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.
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.
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.
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).
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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.
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.
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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.
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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