Stylepark meets Alberto Perazza from Magis.

Stylepark Magis – Focus on Hospitality
There’s a strong idea behind each and every one of our products

Thomas Wagner spoke to Alberto Perazza about wrought iron, sustainable products, Venetian hospitality and cosmopolitanism, and the subtle distinctions in design.

Thomas Wagner: On the one hand Magis stands for a strong attachment to Italy and the Veneto region and on the other for surprisingly young and fresh design. How do you combine the two? And what role do hospitality and friendship play here?

Alberto Perazza: Yes, that’s true, we have a strong connection to this region. My father comes from here, so do I. Our roots are very much here; the family lives here and our company is based here too. We are proud to be Italians and proud to come from this region. As Venetians we enjoy bringing people together; it comes naturally to us. And not just those who distribute our products. We maintain great relationships with all the designers with whom we work.

The Venetians were always cosmopolitan; they were the first to extend their trade network all the way to China. Is that in your blood?  

Alberto Perazza: Right, they were the first and what we do is certainly not the opposite. We like the idea of enticing as many people as possible to this corner of Veneto – and they seem to like it here. It is a special experience for them. And I don’t just mean that they come here and see products by Magis, even if they are of course decisive for us; they are the starting point. But the way they experience these products and find out additional things about them is also important. The people who come to visit us gain a deeper understanding, listen to stories and can tell stories themselves when they have returned home. It seems visitors find this kind of information very helpful.

Information is no doubt one aspect. Yet you offer products and ideas that are particularly valued by young, cosmopolitan and well-networked people, culturally minded people. Is this an expression of a typically Venetian entrepreneurial spirit?

Alberto Perazza: I’m not so sure about that. But I can say this much: Each design, each product by Magis begins with an idea, behind every product is an idea – and all these ideas often start in the region in terms of their technology or the production process. Take the “Officina Collection” by the Bouroullec brothers, for instance, or the “Brut Collection” by Konstantin Grcic. This has a lot to do with the special technologies and materials used, but also with tradition. Old tried-and-tested production techniques and materials, but a modern and up-to-date design approach. In this sense we also aim to cater to the target group you described: young, educated, cosmopolitan.

That is the view of the product, its manufacture and the material used. What also interests me is the aspect of use. How are the products ultimately used? What do they radiate? For me it is definitely the case that a special connection with certain values comes into effect in their use, values you spoke about: hospitality, friendship and dialog. Do you consider that part of the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes Magis?

Alberto Perazza: It is great that people notice this difference when they own or use a product by Magis. The products do indeed bring about a subtle change in their environment. These are small, yet effective additions. We don’t seek to outfit entire houses, we could perhaps, but the result would be too homogenous and probably somewhat boring. What we are really interested in is designing a product that makes this subtle distinction tangible – and that distinction is a result of the mix. We want the users of our products to shape their own environment and for that reason don’t want to interfere too much.    

Is it not also a matter of hospitality when we say, “You are my guest, make yourself at home and do whatever you feel like”?

Alberto Perazza: Yes, precisely. I don’t know why, but it happens on its own. I wasn’t really aware of it before you made the link to the typically Venetian mentality, but when I think of the Serenissima, yes, it is history that leaves marks. When you live here and have your roots here you sometimes aren’t aware of it. It is a matter of course.

Venice was of course a republic and intensely cosmopolitan very early on. The Venetians were thinking globally long before people started talking about globalization. Does this still secretly shape your mindset?  

Alberto Perazza: Probably, but you only realize that when you consider your own actions and history from the outside.

History and tradition aside, what does hospitality mean to you personally?

Alberto Perazza: To me it means establishing a pleasant relationship with someone, spending time with each other, having good conversations, be it at home, in the office or at some other place. You talk, exchange ideas, do things together and share good times. I would also very much like it if the people in question, the guests, were to talk about their experiences on their return, about what they saw, whom they met, and of course about the food and wine. For our company it is important that people understand what lies behind Magis, who the people are behind it and all those involved in the process of making our products.

And going beyond design and business?  

Alberto Perazza: On the personal level it is primarily about making and maintaining friendships. Even if you only spend 30 minutes with someone you have just met, in a way you are connected to them in friendship when you meet them again ten years later, because you have a shared memory of the first meeting.

