A frustrating search for furniture in Manila led businesswoman and social work advocate Audrey Zubiri and her mother Dette Aquino-Tan halfway around the world to Los Angeles, California, where they chanced upon an attractive show window of contemporary Italian fixtures. They have put up a new business back home to showcase these beauties.
Zubiri, incidentally a parenting columnist at Inquirer Lifestyle, gladly recalled the accidental birth of Designa Italia, the latest arbiter of modern home furnishings in Makati City.
Her excitement is understandable. Designa Italia’s wares are a far cry from the ornate and bulky Italian furniture that most Filipinos are acquainted with.
Instead, the shop has luxe lounge sets by Saporini from Matera, in southern Italy, as well as innovative dining and bedroom sets by Alf Italia from northeastern Italy.
Zubiri, president of Designa Italia, noted that products from both brands are designed and produced in Italy. Outsourcing is not an option.
Saporini is a regular participant in the Milan Furniture Fair. All leather components undergo a painstaking but all-natural tanning process that guarantees quality. It also uses water-based paints that make the lounge sets safe for children.
Alf Italia has been in furniture making for the past 65 years. It is available in 87 countries. In Southeast Asia, Alf Italia is already in Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.
Zubiri recounted that, in mid-2015, her mother began looking for new furniture to refurbish her Makati home. She and her mom saw several beautiful pieces, but sellers were quick to add that purchases are followed by months-long waiting for the orders to arrive.
Mother and daughter decided to fly to LA, where an attractive show window lured them to check out coffee and side tables by Alf Italia.
“Too bad,” Zubiri thought, “they don’t have these in Manila. But there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”
An infatuated Aquino-Tan bought Alf coffee and side tables on the spot; and then she and Zubiri immediately reached out to Paolo Vecchia, Alf Italia area manager for Asia Pacific.
“Paolo got in touch with us right away,” Zubiri narrated. “Our discussion was very positive. He even flew to Manila to ask whether we wanted to sell sofas along with Alf’s tables. ‘You cannot have an Italian furniture store without sofas,’ he said.”
Vecchia got hold of Rosario “Ros” Merlino, owner and executive director of Saporini. Merlino has already engaged in several furniture-related businesses that have allowed him to fly in and out of the Philippines since the 1980s.
In a few days, Merlino was in Manila, complete with catalogues and leather samples used for Saporini’s sofas. Zubiri caressed the buttery leathers and was hooked.
As luck would have it, Zubiri and her husband, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, were spending the New Year in New Zealand where Saporini has a store just outside of Auckland.
She feasted her senses on more than 2,000 square meters of Saporini furniture. Not long after, she and her mother were in Italy, where they finalized discussions with Merlino and Vecchia about opening a store in Manila to sell the furniture.
Zubiri’s Designa Italia now distributes Saporini and Alf Italia. Aquino-Tan is the store’s CEO.
Merlino was quick to point out that many of Italy’s high-end furniture makers are now known for sleek and contemporary designs that are a far cry from Old World European furnishings.
“In the last four to five years, ornate Italian furniture consists only of a small part of the market. If you go to the Milan Fair, there would be one pavilion of ornate furniture and 20 pavilions of absolutely contemporary furniture,” Merlino noted.
Alf Italia’s Vecchia led Inquirer Lifestyle to the Monaco extendable dining set, a table for eight with a geometric design and high-gloss finish.
A host can extend the table by pulling it at the two ends to reveal a hidden panel that contains a wooden slab identical to the table’s finish. This slab is placed on the space above the hidden panel to extend the table and accommodate more guests.
Vecchia said such modern designs are an indication of Italian flexibility and sensitivity to the ever-evolving tastes of the global market.
“That’s why we create three to four collections for dining and bedroom regularly,” he pointed out.
Second-generation Alf owners Maria Cristina and Piero Piovesana are the siblings who make sure the company delivers contemporary fixtures for clients in Southeast Asia.
Zubiri said Designa Italia welcomes a client who needs furniture “within the week” for the party he or she would be hosting soon, or the one who would come in with an interior designer to order custom-made furniture with that decidedly Italian touch.
Merlino walked to a chocolate-colored lounge sofa dubbed “Living.” It is made of ultra-soft nubuck leather. He pulled up a mattress to reveal that it is secured in place underneath by a zipper, precisely measured to match the areas of the mattress and the frame.
“It is this kind of care and quality that we watch out for,” he explained. “That’s why we don’t do outsourcing. We want our furniture designed by pen and by hand. Nothing done in minutes and seconds. That’s why we are high-end brands.”
Designa Italia is at 2241 La Fuerza Plaza, Chino Roces Ave., Makati City.