The setting is a characteristic industrial space, with workers, machines, materials, steam and sparks, reflecting know-how rooted in tradition, and an utterly Italian culture of craftsmanship.

As on a theater stage, the product /protagonists appear one at a time, with different roles and costumes: heaped and stacked as semi-finished pieces, or lined up in their completed form – parading by, hanging from the ceiling, in the last working phases – to narrate a fascinating history of manufacturing that starts with the hardest of raw materials, metal, and ends with a fine collection of outdoor furnishings created by the most famous contemporary designers.

We’re in Marsciano, in the heart of Umbria, a valley near Perugia where since 1951 the Emu plant has stood. The company is now a worldwide reference point for the outdoor furniture sector. In an area of 70,000 square meters, of which almost 50,000 are indoors, over 400,000 pieces are made each year, transforming 2300 tons of raw materials: first of all steel, still the core business of Emu, but also aluminium, a recent addition to the range.

What allowed the firm to focus in the 1960s on the production of outdoor furnishings was the use of an innovative technology to protect iron, making the products highly resistant to weathering. Since then Emu has continued to invest, developing new manufacturing techniques and introducing new systems.

Like the cataphoresis process, used for over a decade now, representing a strong point of the Umbria-based brand. Thanks to this expertise, and to the decision to wager on contemporary design when the rest of the outdoor sector was still stuck on classic styles, today the company can offer a very versatile catalogue, to respond to the needs of a wide market composed of 80 countries and about 1000 dealers.

Arik Levy, Christophe Pillet, Paola Navone, Patricia Urquiola, Jean Marie Massaud, Jean Nouvel e Stefan Diez are the designers who have taken part in the creation of the Advanced collections, making increased use of aluminium to give the products purity of lines and physical lightness, often combined with innovative materials.

This is the case of the new Ciak seat designed by Stefan Diez, which comes from the need to introduce the director’s chair folding typology, with a higher level of design content. Made in extruded aluminium, the chair stands out for the grafting of the stainless steel components (joints, footrest, bolts, rear crossbar) that make the extensive research conducted by the design on details become very tangible. The beech armrest, painted ton-sur-ton, and the seat and back in technical outdoor fabric add a note of stylistic contamination, reinterpreting a very traditional product typology.

For the residential and hospitality markets, Kira by Christophe Pillet is a family of products “inspired by a summer cocktail party,” another new Emu proposal for 2016. The structure in aluminium tubing is combined, again in this case, with a technical fabric with a natural texture, very soft and pleasing to the touch, that brings transparency and lightness to the pieces. Kira is composed of an armchair, a lounge chair with footrest and porcelain stoneware table, now joined by a cot and a two-seater sofa.

While in the past the company focused its research on optimization of the production process and the performance of the metal, now the efforts are also concentrated on new materials to combine with load-bearing structures in steel and aluminium, to guarantee innovation, comfort, care for the environment and high quality for the products. The focus on safety and ecology can be seen in all the Emu furnishings, subjected to procedures for compliance with European and North American standards.

Quality control begins with the influx of the raw materials, continues with testing of sub-assemblies during the manufacturing, and extends to checking of finished products, including careful control of the painted pieces. The laboratories are an essential part of the path of production of every item.

The first feasibility trials are conducted prior to the process, in prototyping labs, where the first form is given to projects by hand, using steel and aluminium sections. The prototypes go through preventive tests in keeping with international protocols: mechanical trials, such as balancing tests – in which a chair, for example, can be subject to 10,000 consecutive movements – all the way to UV testing and saline fog conditions (the longest test: 1000 hours for every product) to guarantee resistance to atmospheric agents.

The goal is to verify the level of quality, making it last in time, in products conceived for large contracts or products aimed at the domestic market. Were all this not the case, the company could never have achieved its position of leadership in the contract sector, where its numbers set records.

The Rio chair, for example, since 1970 has been produced in a quantity of 8 million units, while the Ronda chair, one of the bestsellers today, is made in less than four minutes per piece. So it should come as no surprise if the Umbria-based company now has such a capillary worldwide presence: just look closely at a chair in any cafe in any country in the world, and you will probably find the Emu trademark.

Text by Maddalena Padovani – Photos by BMH Studio