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This Italian brand makes chairs that double up as art

Want to make a statement? Make it Moroso, says its CEO.

A chair is not just a chair at Italian furniture maker Moroso – it’s also a work of art. The company, founded in 1952 by Agostino Moroso, has evolved from a small family business based in Udine in north-east Italy into a dynamic design-driven luxury brand with a global reputation for innovation, aesthetics and attention to detail.

Moroso chairs and sofas are visually stunning, usually identifiable by colourful fabric upholstery and defined by technical expertise as well as a quirky sensibility derived from a practice of collaborating with some of the best artists, architects and designers in the world.

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In the early days, Agostino Moroso worked with local artisans to produce small quantities of high-quality wooden furniture. By the late-1970s however, the European economy was slow and sales were sluggish. His two children Patrizia and Roberto joined the company and – thanks to Patricia’s art-school background and design-world contacts – turned the company and its once-staid image around by inviting talented young artists to design furniture for it.

It was the beginning of a strategy that has resulted in collaborations with titans of the design world like Antonio Citterio, Ron Arad, Marc Newson, Patricia Urquiola and Tom Dixon, plus architects like David Adjaye and contemporary art stars such as Olafur Eliasson.

Arad’s Soft Big Easy chair in 1991 was one early success. More recent projects have quirky names like My Beautiful Backside (2008), a sofa collection by Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien. There are now about 50 international designers in the ever-expanding Moroso stable.

Roberto Moroso, CEO of Moroso

Roberto Moroso, CEO of Moroso

“The core Moroso DNA has always been quality, but then in the late-1970s and early-1980s, we added innovation with materials, inimitable design, colour and adaptability to different settings,” says company CEO Roberto Moroso, speaking through a translator (his daughter Caterina). As is often the way with family-run businesses, he and his sister were thrown in at the deep end right away. “I was responsible for research and development and prototyping, while Patrizia (the company’s creative director) created a network of artists and architects.”

The family home and the furniture factory were next to each other, says Mr Moroso, 61, who was in Singapore recently during a visit to Singapore distributor Xtra. “You live and you grow together – family and business are never different entities – I was around during the development process, the focus on quality, incorporating designers and growing the international market.”

Company turnover was around 28 million euros (S$44.6 million) last year and the overseas market now comprises about 70 per cent of the business. “At the beginning, it was only domestic sales and 20 years ago it was about 50-50,” says Mr Moroso. “Our first pieces were custom-made, and my father drew the designs based on American styles. At the start, the quality was so high that we couldn’t find a market in Italy. Then we introduced the concept of design.”

He continues: “My sister is not a designer, but she has wonderful intuition when it comes to talent and creativity – she smells talent as soon as it blossoms. It’s beautiful to have an idea and to have a variety of designers who can adapt it to a particular theme. A lot of talent we nurtured from the start – artists, cartoonists, architects. We’re very proud that we identified these talents and were there at the start of their careers.”

Moroso - Gentry sofa and Take A Line For A Walk chair

He is quick to point out that in addition to a making a high-quality product, the company shows respect for artistic values and to the designers themselves. “We always insist that a piece of furniture is the work of the architect or artist, not Moroso.”

Mr Moroso is animated when discussing a favourite subject, speaking as much with his hands as with his voice. It’s clear that he is deeply passionate about the business, and justifiably proud of the company’s reputation as a leading brand. He is also acutely aware of the need to constantly innovate. “Moroso is like a meteor, bright when it passes close to Earth, but after a while it loses its shine. Not all our products will last for decades, so it is important to feed the flame,” he says. “It’s about having the courage to take risks and the risk is not limited to the design, it’s also about new technology, new textiles.”

The daily routine at Moroso is a family affair, even among the company’s 150 workers. In addition to multi-generational employees and those who spend their entire working lives there, founder and company president Agostino Moroso still clocks in at the office every day. “My dad is a workaholic,” says his son. “We love the family tradition and our objective is to carry the Moroso way to the next generation – we want to provide to every family we can.”

He continues: “One of the main sayings we have is ‘Moroso is always to tell, and not sell. Each piece tells a story and so customisation is key – if you want something different you must go to Moroso.” First impressions are important, says Mr Moroso. “With our furniture, it’s always about making a statement.”

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Moroso furniture is available at Xtra Designs, #02-48 Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard.

Story first appeared on The Business Times.

PHOTOS Yen Meng Jiin / Singapore Press Holdings