The location of a brand can make or break a business; even with the readiness and instant accessibility of the digital world, consumers still require the more traditional and nostalgic sense of being able to visit, touch and experience at first hand the latest products in a well put-together showroom.
In terms of where best to position yourself, it comes to no surprise that Italy remains a focus point as a worldwide trendsetter and leader in design. It’s a place of extreme traditionalism: the annual Salone del Mobile design fair in Milan, and its offering of innovative international designers, continues to counteract any influence on the native design culture, marking itself as a devotional pinpoint for the industry. And not far off is London: a place where architecture and design has flourished in its historical setting.
TASK, ICF and Marelli are three companies championing location in their business models. TASK is an independent UK manufacturer and supplier of contract furniture that produces in-house designs such as seating and storage. For over 10 years, TASK has held the exclusive UK distribution rights for two Italian producers: ICF and Marelli. Both are based in Milan – with Marelli primarily specialising in soft seating and ICF focusing on office chairs and tables – both are able to distribute their traditionally manufactured products within the European markets with thanks to their long-distance yet family-like connection with TASK.
The family is a connotation that resonates throughout the three companies’ relationship, as well as in the products they make and sell. ICF’s headquarters on the outskirts of Milan brings together a showroom, office, research lab, production house and a space for packaging and delivering – each phase has a particular industrial mindset that ensures quality in the assembly process.
Marelli, a family-owned company founded by Giulo Marelli in 1964, has a 1,500sq m showroom and factory in Meda, a town in Lombardy, in the province of Monza and Brianza, close to Milan and Como. Here, the company is able to present the models and materials used in the process – such as leathers, fabrics and various other finishes – in a home-inspired context filled with sofas, coffee tables, chairs, dining tables, mirrors and lifestyle accessories.
Just moments away, the warehouses are placed nearby to allow for ease of access, as well as proclaiming the family aspect in a nutshell – because how often do you get to speak to the long-distance family member across the seas, anyway? As OnOffice begins the tour of the Marelli factory grounds, company president Luca Marelli says: “Manufacturing processes should be close by for easy communication and transportation.”
And close by, indeed, are these structures – on street level the showroom is marking its territory, with a bold facade explicitly displaying the logo and latest products through glass windows. Around the corner, the factory warehouse is where quality control checks, assembly and updates are made – an undisrupted place of hard work and accuracy, despite the fact that the roof caved in during the previous night’s thunderstorm.
As the company works with an abundance of bespoke furniture, this ground covers a necessary process that ensures a perfect arrival for the end user. “Reputation is the first element and most important point to sell, says Marelli. “We prefer to spend time and money in quality control replacing parts and packaging – avoiding any trouble.”
In preparation for October’s Orgatec in Cologne, the company is updating its Pendrillon – a wall partition and flexible furniture system. Part of the Workshaker collection, which sees its contract furniture programme enriched with new products, the idea, says Marelli, is that it will “create a private situation combined with workplace stations, to separate the structure of the office.” He adds: “It’s more of a system than a wall.”
The original creation started in 2008, where Jérôme Gauthier, a Parisian designer, arrived at the company with a sketch and developed the product. And, in all honesty, as the tactile and textured piece sat proudly in the workshop, it was hard to resist touching its soft surface.
Before he explains the process behind the new pieces seen throughout the factory, Marelli points out how “on the internet, you see a lot of pictures but you don’t understand fully how a product is made – it’s good to see inside and see how it’s created”. He then explains how traditional manufacturing techniques are the pinnacle of the Marelli brand and how, rather than changing a whole design, the team prefers to update small elements – marking a running theme throughout each new release. Whether it’s a steam-bending wood technique, that uses no-toxic products on multi-ply oak veneer panels, or stitching that arises from the use of “bygone tools – our hands” to stitch and flip the leather over and over again, each product is crafted with delicacy. In the basement, Marelli demonstrates the foam moulding injection process that’s used in the manufacturing of upholstered models – created and concentrated in the Brianza furniture district and brought to Meda for quality checks.
In Milan, at the ICF headquarters, there’s a clear demonstration of similar skill and craft in design. The company combines traditional, artisanal and industrial techniques, and uses a wide variety of materials including die-cast and extruded aluminium, as well as wood, laminates, leathers, fabrics and upholstery products. Each piece of office furniture – with an 80% focus on chair production – has customisation in mind.
With multiple adaptations and alterations, you can see how the designs progress. There are seven main chair family members – including the Pyla, which comes in Mesh, Tech and Soft options – and each has around 2,000 mechanism options and customisable configurations. Maurizio Serra, sales director at ICF, describes this heritage as the “same family genetics that uses the strongest parts”. It’s clear that dynasty plays an important role within the each company and, as the saying goes in this case, three heads are certainly better than one.
The three companies all build on traditional design skills.