner Blasner to create a chest of drawers – the first in a long list of future collaborations with talent from around the globe. The chest was awarded a prestigious prize, marking Molteni out as a pioneer of modern design, pursuing the latest innovations and techniques while never losing sight of its values.

But Angelo’s vision went beyond his own brand. In 1961, he united with a handful of other manufacturers to establish the Salone del Mobile, now the biggest furniture fair in the world and an event so ingrained in the industry that the decision to cancel this year due to the Covid-19 outbreak, sent designers, brands and buyers into an unsettling spin.

However the pandemic changes the industry now, one thing is certain: with the forward-looking attitude of its founder embedded into its DNA, Molteni&C is sure to lead the way (molteni.it).

BREAKOUT MOMENTS | How the brand carved the way for modern Italian design

moltenic poster of the inaugural salone del mobile in milan

The poster of the inaugural Salone del Mobile in Milan in 1961. The furniture fair was an initiative created by 12 Italian brands including Molteni&C.

d5551 small table by gio ponti
d6551 sideboard by gio ponti

In 2009, Molteni&C delved into the Gio Ponti archives and, after several years of research and development, reissued a collection of the great Italian designer’s iconic pieces in 2012. It included the D.555.1 small table and the D.655.1 sideboard (both pictured),thereby introducing a whole new generation to Ponti’s masterpieces.

WHY IT’S RIGHT NOW | Classic Italian style that never fades

moltenic italian design for contemporary living

Now run by Carlo Molteni (Angelo’s son), since 2016 creative direction has been in the hands of Belgian designer and architect Vincent Van Duysen, whose elegant minimalism graces everything from new showrooms to storage systems.

surf sofa by yabu pushelberg for moltenic

He’s also introduced more international talent to the Molteni family, most recently Canadian duo Yabu Pushelberg, who designed 2019’s much-lauded ‘Surf’ modular sofa system (above).

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration July 2020

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