‘I love the architects and designers of the 1950s,’ says Roberto Minotti. ‘Richard Neutra, Alvar Aalto... they were interested in serving the people, in innovation rather than fantasy. You think about an Eames chair, and it’s comfortable and useable, as well as being beautiful. It’s not design for design’s sake.’
The elegant 60-year-old is talking to me from the company headquarters in Meda, a town north of Milan, where his family has been making furniture under the Minotti name since 1948.
‘My father, Alberto, started the company here just after the Second World War,’ says Roberto. ‘He came from Meda. My mother, Ileana, was from Milan. At first it was all about classical wooden furniture and traditional sofas, then by the 1960s he had moved into much more contemporary design, and by the 1970s, it became really modern. But my father always believed in form and function, as well as good looks, just as we do today.’
Now, more than 70 years on, Minotti is synonymous with some of the sleekest and most sartorially sophisticated furniture to come out of Italy. ‘A lot of it is about truth to materials,’ says Hamish Brown, the co-founder of 1508, a London-based interior design company that specialises in high-end residential and hospitality projects. ‘Minotti never does that maximalist, over-designed thing. It relies on very clean lines, a clear use of textiles and finishes, and the purity of the piece to tell the story.’
2020 was, of course, a tough year all round for the furniture industry, though Minotti seems to have ridden that wave with its own kind of elegance. ‘We couldn’t do the Salone, so we created a professional television studio in our HQ and made a film to launch the 2020 collection instead,’ explains Roberto.
Key new pieces, including the ‘Torii’ range by Nendo and Marcio Kogan’s ‘Daiki’ seating, are some of that production’s stars. ‘I feel that we still have a lot of energy, and also the market for furniture is good right now,’ says Roberto. ‘Since lockdown, people have been really interested in changing and improving their homes. More than cars or travel, it’s what people are currently investing in. And they are thinking more long-term. Minotti is not cheap, but it’s excellent quality. It’s something to hold onto for many years.’
Roberto and his older brother, Renato, took over the reigns at Minotti rather sooner than they had expected. Roberto was just 30 in 1991, and Renato 35, when their father died unexpectedly. ‘It was a very bad moment,’ Roberto tells me, ‘but we decided to take up the challenge.’ In 1998, they introduced an art director, Rodolfo Dordoni, who has been an integral figure at the firm ever since. He is a master of the Milanese sensibility; there’s something of the sexy 1970s about his effortlessly streamlined sofas, subtly curved cushions and smoky glass tables.
‘What’s important about Rodolfo is that he is also an interior designer and understands how the pieces work in a space,’ says Roberto, himself an architecture graduate, having studied at Milan’s famous Politecnico.
Dordoni, who has described his own work as ‘rational, sometimes conservative and sensual’, has created some of Minotti’s most iconic pieces. There is the ‘Andersen’ seating system, now 10 years old – the sofa skims the floor with low-slung grace; the ‘Van Dyck’ table from 2004, with its three distinctive crisscross legs, and the ‘Aston’ family of seating from 2014, which has seductive, but decidedly retro, curved seat backs. One of his original series, the chunky ‘Suitcase’, which typifies the deep, square chair of the 1990s, was updated in 2019. Good designs, it seems, can go on forever.
Nonetheless, in 2017 – a year ahead of the company’s 70th anniversary – the Minotti brothers decided it was time to approach new design talent from diverse cultural backgrounds to interpret the brand’s Italian DNA. First, they invited the Parisian designer Christophe Delcourt to bring his more decorative point of view. ‘I liked his creativity,’ says Roberto. ‘His work has real charm.’
Delcourt, in defiance of Minotti’s world of straight lines, created sofas that seemed to have been carved out of a circle, and which were presented at 2019’s Salone, where even the stand itself was rounded. The latest collection is testament to the brand’s far-reaching ethos. Nendo, which first collaborated with Minotti in 2018, has created the ‘Torii’ series, that represents the torii entrance gate to Japanese Shinto shrines.
Roberto Minotti had also visited Marcio Kogan in São Paulo a few years before. ‘I was a big fan of his work,’ he says of the Brazilian architect, who went on to start his association with the company with his 2018 ‘Quadrado’ system of outdoor modular seating, updated in 2019 with new pieces, and followed up with 2020’s ‘Daiki’ chair, ‘Linha’ and ‘Boteco’ series.
The Copenhagen-based duo GamFratesi also contributed to the last two collections. ‘We wanted to bring the essence of Scandinavian design to Minotti,’ they say, of their ‘Fynn’ series. ‘We worked very hard on the armrest, it was the centre of the project for us,’ they continue, referring to the exquisite upward curve of the chair’s polished wooden arm.
‘I stopped travelling last February,’ says Roberto. ‘But although I haven’t left Italy for months, I feel I’m travelling the world through our designs.’ Indeed, through the inimitable Minotti world of design. minotti.com
For highlights of the collection, watch the video below and others at minotti.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration February 2021
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