For the designer Lodovico Acerbis, it all started with doll's house furniture and a shiny new bike.
'Ideas keep popping up like a rabbit from a magician's hat'
There aren't too many furniture designers who can claim their first commercial success before the age of 10, but for Lodovico Acerbis, the lure of a shiny red bicycle ignited a rare talent - for both design and business - that has spanned more than half a century. "Life was hard in my region of Italy in the years following the Second World War and money was tight, especially for childhood luxuries," he recalls. "I knew that the only way to get my bicycle was to earn money myself and so I built a miniature table for a children's playhouse and took it to the town's toy shop. They said they'd take it if I could make some chairs to go with it so, with the help of my father, I painstakingly crafted four."
The shopkeepers were so delighted with the young Acerbis that they commissioned as many as he could produce ("I've never had an order like that since," he chuckles.) Roping in his brothers and sisters to help, he paid them piecemeal until, eventually, he earned the bicycle he'd so coveted. However, despite that early venture, the young Acerbis had no interest in joining the family cabinetry firm that had been founded by his paternal grandfather in 1870 in Albino, a small town in Italy's Lombardy region. Indeed, he says, as a child he was more interested in following his maternal grandfather into clock-tower building. But, in the mid-1960s at the age of 25, after studying economics and sociology at university, Lodovico somewhat reluctantly took his place in the family firm.
"To be honest, within a couple of months I tired of absurd commissions from the region's bourgeoisie," he admits, referring to the affluent Acerbis clients who doggedly hung on to heavily designed pieces in traditional shapes and woods when the rest of Europe was embracing pared-down living solutions. So, with his father's permission, he began to busy himself towards producing a new line for the company, with a more minimal aesthetic, while his brother took over the more traditional arm of the business.
Working from the company's new headquarters in nearby Seriate, Lodovico concentrated on investing in new design techniques and materials - notably the modular pieces and high gloss finishes that were introduced in 1968 and remain an Acerbis signature to this day. In 1971 the transformation of the brand's style was completed with the launch of the first design from Lodovico's own drawing board, the avant-garde Parioli system - a futuristic cabinet that immediately caught the attention of the design world and put the Acerbis name on the international map.
"We craved creativity and it was a revolution," he remembers. "At that time the Italian companies were starting to collaborate with young, unknown designers and were inspired by Scandinavian furniture; we looked to Knoll and to Herman Miller. "But as well as raw talent we had centuries of refined culture and a passionate craft system to draw upon all around us. It was the period of the pioneering 'Made in Italy' movement and very exciting to be a part of it."
Humbled by the great design talents Acerbis worked with over the years - Norman Foster, Gianfranco Frattini and Massimo Castagna among many others - Lodovico waited a long time before putting his own signature to his work However, since a collaboration with the designer Giotto Stoppino had ended in 1966, Acerbis had designed alone and, today, is happy to take credit for his part in the contemporary Italian furniture movement.
"I've enjoyed being involved in design. It takes effort, but it's also highly stimulating and fun, as is always the case when one is creative," says Acerbis. He admits that he would like to take a back seat in the company now and leave more room for others, including his son Marco (the creator of the much lauded Superego sideboard) but, "ideas keep popping up like a rabbit from a magician's hat. And they're ideas - though I shouldn't say it - that are fresh, original and practical."
So it is in his secret room, in an office that overlooks tranquil parkland at the company's headquarters, that Acerbis prototypes his ideas: "I always like to analyse the need of the user when I design," he says, "then try to facilitate its function as my creativity flows and becomes a powerful experience." The piece of furniture that is his pride and joy is the Ludwig Sideboard, designed in 2005. "It's so minimalist and elegant, yet conceals innovations and technology that took such a long time to conceive and develop," he says. "It's as if, in that one piece, all my personal history as both a designer and a manufacturer is embodied."
Acerbis furniture is available at Boutique 1 Living, Boutique 1, The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence www.boutique1.com