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Interview With Architect Antonio Citterio, Maxalto Art Director

MILAN — It’s 10 a.m. on the dot in Milan’s downtown design district and the morning light is hitting architect and designer Antonio Citterio’s office just right. One can’t help but notice that all his pens, pencils and ruler are facing north on his massive desk. A sensual wooden chair and sculpture designed by his wife, architect Terry Dwan, sits beside him, and books on Swiss French designer Le Corbusier, the furniture of Ancient Greece and Aldo Rossi line his shelf, providing small clues as to where his creativity and inspiration derive.

As cofounder of ACPV Architects, a firm he started with French architect Patricia Viel, his creative vision continues to reverberate on a global scale, from the modern, eco residential spaces in Milan to the Bulgari Hotels around the world, the upcoming Avenue of the Americas public plaza and The Sky Tapei skyscraper fashioned like a group of rhizomes of bamboo shooting to the heavens.

In addition to making his imprint on urban expanses worldwide, Citterio is famous for his collaborations with major design players like Kartell; Flos, for whom he made the Kelvin lamp, and B&B Italia, for whom he designed the iconic Charles couch, one of its best- and longest-selling pieces.

Like the great pioneers of design such Le Corbusier or Italy’s Gio Ponti, who designed everything from houses to doorknobs, Citterio routinely faces the task of switching hats from architecture to design. In modern times he said, it’s like playing a highly intellectual game of “visual ping pong.”

In 2025, he will celebrate 30 years as the sole creative director of quiet luxury brand Maxalto. And while that term has been criticised for its overuse recently, Maxalto is undeniably the very quiet, ultra chic sister brand to the older and more popular B&B Italia (which houses Maxalto showrooms inside its stores). “That’s all about to change,” he said, “Maxalto is going to have its own dedicated showrooms from now on.”

Designs from Maxalto’s 2024 collection that debuted at Maison & Objet in Paris.

Courtesy of Maxalto

As the B&B Group’s chief executive officer Demetrio Apolloni settles into his new role at B&B Italia, under the stewardship of its parent company Design Holding, the company is embarking on a new phase of expansion. Management says dedicated showrooms are key to boosting Maxalto’s image in key markets like the U.S., where it is still relatively unknown. “People think that Maxalto is the less expensive option to B&B Italia and that is absolutely not the case,” a B&B source said. In fact, during Maison & Objet in Paris last week, the company unveiled Atelier tailoring services to provide its high-end clients additional customization.

“This is an ambitious step that aims to elevate Maxalto from a high-end furniture collection to the ‘art of the unique’ where each piece is designed not only to meet the needs of the clients’ environment, but also to fully reflect their individual style,” the company announced at the time.

Citterio was born in 1950 in Meda, at the heart of the northern Italian industrial Brianza furniture district, and he recalls a time when trains full of workers pulled up to the town’s main furniture factory to fuel a new chapter in Italy’s industrial post-war history. Citterio’s father Luigi had a laboratory and designed and crafted furniture. “Dad was an artisan. He learned his trade after the war attending evening classes on design offered in various spots in Milan near the Sforzesco Castle and the Brera district. That’s how they did it, in those days.”

Citterio too, got his start in the workshop, making his own wooden toys by hand at about eight years old. “That’s where I got familiar with wood,” he said, remarking it was his first intro to furniture-making. After graduating from Milan’s Polytechnic Institute in 1975, Citterio was still working with his own hands when he started designing for B&B. In fact, Citterio remembers making the 1981 Baia sofa he designed with Paolo Nava in his own laboratory and personally bringing the sofa to B&B Italia founder Piero Ambrogio Busnelli.

Opting out of the family business wasn’t received well by his father, who thought his contemporary approach would never pay the bills. “It was out of the question that anyone would actually pay for a design.…You’ll starve,” he said. Before his death in 1982, the elder Citterio grew to appreciate what his son had achieved, though they agreed to disagree on their classic versus modern vision of furniture design, Citterio said with a grin. As life would have it, both Citterio’s own children live in New York and for now, have also opted out of the family business.

Busnelli first launched Maxalto in 1975 but abandoned the project. About 20 years later, after about two glasses of wine on a vacation with his son Giorgio Busnelli, Citterio decided to be a part of its relaunch in 1993. Over the years, Citterio has built its identity into a cozy interior line built around woodworking and sometimes enhanced with bronze and chrome finishes for metal, linked subtly to the Art Deco movement.

And just like the homes his firm designs, Maxalto in uncertain times provides a peaceful refuge and a reprieve from the outside world. The 2024 collection that debuted in Paris is no exception. The soft, welcoming Florius sofa, accompanied by the precious Soleide small tables atop the Riso or rice carpet come together, incorporating sartorial Italian craftsmanship and deeply rooted Japanese concepts of balance and harmony, in response to society’s growing demand for cocooning comfort.

On the business side, last year was key for Maxalto. In November, it saw its first monobrand store open its doors in Turin, Italy. In June, the company opened another monobrand store in Vicenza, Italy, together with Arclinea, the high-end kitchen brand which is also under the Design Holding umbrella.

Antonio Citterio

Courtesy photo

One of the keys behind its success is continuity and its timelessness. Unlike competitor brands like Cassina and Molteni, which continue to sell designs by a wide array of designers deceased and living, Maxalto relies solely on Citterio as designer and Art Director.

Secondly, unbeknownst to many, Maxalto has been shooting its products in the same 18th-century Parisian apartment since 1995, making small set adjustments to demonstrate the evolution of daily life around its inhabitants. Currently, the Rue de Rivoli home is being occupied by a Millennial couple and has been re-envisaged as a loft space. Timelessness comes up a lot in the conversation, which he links to sustainability.

He defines timeless products as those that never cease to look new and transmit emotion, he added, pointing to his own Eames “Billy Wilder” Chaise Lounge that was designed for film director Billy Wilder in the ’50s. “A design from the 1700s for example, perhaps generated emotion at the time, but today doesn’t necessarily make me feel anything.”

Whether Citterio is designing a lamp for Flos or a kitchen for Arclinea, he positions himself as the consumer, seeking to find solutions for the home, he said recalling the moment he started designing rounded arm chairs which came about after coming to the conclusion rounded furniture fit better in a hotel space. Unlike the fashion world, bursting with creativity, Citterio’s job is less about aesthetics and more about making life easier. “Creativity. What is creativity? It’s always a reaction to something I see and am trying to understand. It’s my job.”


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