Silent elegance

Living Divani is 50 years old, 30 of which have spent alongside the archistar Piero Lissoni as Art Director. The new generation of the company is represented by Carola Bestetti who talks about beginnings, meeting growth and prospects

‘Silent elegance’ is not just a stylistic characteristic; at Living Divani it implies an approach, a way of being and acting in design. This definition directly expressed by Carola Bestetti, corresponds perfectly to the history and growth of a company founded 50 years ago by Luigi and Renata Bestetti, which with refined discretion has established an exceptional position in the panorama of Italian and international design. An identity fully sustained and reinforced by Piero Lissoni, who in this 50th anniversary year of the firm celebrates his 30th year as art director. We talked with Carola Bestetti about the debut, growth, encounters and prospects

Sofa Greene by David Lopez Quincoces, table Flap by Studio Klass

50 years of Living Divani. A long path of success. Have there been any events that marked turning points?
Of course. The first came in the 1980s, when my parents closed the collaboration with Roche Bobois. The company, founded in 1969 with the purchase of a small atelier in Milan that produced convertible sofas, had an innovative character from the start – it created collections that were in the avant-garde at the time, already taking part in the main trade fairs in Milan, Paris and Cologne, and collaborating with Centrokappa for the creation of a coordinated image. This led to development of connections across the territory and beyond, opening to the French and Canadian markets through the interaction with Roche Bobois, for which our company made exclusive products. When this collaboration began to run the risk of transforming the company – known simply as Living at the time – into a mere supplier of Roche Bobois, my parents ended that relationship, even though it brought in yearly revenues of 6 billion lire, and focused on their own brand, on the creation of their own market with a wider-ranging collection, which basically implied starting all over again: it was a demonstration of great entrepreneurial spirit. Another ‘leap forward’ was undoubtedly the arrival of Piero Lissoni as art director, because that led to another phase of revamping of the company.

But in the end it was a winning wager.
Piero was able to grant form to the business idea of my parents. Actually, at first the young designer arrived with the goal of immediately becoming the art director of Living Divani, and my parents said no. They called him back one and a half years later, in 1989, and that was the start of an alliance that has lasted 30 years now. It truly was a winning move. Piero obviously brought a more designed, linear conception, changing the range of colors and fabrics, all the way to the coordinated image, the catalogues, the ad campaign. Precisely in 1989, he designed his first upholstered project for the company, Calibano. But his experimental approach applied to the company and also to the family: his first architectural renovation project was my parents’ house, and his first work of industrial architecture was this headquarters (at Anzano del Parco, ed.). Evidently he enjoys working with us! It is great to see how he has grown together with the company.

Seduta Ghost, Living Divani
Frog chair, Living Divani

Which products have become Living Divani icons?
The company has evolved remarkably from a design standpoint: one demonstration is the Frog armchair from 1995, a ‘mistaken chair’ as Lissoni calls it, because its proportions are completely unconventional (too low, too wide, with protruding legs). But Piero had such faith in the design that he presented it at the fair that year in 20 versions, and it was a success: I think that was the year that launched the international recognition of Living Divani in the field of design. Then we should definitely mention Wall, in 2000, which was one of the first modular products on the market that permitted multiple compositions of different depths, lengths, heights, resting on the ground without feet. It was a revolution, followed in 2002 by Extra Wall and in 2008 by Extra Soft, which is still the company’s leading piece in terms of sales, in spite of the fact that eleven years have gone by since its debut.

Stand Living Divani Salone del Mobile.Milano 2019
ExtraSoft Sofa by Piero Lissoni

Today your catalogue contains a wide-ranging, diversified collection, also in terms of design signatures. How do you balance the musts by Lissoni with the constellation of new complements?
The coherence of the overall message, which has always been our strenght, is the Living Divani’s language that must never be lost. The message of Living Divani could not be shouted; but we have been able to find intuitions and sensibilities in various designers that are in line with our philosophy, bringing them into the company’s path. I focus in person on product development; it is a process that began after the collaboration in 2010 with Junya Ishigami, who designed the Family Chairs collection for us. It convinced me to clear the way for diversification: upholstered furniture is still our core business, but we needed to expand with new types of products, also because we had more and more showroom space available. To create a complete Living Divani setting could give more visibility to the company and recognition to the brand. Hence the idea of involving up-and-coming designers for the range of complements (to which the carpets of Harry Paul and Mist-o have been added, and objects designed for us by Studio Elisa Ossino), which now account for over 12% of sales.

Family Chair by Junya Ishigami

Does this 50th anniversary make you look ahead to the future?
We are growing rapidly, 60% over the last five years. So we are also structuring things: we have implemented a production facility of 2500 square meters and we have already purchased a new space adjacent to the headquarters. In terms of product, this year we have introduced two typologies that are completely new for us: two lighting objects and a storage unit, which over the years will become a larger collection; and we will certainly be moving into outdoor furnishings as well. We are planning further growth on various markets, opening new monobrand stores and specific points of sale (especially in Asia), including corners from 200 to 300 square meters. So the path will be one of diversification and implementation of production. We are able to move forward thanks to great enthusiasm and commitment, and thanks to our respect for people. The structure of the company exists, and it is solid, so by taking the right steps we cannot help but improve.

Islands Storage
Islands Storage

To celebrate this anniversary, you held an exhibition during Milano Design Week.
We feel we have many affinities with the world of art, also in terms of language. So we asked Piero Lissoni to create some pieces with his own inspirations. He came up with The Uncollected Collection, presented at Palazzo Crivelli, composed not so much of objects as of artworks that play with the idea of full and empty, lightness and weight. Three pieces in cast aluminium, three types of seats, and three tables in different sizes. All in a ‘dream-like’ installation.

The Uncollected Collection @ Palazzo Crivelli
The Uncollected Collection @ Palazzo Crivelli