Baxter’s experiential mash-up

Classic roots and contemporary flair, a harmonious balance between refined design and linear expression, with an approach to product that activates sensorial multiplicity. Paolo Bestetti tells us about the Baxter Experience

Paolo Bestetti, CEO of Baxter
Paolo Bestetti, CEO of Baxter

An outstanding case history with roots in classic style, evolving into the full expression of sophisticated design, close to today’s concept of luxury. The pursuit of uniqueness in every product is no less important in the tale, always with an eye on the world of art. Baxter, in short, eludes classification and categories, while asserting a strong, independent identity that is the result of measured balance and, above all, a maniacal focus on natural materials. We talked about it with Paolo Bestetti, CEO of Baxter.

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From classic to contemporary, a history that is not so long, but implies a courageous, farsighted migration. When did this change happen, and why?
The Baxter story begins in 1990, with a great entrepreneurial dream. Thirty years ago, at the start of its adventure, Baxter appeared with classic upholstered furnishings with a typically English mood, but with details of refined elegance, carefully developed, which contributed to set apart the quality and reliability of the brand. One of the symbols of the decisive change that has made our history is undoubtedly the Alfred sofa, especially in the vintage version, where the special antiquing technique sets the tone of the unique piece. We were no longer thinking about upholstered furniture in a conventional way, but about a project with a particular spirit, an experience to be narrated. Precisely thanks to that sofa, we made the shift from classic to vintage. Another very important piece for our story is the Budapest sofa, now a sort of icon: it expresses the formal approach of the design, while in any case conserving the typical material impact of Baxter. So then we passed from vintage to contemporary design.

Your launch of the special editions was also ahead of its time, with handmade screen printed textures and complements with equally handmade finishes, transforming design products into one-of-a-kind creations. Is there an affinity with the world of art?
This is precisely the direction of our Special Editions. We liked the idea of narrating a home that is the expression of things we prefer, demonstrating a proximity to the world of art. We are not artists, but we want to talk about homes that express the pleasure of collecting unique, precisely Baxter objects, with an industrial core but close ties to uniqueness, where serial production is at times marginal with respect to the designer to make new things. In our collections, the leathers themselves are extremely natural, so for us “every sofa is always a bit different from the others.” Our clients have gotten into the spirit, and for them having a unique piece is undoubtedly an added value.

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Your style is absolutely refined, but light and delicate… can we say it is a balance between luxury and contemporary design?
In recent years there has been a fundamental transformation of the concept of luxury, which perhaps we can also say the same of design. Luxury has shifted its values onto the quality of materials, a rigorous, never ostentatious approach. Just has contemporary design has rediscovered its roots. In this work of reinterpretation, these two worlds have always been a part of our company; for us, materials have to be natural, and they represent a fundamental value. How they are treated is equally important: one Baxter must is that materials have to be genuine; nothing should ever be an imitation of something else. In our view, the material and the ability to craft it, even bringing defects to light, are part of the value of the project, making it unique. In this direction there is a concept of luxury, a more sophisticated luxury that can only be grasped by informed eyes.

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Projects like the Baxter Bar in Milan (and the temporary site in Paris in January), like the Baxter Cinema (which
became a true jazz club during the last Salone), transmit an identity, a way of living formulated in the Baxter
philosophy. Can we say that you make experiential design?
Well, design is also experience. The Baxter Experience could be a visit to the company, a visit to our showroom, and event we have organized… an experience that has to trigger emotions. The experience you have is made of volumes, materials, aromas, sensations, and we believe that those who approach the Baxter world, or become part of this Baxter club, have a great desire to engage in experiences, not in an aseptic form. It is not self-congratulation, but has to do with the ability to create moments and experiences people will remember. We are interested in the empathy we create in our club.

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How will you narrate the new developments for 2020, in a moment when direct contact is limited?
We have changed the rules of the game: we’ve opted for private presentations, while the worldwide presentation will be on 25 September. We have gotten our best partners involved, duplicating the project in Milan around the world. It’s been hard to combine the new technologies with what we call the Baxter Experience. This has been the real challenge, but our partners know us and they have trusted in this ‘blind’ project: they cannot touch the products, but they can have a digital view of the new collection, and they have understood the project, which is not just about research but also about presentation, communication, collaboration with them, precisely because the efforts usually made during the Salone have been shifted to the market. We are therefore relying on our 11 top dealers to construct the structural axis of the various events, which become traveling entities. There is nothing new to report in the area of collaboration with new designers; these initiatives have been moved to 2021, while at the end of the year we will unveil the Outdoor project. We have worked extensively on what we felt were key concepts: comfort and softness.