Certain names and dates distinguish the life of a company just as they distinguish the life of each one of us:
1889 • Giovanni Bonacina and the tradition of the past
1951 • Vittorio Bonacina and the revolution in design with Franco Albini
1980 • Mario Bonacina and the design for the future
Sometimes a chair is just a chair; but sometimes it’s much more.
Vittorio Bonacina’s furniture is the expression of this distinction.
By Kyle Elizabeth Johnson
I am North American and have lived in Italy for almost 20 years. I’ve have worked on several translation and English consultation projects with Antonia and Mario Bonacina over the years.
Recently they asked me to get an overview of the company, to systematically tour the office, showroom, workshop and warehouse, and finally, share my impressions and thoughts about their family-run business of over 120 years.
I have been struck by many aspects of the business, but mostly by a sense of immutability of place, as well as a feeling of harmony and attentiveness that prevails over everything and everyone involved; in design, production, or day-to-day administration.
How is this achieved?
Well, the villa and offices, and the workshops and outbuildings have remained the essentially the same all these years and transmit a sense of comfortable elegance and simple timelessness. The landscape has remained gentle and mostly rural. As for the rest, I believe that it’s a combination of tradition, commitment to excellence and dedication.
Tradition locates Vittorio Bonacina in place and time, as well as imparting experience and values to the company.
In 1889, Giovanni Bonacina started his business in Lurago D’Erba, a town located in a hilly, fertile area north of Milan known as Brianza. His idea was to use imported rattan from Southeast Asia in combination with two traditional crafts practiced in the area, basketry and furniture making.
His diligence produced excellent results, and his efforts were soon rewarded with awards in international expositions and numerous important commissions.
His son Vittorio expanded upon what his father had built, taking the company forward, with an eye on the revolution in design and art that was taking place in the 1950’s.
This created a new era in the company’s furniture design, made possible by the winning combination of production experience, the visionary collaboration with talented designers, and a shared willingness to push the materials into new expressive forms.
A notable first example was the armchair “Margherita” (1950) designed by Franco Albini, and winner of the Gold Medal at the Triennale in 1951, and now a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, NY (MOMA).
The company’s collaboration with other equally important architects followed: F. Helg, G. Aulenti, F. Davanzati, R. Mongiardino, G. Ponti, M. Travasa, just to name a few. Vittorio Bonacina & Co. manufactured original, artistic and elegant furniture, distinguishing itself again and again.
Meanwhile, the third generation was emerging. Vittorio’s son Mario Bonacina, was maturing as a designer and as an heir to the family company.
With an assurance based on two generations of success he was uniquely placed to take the company towards the future by re-proposing selected historic pieces in updated ways and by continuing to work with important designers in innovative ways.
Vittorio Bonacina’s furniture received numerous prestigious awards, commissions and a place in important collections of design, most notably with the armchair “Gala”, at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.
Further, Mario Bonacina, in step with the times, emphasized the ecological sustainability of the rattan while carrying on the creative and refined work for which the company is known.
And, about twenty years ago Antonia Proserpio, Mario’s wife, brought her skills, style and eye to the thriving company.
The commitment to excellence means the best materials, skilled craftsmanship and patience.
In design you have to start out with a deep knowledge of your raw materials.
Rattan and rattan core embody strength, vitality and fluidity, and are an ecologically sustainable, natural and renewable resource. All of the materials originate in Southeast Asia.
Vittorio Bonacina uses over forty types of rattan, a prolific vine that is harvested, cursorily cleaned and prepared for shipping to Italy where all of the furniture is handmade in its local workshops. Whether applying a wide range of water-based, appealing and modern colors, or opting for natural finishes and tones, the material is enhanced–and almost seems to breathe.
Vittorio Bonacina’s artisans exhibit true mastery when working rattan, and, they make it look easy. Each piece is made by hand, and using the basic elements water and fire, in combination with their manual expertise, they create both classic and fresh, new forms.
Having the patience to find the most intelligent, essential and aesthetic solutions, in both the design and manufacturing phases, creates excellence; exquisite and functional pieces that are a delight to live with; furniture that is both timeless and of its time.
The family’s dedication to the company is self-evident.
The Bonacinas’ have the simple grace of those who are comfortable in their own skin.
A successful family business bases itself upon belief in the family’s way of thinking, of working and of establishing relationships. It is a result of investing in your place of origin, while at the same time considering a larger context. Tradition, commitment to excellence and dedication…
The feeling of harmony and attentiveness I perceive at Vittorio Bonacina comes naturally given the family’s mix of respect for the past, continued enthusiasm for the present, and a confident outlook towards the future.