Maddalena De Padova
Maddalena De Padova
Image: Supplied

In the 1950s, when most Italian women were expected to be home-makers — thanks to Mussolini’s lingering views on women — Maddalena De Padova launched her eponymous — and now globally recognised — designer furniture company, which would go on to transform the way Italy experienced interior design.

The journey started quite unintentionally, while on a holiday to northern Europe, when she and husband Fernando fell in love with the Scandinaviandesign ethos. In 1955 they began to import Scandinavian furniture to Italy, and while the style is ubiquitous today, it was an outrageously foreignaesthetic to Italians at the time.

“It’s strange to think, but Italian furniture was very ornate, dark, and gloomy before the 1960s,” says Roberto Gavazzo, chief executive of Boffi, the Italian kitchen and bathroom brand that recently acquired De Padova.“Maddalena is one of a handful of important characters of the era, like Cassina and Flos, who transformed and elevated Italian design. She was a fantastic and incredible lady: a great entrepreneur, with so much energy.”

De Padova soon boasted a growing portfolio of imported products, and an ever-increasing network of designer friends. After she was widowed in 1967, she began to explore the idea of creating her own collections.

At about this time, she kicked off the company’s long-standing collaboration with Vico Magistretti. The design giant created a range of office furniture for De Padova, thus starting De Padova’s own collection, which over the decades would see collaborations with some of the world’s most influential designers, including Alexander Girard, Achille Castiglioni, Dieter Rams, Nendo, and, most recently, Patricia Urquiola.

There’s undeniably something special about a space filled with De Padova products. The pieces are not immediately connected, and don’t seem to be from one brand, yet they combine to create a cohesiveness that ties a space together.

“You can fill an entire house with De Padova pieces, and you’ll never know they were from one company,” says Julia Day, owner of Generation Design, which distributes the brand locally. “The beauty of a De Padova piece is that it will even pair perfectly with an antique. It’s timeless design. A pleasure to work with.”

“The collection is a complete mix,” Gavazzo says, alluding to the fact that it is by different designers, working over several decades. “De Padova brings it all together, in a mix of styles, with no precise imprint.”

Maddalena De Padova passed away in December 2016, at the age of 88. “When she was 80 she told me she’d still be working at 120,” Gavazzo says, marvelling at her energy and dynamism. “Maddalena always thought about the company as if it were her own house. She would only commission a piece that she would like to have — and usually did end up having — in her own apartment.”

This purist vision endures in the company’s ethos today. “Nowadays everyone is good at making beautiful furniture,” Gavazzo says. “We are more about the style, creating the pleasure of living in a beautiful space.”

De Padova is distributed in South Africa by Generation Design.;

This article was originally appeared in the Edit.

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