The first thing you must know about furniture atelier Living Divani: it’s an Italian company. Not only in the name, divani being Italian for sofa, but in the way it does business. In its dedication to its craft. In its idea of what constitutes good design. In its aesthetic of what’s pleasing to the eye and the touch. In its soul, in other words.
Carola Bestetti wouldn’t have it any other way. As the studio’s current president, and daughter of its two founders, Bestetti wears her heritage with pride: the craftsmanship, the traditions, and the years of know-how embodied in the community of artisans, designers, suppliers, and manufacturers who have lived in the area north of Milan for generations.
And of course, the family. “I always say Living Divani is in my DNA,” Bestetti says, smiling as she leans back and settles into one of her company’s immensely stylish, immensely comfortable sofas at Livingspace, the Vancouver dealer for Living Divani’s wares. “I spent more time in the company when I was little — because my parents had to sometimes work on the weekend, so I would walk around and be there. And it grows on you.”
Growing is something that Living Divani has been doing for awhile now. The company started almost fifty years ago, producing fine, mostly leather Italian upholstery. Gradually, that grew into an entire line of chairs and sofas, offered in a variety of fabrics. As the years went on, the company slowly branched into other lines of furniture.
While the word divani may tell you about the company’s roots, it’s the “living” part that describes how the company approaches its work. “Live on them!” Bestetti says emphatically of the sofas, pressing and pushing the cushions she’s sitting on to drive home her point. “The one thing that I always like to say is that whatever piece of furniture you put in an environment, it might change the look of the environment, but it’s who’s living within the environment that makes it alive. It’s not what you put inside. It’s how you live with it.”
To that end, Bestetti is hard at work expanding the studio’s work beyond its traditional expertise in upholstery. In doing so, she has also expanded the company’s stable of designers, and invited up-and-coming talent to contribute to the studio’s work. “I decided to focus on emerging designers,” she says. “I thought that [would be] a good choice for us, to be able to have fresher ideas on certain levels, [and] to give a chance to other designers to be seen and known.”
As new designers come on board, Bestetti has worked hard to ensure there’s a coerenza (coherence) among the various pieces. No matter what the company puts its name on — sofas and armchairs, obviously, but more recently, beds, shelving, tables, carpets, and other furnishings — it will display a sense of refined, elegant minimalism: clean, lightweight designs that are luxurious without being ostentatious. Indeed, looking through the catalogue, you get the sense that for Living Divani, everything there has a purpose, and there is nothing that doesn’t need to be there.
“We’re very straight in our path,” Bestetti says with confidence. “This is what we are. We do not follow trends as much. We listen to the market, and what the market asks for — but if you do that [too much], it would be a mess because we would have to jump from one side to the other every other month. So we try to pick on what the market and the clients are looking for, but within our philosophy.”
It helps that the studio’s art director and lead designer is the world-renowned Piero Lissoni, who first started collaborating with Living Divani in 1988. “My parents found in Piero the person who could give form to their ideas,” Bestetti says. Responsible for literally dozens of Living Divani’s best-known and best-selling pieces over the years, as well as the design and architecture of the company’s headquarters in Anzano del Parco, Lissoni lends a sense of continuity and “house style” for the studio. “His mark on the collection is very visible.”
As Bestetti explains, that style might be best described as “silent” design. “Our products represent sophistication which is not shouted out. Our pieces could fit in any kind of environment because they’re silent. You can put [one] in a 19th-century building, or a postmodernist building or an industrial building, and it can fit, because it blends in. It’s somehow in the background but it stands out at the same time.”
Take the frog chair, for example. In a catalogue that spans hundreds of items, it remains one of Bestetti’s favourites. “It’s one of the pieces that always stays with me, maybe because I was little when it was launched,” she says. The elegantly curved, casual-yet-chic Lissoni design is classic Living Divani — minimalist and graceful, yet practical at the same time. “Even after 20 years, I think it’s very [relevant] still. It’s another of our characteristics: our pieces are kind of timeless, because they can last for a long time without disrupting or changing the idea.”
She’s smiling as she talks, describing the form and function in a way that reveals not only her feelings for great design, but for the business that created it. And on that score, Bestetti is unapologetic; she’s attached to her company in a way that goes far beyond business.
“But that’s what makes the difference; it’s a passion,” she says. “This is the very Italian part of me, the passion you put into what you’re doing.”