For designers, a table is not just a table – and for you as a manufacturer, as owner of a design company, it is presumably no different. Do you find some tables more hospitable than others? Does a different form of hospitality arise when you sit at an Officina table?

Alberto Perazza: The differences result, in my opinion, primarily from the respective environment, which is shaped by furniture, but not exclusively. Everything located in a space or in a place, be it inside or outside, plays a role. In this context, tables and chairs have great significance. Ideally, they invite you to arrange them freely and openly.

We no doubt all know how it feels when you are invited to a wonderful dinner, but the table is too big or the chairs too small or uncomfortable. 

Alberto Perazza: Oh, yes. Take the example of a Michelin-starred restaurant. Part of the special experience of a meal is of course also how you sit – and I’m not saying that because we make chairs and think about them 24 hours a day. If you ask me people think more about the overall experience today. I’ve noticed that in various situations and it is absolutely key.

Let’s consider chairs and tables that designers have conceived for Magis. 

Alberto Perazza: Officina, Brut, Chair One ...

For instance. All three create their own atmosphere for me as a guest. It makes a difference whether I am sitting in the middle of fragrant flowers in a beautiful garden on a Chair One or at an Officina table. It conveys a different feeling sitting on a bench at Konstantin Grcic’s Brut table with a glass top or at an Officina table with its wooden top. Do you ultimately design various forms of hospitality together with the designers?

Alberto Perazza: That may be the result. We didn’t consider that at the beginning however. We were thinking about the materials and the technology, as there is repeatedly this focus on technology with every new product. We know precisely what we want, and when we submitted the idea to Konstantin and talked about cast iron we had a clear picture in our heads. We didn’t conceive the design; we simply had ideas and talked about them. Yet the result does indeed encourage people to sit differently, calls on them to use the product differently. In this way different kinds of environment can be created.

Where do you believe these kinds of ideas originate? Do your ideas start in your ear, nose, head, gut or feet?

Alberto Perazza: (laughs) More in my gut than in my head, after all, this is not about benchmarking and the like, so I would say they start in the gut. It begins with vague ideas and concepts, then we think about which designer can best realize a particular idea. Naturally, we need to maintain balance here. So we need the gut.

Do you discuss all aspects of the design with the designers or do you rather focus on materials and technology in your discussions?  

Alberto Perazza: We have a very intense relationship with the designers we collaborate with. We often communicate several times a day by phone, email or in meetings.

You talk on the phone several times a day in a development process lasting two or three years?

Alberto Perazza: Yes, we do. That might suggest we are pretty slow. We don’t want to rush things, particularly in the early phase and during the development process. Indeed, we aim to keep a number of possibilities and options open, maybe even work on different ideas in parallel and then realize them. That’s why we need to talk about a great deal. We only move forward when everyone is in agreement. At first glance it seems that many conversations and discussions lead nowhere, but that doesn’t mean they were not important and that we lost time or money.

I don’t have the impression at all that these discussions are a waste of time.

Alberto Perazza: But you may think we are not exactly the quickest.

Not at all. At other companies too the development process lasts one, two or three years. That’s normal.

Alberto Perazza: Yes, it would seem that is normal. It is a long road from the initial idea to development and design to the actual production process. Discussions often begin as in the case of Officina: We have a certain idea and we know how to realize it in terms of technology. We then contact a certain company, ideally in the region, and see if they are interested in a collaboration. I tend to approach young companies here, new production sites. If they are interested, we start talking to designers and putting them in contact with the people from the production company. We first try to test the limits of what is feasible in conceptual terms, then follow on from there – the project, new ideas, further development.

Do you ultimately become friends with the designers you work with? After all, you spend a lot of time talking to each other.

Alberto Perazza: Yes, I would say that we maintain wonderful and friendly relations with them. That doesn’t mean that we go out together on weekends, because we live in different places, but we are nonetheless friends. It is usually a very informal and open relationship, one marked by impartiality. But sometimes each of us fights for our ideas. This close, positive and constructive exchange and the resulting relationships are definitely enriching. In the end it benefits the project when people stand up for their ideas.

Apart from all the chairs and tables we talked about, you also offer dish drainers, bottle racks, kitchen clocks and other items for the home, for the family and with “Me too” also for children. Does the social aspect of everyday life play a role in the Magis product range?

