Lifting the curtain on furnishingsMade in Brianza
Marco Belloni’s is a wonderful Italian success story. Especially in our present situation, his story makes it easier for us to feel proud of being born in a country that can express so much passion, talent and dedication, a professional attitude and a solid business sense coupled with the ability to make dreams come true.
A gem of Brianza’s manufacturing district, Belloni was established in 1898 by Angelo, who was soon joined by his son Antonio. At the company headquarters in Barlassina we are greeted by Marco, the founder’s grandson, who began his apprenticeship in the family business at a very early age. He smiles as he tells us about the horse-drawn carts that he used to see when he was a boy, carrying to the station the furniture his grandfather and father made: he was immensely fascinated by the big crates heading for America, a legendary country in his young eyes. He was still only a teenager when he started working in the company, patiently assisting his father and the artisans, learning every secret, in the best tradition of the artisan workshops, by “stealing with his eyes.” At the same time he cultivated his artistic talent, attending evening classes on sculpture and drawing at Brera Fine Art Academy. He built a background of knowledge that would prove invaluable, acquiring important manual skills and grasping the history of art necessary for a deeper understanding of period furnishings. In 1973, following the death of his father, he took over the company which he continues to run today, at the age of 65, with a passionate and tenacious approach, supported by the fourth generation: his four sons, all of whom work in the family company, each with their own roles and skills. Together they defend the values of a tradition which they see as a family vocation and destiny, in spite of the many difficulties they are currently facing.
Marco Belloni makes no attempt to conceal them: he tells us that nowadays it has become economically difficult, almost impossible, to maintain his high standards of excellence. But if his words convey the struggle, the difficulties and at times even the bitterness he experiences, his expression and gestures tell a different story. The way in which his fingers caress the curves of an engraving, the light in his eyes as he admires the perfection of an inlay, reveal that the passion for excellence is eternal in those whose sole aim is to produce beautiful, indeed stunning, pieces of furniture that meet the highest standards.
The photographic archive of the company’s designs and products, spanning from the turn of the century to the present day, is outstanding and mostly preserved on glass negative plates: a historical heritage of know-how which the company continues to use to reproduce models, details and finishes. The showroom is an incredible tour through the history of furniture, embracing each of the classic styles: from Louis XV to Louis XVI to Baroque, from Rococo to Empire and Art Deco. The crafting skill involved is extraordinary. Marquetry inlays and cabinet-making are the house’s jewels in the crown, now the sole preserve of a mere handful of very skilled local master craftsmen which the company considers living treasures. All the production is done in-house, except for the varnishing and polishing which is entrusted to expert external workshops. Belloni has always worked especially with overseas markets, including England, Switzerland, the United States and Canada. Today, most of his clients come from Russia and the Middle-East; they admire Italian savoir-faire and demand a sophisticated and exclusive product.
Over the years, Marco Belloni, together with his craftsmen, has directed and personally supervised the production of the furnishings for entire five-star hotels (from the Excelsior in Rome to the Savoy in Zurich) and incredible villas, such as Sylvester Stallone’s house in Miami or, in more recent years, fabulous private residences in St. Petersburg and the Emirates, where he worked for over two years, furnishing a 17,000-square-metre palace in the middle of the desert. Traditionally specialised in period furnishings executed with formal perfection and expertise, the company has also developed more contemporary products, where design and experimentation with new materials come into play, resulting in collections like “Le Gemme”, in collaboration with Swarovski, and “Subliminal”, in which the most refined and exclusive production techniques are combined with outstanding materials. At present, the company is experimenting with a finish in liquid titanium which pushes research to the most extreme limits… But the thrill of admiring the stunning carvings in the natural lime wood used for a sideboard or wood panelling, where the skill of the hand shines through in the generous volutes of leaves, flowers, garlands and shells, remains matchless.
An astonishing and all-encompassing display of the savoir-faire of these master artisans is Teatro Antonio Belloni, which Marco built in Barlassina, in what was once the seat of the family business. A dream he nurtured for many years as a music enthusiast, the opera in particular, and that he literally made with his own hands and dedicated to his father. The discovery of this unique and enchanting place is moving. Beyond the elegant foyer, the small gem of a theatre features a neoclassical layout, seating one
hundred spectators between the stalls, the eight boxes set out on two tiers and the box of honour. They afford a unique view of the performance, thanks to the intimate and captivating atmosphere and outstanding acoustics.
Every detail of this masterpiece has been decorated with great care, from the wonderful wood carvings of the hall to the elegant dressing rooms for the performers. For eight years, Marco Belloni, his son Giovanni and their craftsmen – more than fifty artisans, including cabinet makers, carpenters, plasterers, decorators, builders and electricians – have dedicated their free time to accomplish this feat. Marco Belloni modestly prefers not to talk about the costs, clearly enormous and all borne by the family. “We have been quite reckless,” he says, and changes the subject. Since 2010, the management of all activities has been entrusted to the Cultural Association of the Teatro Antonio Belloni, with the aim of promoting music and drama and becoming a major cultural pole in the region. Since its opening, the theatre has presented a rich programme of operas – Cavalleria Rusticana, Tosca and the Barber of Seville – as well as baroque and choral music, jazz concerts, musicals and plays. The entire family is personally involved in the theatre’s activities, and they never miss a performance …. It is a great challenge, but when the lights are dimmed, the star-studded ceiling is lit (1,600 optical fibres which Giovanni fitted by hand, one by one) and the curtains go up, it is easy to imagine how moved and proud this family must be: a family which gives a wonderful example of entrepreneurship that is “good and fair”.