The designer’s background in architecture has provided an invaluable connection with her clients’ customers, informing a simple, sophisticated and highly functional portfolio
Anyone who has tried will know that designing simplicity is harder than it looks, but Monica Armani makes it look easy. Her furniture design carries the unfaltering stamp of minimalism, function and cleverly applied technical ingenuity, yet, she professes, ‘the most difficult thing ever is to design simple things! So much thought and work has gone into them, but on the surface they seem so straightforward’.
A glance at Armani’s portfolio will show she is being modest. We meet in Milan, where she is launching a number of new designs for high-profile brands, including the Tred Shelf for Moroso, the Lem collection for Coro and the Wafer Chair for Molteni & C.
Wafer is her first design for the brand, and though it is a small part of the enormous Molteni & C stand at Milan, dig a little deeper and it soon becomes one of the most interesting (more on this later). This could be a metaphor for Armani herself, who among the more ubiquitous names of the design world, is standing tall mainly due to her exceptional story and invaluable perspective on the industry.
Armani worked as an architect and interior designer for 10 years, following in the footsteps of her father, to whom she attributes much of her success. ‘Everything I know, I learned from my father,’ she says proudly. Her work is firmly rooted in family: she worked at her father’s practice for many years, her portrait photograph was taken by her 16-year-old daughter Marianna, and her current business is run in partnership with her husband Luca Dallabetta, who she met when they worked on the same office project.
Armani’s career in furniture design began as the result of a fruitless search for a particular product for one of her interiors. ‘I looked everywhere for a table I wanted, and I realised this product didn’t exist,’ she explains. ‘So I designed it myself and had it made by an ironmonger.’
This table became so popular with other architects and designers that Armani and Dallabetta ran a successful business making and selling it around the world, until the piece was taken up by B&B Italia.
The Progetto table series, which Armani developed in partnership with B&B Italia and launched in 2006, oozes functionality. The sleek steel frame, the adaptability of its additional shelving and storage, and the range of sizes, styles, materials and colours have made it hugely successful for the B&B Italia brand, and in turn propelled Armani’s name into the design spotlight.
Since then her practice has built up an impressive client list as a furniture design studio (alongside its continuing architectural and interior design work). Based in Trento, near Milan, it has Armani creating the aesthetics and Dallabetta focusing on the technical details.
‘We are known for working closely with research and development and for our use of new technologies,’ she says. ‘We don’t know everything, but we try to know as much as possible by going to technology fairs and working hard to understand what’s out there.
‘I believe if you know the capabilities of technology then you can facilitate it best.’
The practice’s first project was the Bark tile collection for Mutina, followed by the Pianura cabinets for Boffi and the WGS table for Gallotti&Radice, but it is the Wafer Chair for Molteni & C that exemplifies the studio’s reputation for intelligently used innovation.
Its seat and back are made from a completely recyclable and ecological material, and are created through a single moulding operation used in the production of car interiors. The result is a lightweight and ecological chair that opens up possibilities for the future of furniture making. ‘It was a difficult process working with the car makers,’ says Armani, ‘but once we understood each other I was very happy with the results, especially the sustainability aspect.’
The project has also established her relationship with Molteni & C, with more projects in the pipeline aiming for a launch next year. Given her innate understanding of the industry she is designing for and her passion for technology, next year’s Milan show is sure to be even busier for Armani.
This article was first published in idfx Magazine.