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Made in Italy

In the Brianza design district, the country’s dynamic craftsmanship legacy is a vision to behold.



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Italians were born to build. Building is the character of their nation, the form of their mind, the vocation and duty of their destiny, the expression of their existence, the supreme and immortal symbol of their history.
— Gio Ponti, “The Italian Architectural Vocation,” 1940

LOMBARDY, THE NORTHERN Italian region of which Milan is the capital, is among Italy’s lushest. To the north, the precipitous Alps are fissured by long lakes; to the south, in the flat, fertile plains runs the Po River; in between, gently undulating hills are thick with forest. In the center, between the Alps and the plains, lies Brianza.

It was on this land, rich in wood and water, that the Austrian empress Maria Theresa chose to build a summer palace for her son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in 1777. The project required all the skilled workers of the region and beyond — carpenters, glaziers, decorators, upholsterers, and engineers. The result, Villa Reale, was a technical and artistic marvel (and still is today): 700 rooms over 230,000 square feet in the Viennese style, decorated with stuccos, frescoes, and inlaid floors.



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Fast forward to the 1950s, when the economic boom following World War II brought an explosion of experimentation and innovation to Northern Italy. Workshops became factories. Artisans became artists. In Milan, a new generation of architects and designers — including Gio Ponti, Vico Magistretti, Aldo Rossi, Carlo Scarpa, and Carlo Mollino — rewrote the language of Italian form. They were Renaissance men of a new Renaissance, who understood and valued the country’s material heritage and translated centuries of craftsmanship in wood, glass, ceramic, fabric, and marble to modern tastes with an almost mystical respect for tradition and beauty.

With its legacy manufacturing capacities and artisanal expertise, Brianza was a classical complement to Milan’s creative explosion — and less than an hour away from the metropolitan center. A collaboration was born, in which the family-owned furniture businesses of Brianza partnered with the capital’s innovators to meet the new needs of Italian homes in an unprecedented era of leisure and luxury. Suddenly, a level of quality and elegance once possible only in tiny quantities could be produced on a global scale.

As Renato Minotti, who helms the furniture brand Minotti alongside his brother Roberto, explained to me on my recent visit to the design district: “It was a reciprocal influence. It was an exchange of energies. Small companies that became big companies, in dialogue with the whole world, were born out of a region with strong artisanal instincts. This is an essential value even today in Brianza — to maintain the standard of work associated with the name.” Brianza remains home to nearly all the showrooms and factories of the country’s leading interior design houses, which share a set of inviolable values: quality, innovation, comfort, form, flexibility, balance, heritage, and beauty. But each has developed their own distinct approach and aesthetic.


The primary sensation upon walking into Cassina’s showroom in Milan is one of color. Mustard paired with emerald, turquoise against raspberry, powder blue alongside pumpkin — the combinations are bold, sophisticated, and alluring, highlighting contrast without a hint of discord.

Founded in 1927 by brothers Cesare and Umberto Cassina, the brand has become renowned for its unorthodox and playful approach to furniture. According to myth, when Gio Ponti brought Cesare Cassina what would become the 699 Superleggera chair, Cassina tossed it off the roof to see if it would survive. The story may be apocryphal, but it reveals a commitment to structural innovation that’s utterly serious. Beneath each soft curve and elegant line is a deeply considered foundation that maximizes both comfort and durability. Many pieces, such as the Maralunga sofa by Vico Magistretti, the Eitie light by Tobia Scarpa, and the Tambouround chair by Barber Osgerby, can be adjusted in surprising and delightful ways to suit its user’s desires.

From the iMaestri collection, which brings back to life the iconic pieces of industry leaders such as Charlotte Perriand, Charles and Ray Eames, and Le Corbusier, to new partnerships with young designers such as Brussels-based sculptor Linde Freya Tangelder, Cassina epitomizes a balanced approach to past and future.


Imagine a living room made from clouds. This is the look of the Flexform interior, and more importantly, its feel. Flexform’s pieces are, in a word, inviting. They present themselves for use. They are approachable, unpretentious, airy, and enticing, epitomizing the Italian concept of accoglienza, which means something between welcoming and comfortable — the ideal hospitality.

Since its founding in 1959 by the Galimberti brothers, Flexform has worked alongside many designers, but none have been as influential in defining the brand’s aesthetic as the architect Antonio Citterio. Soft, billowing lines; a light, organic palette with hints of color; rich textiles and soft leathers; and unexpectedly whimsical accents such as piping along the couches are the unmistakable elements of a style pioneered by Citterio. Ahead of his time, Citterio imagined a sofa designed not just to sit on in a formal room, but to live, eat, work, and sleep on.

Perhaps in part because the company is still family-owned and family-run, Flexform has remained steady in its vision. It professes to eschew glamour and trends, preferring instead to build a collection that confers comfort and elegance on whatever space it’s in, be it indoor, outdoor, or on a yacht. Notably, Flexform takes the Made in Italy label literally — 95% of the brand’s materials are sourced nationally, with over 60% from the Brianza region.


