In her role as chief executive officer of the Living Divani furniture and upholstery company, Carola Bestetti travels a lot. In her role as a new mom, she tries to travel less, and that is to some degree possible because “while there is still huge potential for growth in luxury furniture markets, we have been fortunate to find some great dealers around the world who help educate customers.” She is seated on a Living Divani (the Italian word for “couch”) chair in the Livingspace showroom, in an area fully dedicated to her company’s products. She is in town to give a talk at IDS Vancouver, but of course stops by Livingspace to see her work in action. Bestetti touches the side of the chair. “I don’t believe in general ergonomics,” she says, “or established typology. For me, to know if a chair or a sofa is good, you can’t just look at it—you must sit on it.”
The company remains a family-owned business, which slowly came to life in the early 1970s. Bestetti had varying roles before becoming CEO, and that includes working closely with the great Piero Lissoni, who joined the company in 1988 and continues to oversee the lines as art director and designer. “Designers do pitch to us,” says Bestetti, “and I am always honest, blunt, I suppose. I have often said to a young designer, ‘This kind of work is not the path for you!’ But we have found many wonderful artists, and have been able to work with many of them.” Great design and the highest production values are not enough, however. “Communication is essential. Our customers are educated, sophisticated, and we must reach them in a way that helps them understand what we do,” she explains. “Italy has a lot of design theory, but it is not always practical. We must find an aesthetic language that can translate into manufacturing. And then we must find the market.”
It sometimes happens that a piece or set of pieces does not perform well, for a few years, even, and then suddenly sells like hotcakes. “It can take some time for a piece to catch on,” says Bestetti. “Sometimes we have the right thing, but not at the right time. One of our top sellers in 2016 was first produced in 2009, and never really sold all that well until now.” The surprises are far outdone by the steady successes. But, says Bestetti, “we do push the edges at times, yes, and it can work very well. Our work with Junya Ishigami has been more popular than we expected, although we know he is a wonderful artist. Mario Ferrarini created a beautiful mirror, which produced an unexpected amount of sales, but, again, I think it just was the exact right time for that piece, not something you can easily predict.”
Bestetti acknowledges that Living Divani “pairs more with the art world than the fashion world.” But there are two buzzwords for her that define her approach to design and the finding of markets for the manufactured pieces: consistency and coherence. “Sometimes we even bring something to market not because it is sellable, but because it represents us very well,” she says. Take a little time and follow her advice, it will be worth it: sit on a Living Divani sofa, or chair, simply take in the experience. Chances are you’ll want to furnish your living spaces anew.
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