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"Lama" by Gio Ponti

Strong heritage

Italian family-owned company Olivari has since 1911 been manufacturing door handles and realized in cooperation with famous creative minds such as Gio Ponti pioneering designs. Where is Olivari today? We spoke to Antonio Olivari.
by Anna Moldenhauer | 11/13/2019

Anna Moldenhauer: Maestro Olivari, what is the Olivari philosophy?

Antonio Olivari: The company was founded in 1911 – our path has evolved over time and through the work. We use progressive technologies, but do not at the same time forget our artisanal roots in brass processing. The combination of progress and experience is decisive for us. Olivari is, moreover, a family company, with the third generation now at the helm, and a love of craftsmanship is part of our DNA. All four of my brothers work in the company, each of them responsible for his own particular area. For us, it is key to be spontaneous and open-minded, but in so doing keep our feet on the ground and maintain our sense of belonging.

How did the company’s design idiom change when Alessandro Mendini came on board as Art Director?

Antonio Olivari: We got to know Alessandro back in 1989. He consistently influenced our product development efforts from the word go – and as Art Director he even designed products for Olivari himself, for example from polyester. That was new to us back then, as were many other things he set in motion. The collaboration with him was important to the direction we as a company took.

Alongside Alessandro Mendini down through the years Olivari has worked with many a renowned designer and architect. Why is it important to you to have many creative minds on board?

Antonio Olivari: We are always trying to invent a new design, to rethink the door handle. To achieve that you need different methods, different bright minds. Moreover, we attach great importance to maintaining relationships to creative minds, to our people. It’s a matter of mutual inspiration. Each door handle that you will find in our portfolio has its history. It is often the case that the design of the door handle is also the architect of the building for which the door handles are intended. Take, for example, the “Lama”, which Gio Ponti designed for Olivari and which was customized for the architecture of the famous Pirelli Skyscraper. The objective is for everything to have a coherent design and as far as possible give the building its characteristic look.

What to your mind constitutes the perfect door handle?

Antonio Olivari: For each and every product we accompany the development from the very first prototype through to its realization and in this way our notion of what would in each instance be perfect changes. Then there are the basic technological conditions involved – not all ideas can be realized immediately in technical terms. Another important point is the environment for which the door handle is intended. Our mission is to offer maximum quality for every project, and thus with every door handle. Achieving such perfection is a process in each and every case.

Presentation by Olivari at the Salone del Mobile 2019

Ever since the company’s foundation, Olivari has manufactured its products in Borgomanero in the Piedmont region; why has the family never wished to relocate?

Antonio Olivari: In Borgomanero we can realize the entire production cycle in one and the same place and also monitor product quality. Our clients know what they get and that they can rely on us. This is true down to the smallest details; we engrave our logo on the surface using a laser rather than imprinting it. To this end, each product has a barcode so that it can be followed through each and every production step – and we’ve been doing that for the last 15 years no less! We believe such a service on behalf of our clients is part of our coherent overall image. Olivari has a strong heritage and this includes reliability, quality consistency. If an architect such as Antonio Citterio is thinking about a new door handle then he can rely on our expertise in the matter. And that’s very important, if only if you think of how often a door gets opened and closed during a day.

What are your plans for the next few years?

Antonio Olivari: For us, what is key is to continue our strong heritage and regularly breathe new life into it in the form of exhibitions and cultural events. For example, starting November 27, 2019 we are presenting Gio Ponti’s architecture in a show called “Gio Ponti. Amare l’architettura” at the MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (MAXXI) in Rome. And this will of course also include the products which he designed for his projects, such as the door handles. Which is where Olivari comes into play. We want to offer an in-depth view of the design process for door handles and for the prototypes, too. We want to highlight the strong relationship between Gio Ponti and Olivari.


Gio Ponti. Loving architecture
MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts (MAXXI)
Via Guido Reni, 4A
00196 Rom

27. November 2019 to 13. April 2020

Opening hours:
Di - So: 10 a.m - 7 p.m.

Olivari maniglie: 100 secondi della nostra storia...

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