Text Danilo Signorello

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / I took the one less traveled by / And that has made all the difference.” The verses by Robert Lee Frost, the American poet who lived in the 1800s and 1900s, seem to apply to a number of aspects of the history of Meritalia.

A young company founded in 1987 thanks to the initiative of Giulio Meroni, with a recent but already very recognizable history thanks to unconventional design products, Meritalia has made and is still making a difference in the furnishings sector. The choice made 27 years ago of opening up a new path to interior design amidst the many furniture producers of Brianza has always paid off, immediately piquing the curiosity of clients with original products, beyond limits yet always well-balanced. From the Cesare sofa designed by Tobia Scarpa, still a very timely historic piece, to the 6 a Tavola table (2011) by Italo Rota, luxurious but simple, voluptuous and tactile; from La Michetta (2005) by Gaetano Pesce, which reinvented the concept of modularity, being always different, without limits and very colorful, to the Snake (2006) table by Carlo Contin, based on the compositional fantasy of always different positions and heights. The history of Meritalia is full of products packed with design content, the result of the work of people with something to say, to communicate, the pass down in history, as in the case of the Libertà chair (1989), also by Scarpa, now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Louvre in Paris. “Design from the beginning” says the slogan at the company’s homepage (www.meritalia.it), reflecting the pride of working with prestigious designers (Alessandro Mendini, Fabio Novembre, Marc Newson, Karim Rashid, Marc Sadler, Toshiyuki Kita) who combine creativity and production in every piece, keeping the spirit with which Giulio Meroni founded Meritalia alive, and confirming that progress is always the result of the encounter between the designer and the entrepreneur. In keeping with this philosophy, Innovation (in ideas) and Research (on materials) have led to the production of the Cubo armchair (2013), an original piece by the Castiglioni brothers from 1957 never previously produced, or the Newcastle divan (2013) by Giulio Iacchetti with its unusual Duraform covering, an artificial cellulose fiber materials usually used for labels on jeans and never applied before in the world of furnishings. The creators do not necessarily have to be designers and architects… they can also be personalities who have interesting ideas to develop and put on the market, as in the case of the Fiat 500 Design Collection (2011) invented by Lapo Elkann, composed of the Pic Nic table, the Cin Cin console and the Panorama sofa. Tradition, innovation, experimentation, going beyond limits, always surprising. As at the latest Salone del Mobile, where the new developments kept faith, in terms of surprise, with the history of Meritalia. In the showroom on Via Durini in Milan, more like an art gallery than a store due to the pieces on display and the striking architectural design by Mario Bellini, brilliant ideas included the Eye-Eye mirror by Lapo Elkann, the Lierna based on a design by the Castiglioni brothers, the Freud sofa and Opera table by Mario Bellini. The Milanese architect, with this important table in solid wood whose structure intertwines under a glass top, has reworked the very concept of the table, giving it a ‘double life’ above and below the top, making it into a true ‘work’ composed of 24 parts assembled with 40 interlocks. And there is not just Meritalia. Today the company is at the helm of a group active in the production and management of projects through two companies, Me.le and Me.me. The first (which stands for Meritalia legno, or wood), founded in 1992, specializes in working with wood. Fine cabinet making and avant-garde technologies permit the creation of any type of furnishings, made to measure or in standard production. The offerings range from tables to paneling, for use in the halls or the suites of hotels. There is also a division for the creation of large yachts, which monitors the entire progress of each project. Me.me (Meritalia metals), founded in 1995, focuses on works in metal, as the name indicates: tables, chandeliers, staircases made with a wide variety of metals. The craftsmanship and finishes are done by qualified personnel, technical experts and skilled artisans. Realities that sum up the various commercial approaches of Meritalia in one word, Contract, for a group now capable of turnkey projects for hotels, restaurants or any other commercial facility, going beyond the design of individual objects in pursuit of a total look that fully expresses the corporate philosophy: that of approaching design, in this case on a large scale, with a sense of levity and fun. Francesca Meroni, Press&Communication Manager of Meritalia, tells us about Meritalia today, revealing future projects and products. Your characteristic is to be daring, with originality and balance, to be different, off the page of the competition. Will this continue to be a winning strategy in the near future? I think so. This characteristic has always been what set us apart from the others: Meritalia is a relatively young company and it didn’t seem useful to offer the public only products that other companies already had in their catalogues. Also to attract dealers, you have to offer original things, and often you also have to suggest the way they can be deployed in different decor solutions, all without losing a sense of measure and balance. This is why in our catalogue there are both original and conventional, simpler products, to offer a complete choice to those who want to furnish their whole house with our products, as often happens. So our range has to be complete. A young company, but famous for its unique creations and unconventional design. Is there one iconic piece in your philosophy, or is the entire output an icon? The answer is actually ambiguous. The consumer recognizes the finished product, and from this viewpoint I have no doubts about indicating La Michetta as the icon of our production, though often for many products in the collection there are stories and experiences, shared in the company, that make each item an icon in its own way. Personally I feel close ties with a number of products, precisely for this reason. There are many designers on the market… how do you choose? These choices almost never happen in exactly the same way. We might have a particular need, and in that case we think about who can interpret it best. Or maybe we believe a proposal that arrives directly from a design can be right for us. What is certain is that working on Research and Innovation, we collaborate with people we think have something to say, with products that have the force of an idea, and of content. Do great designers and great entrepreneurs still exist today? Is it the designer who makes a company great, or is it the entrepreneur who helps the designer to become great? The experience and intuitions of my father prove that absolutely great entrepreneurs do exist; great designers also exist, but I think the two categories are complementary. The idea of the designer cannot be put into practice without the entrepreneur who develops it, and without the designer the serious entrepreneur could never develop innovation in products. What makes a product a good product? First of all the design. Then, undoubtedly, the quality of the materials and the workmanship. Entering the showroom on Via Durini is like entering an art gallery. By now the borderline between design and art is increasingly blurred. What do you think about this? I think it is true that the borderline is shakier. In our case, in the Meritalia collection there are several product-sculptures, but what we try to communicate is that these are also affordable products that can be utilized within different decor styles. In the Contract sector, what are the most important projects you have completed, and what projects are now under way? Contract is the most important of our activities, and precisely for this reason Meritalia heads a holding company that includes Me.le and Me.me, the companies of the group that concentrate, respectively, on working with wood and with metal. Structured in this way, we are capable of supplying turnkey projects, made 100% by us, without third parties being involved: this aspect allows us to control and guarantee all the aspects of our quality. Today everyone is talking about Contract, but in practice there is quite a difference between a large order for standard products and the creation from scratch of a finished project in all its parts. Working for clients on a high level, the problem we often encounter is that of discretion, which does not permit us to display our finished works, and thus to communicate our potential. Among our most important projects are the first 6-star hotel in the world, in Borneo, several residences for Emirs and Sultans in the Emirates, the Boscolo Hotel in Milan, the Lever House restaurant in New York designed by Marc Newson, prestigious yachts over 60 meters, and many others. Today we are working on a number of private residences in the Orient and Russia. What are your markets of reference today? In general terms, Russia and the Arab Emirates. We are presently developing our operations in the Orient and the United States, with special attention to the emerging nations as well. One last question: could you tell us about an important product now in the development phase? We are evaluating different things. This year at the Salone the Opera table designed by Mario Bellini was our main product, through which we demonstrated our ability in working with wood, starting with a brilliant project by the architect. Surely Opera demonstrates that it is the result of a lot of research and hard work: we are proud of this, and this is the spirit we want to maintain, also for future products.