B&B Italia

B&B Italia does not so much build its furniture as pour it, literally. The majority of the company’s products are made from expanding polyurethane foam, injected into molds, resulting in the smooth, firm, and futuristic lines that distinguish its designs. While other companies may look to the past or capture a current moment, B&B always seems a step ahead.

Take, for instance, the famous Up 5 chair and its Up 6 ottoman, designed by Gaetano Pesce in 1969. Composed of a collection of interlocking spheres, the Up 5 calls to mind a reclining woman, and the spherical ottoman is connected via a rope or chain that resembles nothing more than an umbilical cord. Fertility, duty, captivity, sensuality: a wealth of associations. The complexity of the concept and the simplicity of the form made the Up 5 and Up 6 among the most recognizable pieces of furniture on earth, with a place in the permanent collections of top design museums.

Meanwhile, B&B continues to push the envelope, anticipating trends with iconic pieces such as the much-imitated bubbly, modular Camaleonda sofa by Mario Bellini, and partnering with leading designers ranging from the late Zaha Hadid to Patricia Urquiola to Naoto Fukasawa, whose work breaks boundaries while staying true to B&B’s sleek, bold forms.


Founded in 1996, Meridiani is the proverbial new kid on the Brianza block, but in its nearly 30 years of work, it has developed a distinctive vernacular of austere elegance that sets it apart. Led by designer Andrea Parisio, Meridiani epitomizes a global, modern luxury aesthetic realized in the highest quality materials: velvety suede, lush boucle, poured stone, with accents of brushed gold and lacquers. The range of marble — in greens, umbers, reds, greens, blacks, ivories, and yellows — recalls the Pantheon in Rome, where stone from every region of the empire was used.

In short, Meridiani is at once versatile and sophisticated, which is reflected in its naturalness in many environments, from country manor to city loft, from grand hotel to luxury boutique, from poolside to palazzo. Meridiani sees itself not as an impositional aesthetic but as something of a chameleon, able to adapt to any setting and, above all, to feel like a home. To that end, though Meridiani itself presents a palette of muted colors, all its pieces are customizable, so that a pop of pink is no less welcome than a cream.


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Minotti brand, which was born in 1948 from the mind of Alberto Minotti as part of the intense surge of economic energy following World War II. What began as a classic design house transformed in the 60s, aided by the stewardship of Minotti’s two sons, Renato and Roberto, into a contemporary paragon of Italian style that responded to the needs of the new Italian sophisticate. Central to the philosophy and DNA of Minotti is the concept of balance: between classical and modern, between comfort and style, between craftsmanship and industrial scale.

Each year, at the Salone di Mobile in Milan, Minotti constructs a pavilion to showcase their collection in an environment that perfectly models its values. Built around a central, verdant avenue, 2023’s Pavilion highlighted certain timeless Minotti elements: wide and expansive angles and surfaces; sweeping, sensuous curves; shining chrome paired with polished wood and knit fabrics; a porous relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces. For Minotti, context is key. As for beauty, “It’s a duty,”the Minotti brothers confirm.


No story of Brianza would be complete without Molteni, founded in 1934 as a carpentry workshop by Angelo Molteni, who would later become among the 13 founders of the Salone di Mobile. Though the brand never lost its connection to beautifully crafted wood, it became known for its rationalism, its modular style, and its confident simplicity, expressed brilliantly in a ’90s campaign slogan: “Shshshsh! Silence. Listen to the designs.”

Molteni has consistently developed and modernized the language of its collection while maintaining the rationalism that made it famous. Slim lines, geometry, vanishing planes, broad tables with wide stances and golden feet are the foundational visual elements of Molteni. Since taking the creative helm in 2016, Vincent van Duysen has brought a Scandinavian minimalist rigor to the brand and to a new partnership with the Danish textile brand Qvadrat that introduces a 100% recycled PET fabric, and a fully biodegradable polyester.

History, however, remains key: In 2015, the company opened a museum showcasing its legacy, in 2017 it launched its Heritage collection, which reintroduces classics from global grand masters, and in 2021 it relaunched Gio Ponti’s timelessly charming Round chair, as part of an ongoing and exclusive recreation of the iconic designer’s work.

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Our Contributors

Madeline Gressel Writer

Madeline Gressel is a writer and bookseller currently living in Rome. Her work has been published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Travel & Leisure, The South China Morning Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Nautilus Magazine, among others. She is currently in the process of opening a bookstore in Rome.

Federico Ciamei Photographer

Federico Ciamei is a photographer based in Milan, where he works on stories related to design, art, and culture. His photos of people, places, and things are often characterized by a naturally chaotic, lively, and brilliant composition. As a freelancer he works with international magazines such as T Magazine, Wallpaper, Travel + Leisure, M Le magazine du Monde, Zeit, and others.

Matteo de Mayda Photographer

Matteo de Mayda is a Venice-based photographer. Among his recent achievements, he was selected as an emerging talent in the European Union’s FUTURES program and won the British Journal of Photography International Award. His images have been featured in publications such as The New York Times, Financial Times Magazine, Zeit, and Vogue.


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