Free from family traditions and production constraints, William Sawaya & Paolo Moroni have been on the international design scene since 1984: a story out of the ordinary

“In the early 70s I lived in Beirut, I was an assiduous reader of Interni - I found it in the university library and impatiently awaited each new issue - on whose pages I discovered "design" which I found fabulous: I wanted to be part of it at all costs. In that period, Lebanon was a cosmopolitan country, permeated with cultures from the most disparate origins" says William Sawaya of Sawaya & Moroni who, once in Milan, founded the architecture studio with Paolo Moroni already in 1978.

“With our projects for the residential sector we entered the clients' families, each time getting closer to their mentality. Thus we began to create specific projectsbespoke we would say today – which were noticed and requested.

Thus, in 1984, the idea of producing small limited edition collections was born."

Did you start from a specific desire to differentiate from industrial production?

“It's one of our peculiarities: we are not industrialists nor did we feel like one. And above all we shied away from trends", explains Sawaya.

“We were among the first to define ourselves as publishers”, specifies Paolo Moroni. “In 1984 when we started, being a publisher meant being free from restrictions, quantities and prejudices.

Not being heirs of an artisan / industrial lineage, we have distinguished ourselves for our ability to recognize the project and have it carried out with quality. Today, many products from our limited editions are exhibited in design museums around the world."

The scouting activity

In our own small way, we chose to follow another direction - in contrast to industrial seriality - which was to produce what we liked and to insist on concepts that were out of the ordinary.

We didn't just want to make quantities and series but to discover new schools of thought and produce things that we liked first of all" continues Sawaya.

“After the Postmodern collection of Graves and Jencks, another “discovery” was Ron Arad , met in London - recalls Sawaya - in 1988 it was us who produced the Crust armchair, his first limited edition piece outside of his One Off collection.

At the beginning we went looking for projects to produce, later the designers came to us."

Over the years, the great names of international design have come and gone: O.M.Ungers, Jean Nouvel, Jakob+Makfarlane, Massimiliano Fuksas, Dominique Perrault, Daniel Libeskind, David Adjaye, Ma Yansong, Snøhetta, Zaha Hadid and, among the most recent, MAD Architects, Mario Cucinella just to name a few

Are international designers very linked to Italian production?

“The design – replies William Sawaya – is international, but at a certain level of quality it can only be adequately produced in Italy. Designers may be famous but if they want to produce they have to do it in Italy.

Nobody can compete with the Italians. Let's take Brianza for example with its dense productive fabric: what you need is close at hand, technology, skill and craftsmanship are never lacking, you just need to find the ideas and solutions to produce them.

After 40 years of experience and having seen so many products, as soon as I see a sketch I recognize its feasibility".

What are William Sawaya's favorite designs?

"Among the chairs designed by me that I love most, the Diva from 1987. Piero Busnelli who has always encouraged us came to see it and told me: you have to give it to me, I would have already produced thousandsof them.

Even the Maxima that I designed in 2002. An innovative piece that received recognition from CATAS (Testing Certification Research, as well as testing and analysis laboratory for the wood-furniture sector) for technology and innovation. It continues to be a best seller and is ageless.

But also the football cups and trophies that I designed and created for FIFA, including the FIFA Women's World Cup".

How are you celebrating these first 40 years?

"In an essential and simple way without further ado, displaying a selection of the pieces dearest to us in our showroom.

We focused on the archive of our four decades, we found forgotten prototypes and historic products to fish out and we didn't have time for anything else" Sawaya almost apologizes.

“This year I only made an outdoor chair, also suitable for indoors. It is the only new product. But we are planning an exhibition in a public place before the end of the 24th."

How uncomfortable is it to be an innovator?

“Uncomfortable because at the beginning they almost considered us crazy... and they weren't entirely wrong” replies William Sawaya, “because every designer and every architect we work with has his own vision, as it should be; it is up to us to bring out the thought without paying attention to effort, expense and energy using the most expert manpower supported by the technology of the moment. The clear primary objective was and therefore remains respect for the original project and not just the commercial result, in short consumerism".