Flexform's Elegant, Streamlined Pieces Make European-Design Fanatics Swoon



Flexform's headquarters in Meda, Italy.In the Monza and Brianza province of Lombardy, just north of eternally stylish Milan, lies the unassuming town of Meda, chock-full of newfangled apartment blocks, empty lots for sale, and a fashion boutique called Happy Moda. But looks can be deceiving. The slightly frumpy Meda is the epicenter of modern Italian furniture production, where companies like Minotti, Cassina, and Flexform churn out elegant, streamlined pieces that make European-design fanatics swoon. It’s only fitting that Antonio Citterio, the design director of Flexform for more than 40 years, was born in Meda.

An employee stitches fabric.Flexform is family owned, but unlike Cassina and Minotti, it bears no formal eponym; rather, its name has been hybridized from the words “form” and “flexibility,” in a vague echo of Louis Sullivan’s conceit “form follows function.” At some point, the 57-year-old company added the tagline “Made in Italy” to amplify its status as a 100 percent Italian brand. All Flexform pieces are created in the manufacturer’s neat-as-a-pin headquarters in Meda, using materials sourced only in Italy. Its leathers come from a region close to Venice, and sometimes from Tuscany, as does all down fill (20 percent of which is from the neck of the bird, qualifying it for Oro, or gold, certification). Most of its small suppliers and artisans are located within 10 miles of the factory and typically work exclusively for the company, which owns 22 flagship stores, including venues in New York and San Francisco, and has representation in showrooms worldwide.

All webbing on the company's furniture pieces is affixed by hand.The place where such iconic sofas as the Magister (sort of a revved-up modern Chesterfield with bolsters), the Evergreen (a chic seating piece with a slight nod to Knole), and the Max (a tubular wonder that dawned as the days of disco were waning) are crafted is a hive of efficiency and organization. Constructed from wood or metal frames—the latter given a polyurethane shell for extra strength and comfort—all furniture gets foam padding and hand-applied upholstery (sometimes two layers of it), which is fitted snugly with an eco-safe adhesive so that employees need not wear masks. Webbing is done by hand, as the right tension and support cannot be gauged by machinery. Much of Flexform’s fabrics, however, are cut by machine, and the company stocks hundreds of patterns, although clients can opt for C.O.M. (Fabric templates for every piece in the archive are kept in large green plastic sleeves.) As for leathers, employees check them for infinitesimal flaws before they are scanned into a computer and cut by laser. Any imperfection is circled with a yellow grease pencil, with the computer programmed to excise the flaws while minimizing waste. Extra delicate materials, like creamy houndstooth cashmeres, must be cut by hand.

Industrial-size spools of thread in a rainbow of colors.All fabric coverings are then sewed and seamed in a process called “refining,” which gives pieces the virtually stitchless look that is a Flexform trademark. Finally, furniture is “ironed” (smoothed out) in a “final pass” to ensure that there are no wrinkles or unsightly lines visible to the naked eye. Even the back of a piece gets employees’ full attention, as Flexform’s sofas, chairs, and beds are often used in modern spaces and designed to float in the middle of the room, so there’s never any reason to shove them against a wall.

A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2017 issue of NYC&G (New York Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Flexform.

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