Alberto Perazza: It does. In the past, in the 1980s and 1990s, we developed a great many accessories and objects. Back then we wanted to design simple household objects more gracefully. Of course, we continue to take this approach today. These were things like a plate rack, a broom, and the like. The first object in this category was a stepladder. I don’t believe that any furniture manufacturer before Magis devoted itself so passionately to this banal household item. The same goes for small accessories and objects that are simply a pleasure to use. Behind all the products we have conceived is an idea, and the notion of perhaps being able to realize that idea in small quantities. We still very much enjoy producing accessories. Only distributing such products has changed, has become somewhat more complex.

So you not only have friendly relations with people and designers, but also objects?

Alberto Perazza: Yes, of course.

“Officina” and “Brut” make use of materials from past centuries that are directly associated with industrial production and in a way even with heavy industry. Is that purely by chance? Is it owing to the fact that there are firms in this region who specialize in these materials? Or was it also a programmatic decision given the omnipresence of virtual realities and electronic devices? After all, a table made of wrought or cast iron is very robust and durable.

Alberto Perazza: We continue to be of the opinion that people need material things and materiality in a very general sense, perhaps today more than ever, given that nowadays almost everything is starting to become virtual. They want to have something to touch and look at – and that will no doubt only intensify in the future. The immaterial sphere is certainly very helpful in some areas, but we want to have products and furniture that we can touch and that give us pleasure. Our firm benefits from this strategy. And with regard to Officina, we had this approach in mind for a long time. After all, the factory where the collection is made is very close to where we used to be located. We too initially associated wrought iron with flourishing, baroque and heavy products, but had been toying for a long time with the idea of doing something very different with this company and this technique. And I think it was the right time for it. Moreover, we were really fast in this case. From the moment we called the Bouroullecs to the first presentation in Milan in April 2014, the product development took less than a year, i.e. considerably less time than the two or three years we usually need.

Wrought and cast iron are also remarkable in terms of sustainability. If you give a young student two cast-iron trestle tables from the Brut series, he can at some later point hand them down to his children.  

Alberto Perazza: That really is sustainable, no?

Does that mean, even if this sounds somewhat poetic, that you also cultivate a friendly relationship with the Earth, the future and the environment?

Alberto Perazza: We are aware that as a company we cannot satisfy everyone. But I believe that people notice that each of our products has a strong idea behind it. We didn’t make the Brut collection on the back of a trend, and that applies to many other products too. Generally speaking we don’t follow many trends. Rather everything begins in the head and in the gut. That’s how it is.

Do you ultimately seek to create more than just a good product made of durable material? Is it not always also about the pleasure you get from meeting other people and creating something together?

Alberto Perazza: Perhaps. Durability and sustainability should definitely guide one’s behavior, and that doesn’t only apply to furniture making. The additional aspect of the pleasure or enjoyment you get from using an everyday object does indeed make the difference. We miss these products when we no longer have them. We sit at the same table and on the same chairs at home for ten years without really being aware of it. But then when something is changed, it means ...

... Where is my chair?

Alberto Perazza: Exactly. You feel the difference and suddenly don’t enjoy sitting at the table in the same way. That’s how it is – an object becomes part of life and part of the family. It develops with the family and may be in its possession for a long time and be passed down to the younger generation. In this sense it is absolutely true that we all develop a friendly relationship to things – and hopefully Magis products too.

My last question, which I also asked your father: If you could furnish your own world, what would you choose? A large table, a few chairs, a sofa, a bed?   

Alberto Perazza: No sofas, I don’t like them.

Okay, like Konstantin Grcic, no sofas!

Alberto Perazza: Let me explain why: I like to cycle and enjoy spending time outside. Lazing around inside on a sofa is not my thing. Sofas are okay, we have one at home too, but I don’t use it for personal reasons.

What would you have instead in your small, personal universe?

Alberto Perazza: Chairs and tables. Various tables.

And what fascinates you when you are outdoors?  

Alberto Perazza: I love riding my mountain bike, even going high up into the mountains, the Dolomites. 

When will we see the first mountain in the Magis product range?  

Alberto Perazza: No idea. I’ll have to talk to my father about it. We should take on the challenge.