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Audrey Zubiri & Dette Tan define Italian design

FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi (The Philippine Star) - July 16, 2016 - 12:00am

My sister-in-law Audrey Zubiri is one of the most incredible people I know. As my husband once put it, she’s a “sacré bout de femme” or loosely translated as an “incredible piece of woman.” She has an amazing positive energy, a natural sweet disposition, manages to run a household, multiple businesses and a national electoral campaign while still having the time to be a fantastic mother to her kids, a loving wife and a dear friend. She’ll always return your call or text and never make you feel like you’re wasting her time. Did I mention she can eat mountains of food and not put on a pound? Audrey does what it takes to get things done and get them done right whether it’s staying up all night cutting out decorations for her kid’s birthday parties or riding around a heavily congested Metro Manila on a motorcycle to get to three different campaign rallies on time. Just amazing!

It’s a wonder how she manages to do it all — and just when you think that seems like a whole lot — she starts another business: Designa Italia.

 

 

 

 

“My mother was finishing building her new home and pulled me along to a buying trip for furniture in the States,” she says about her mother and business partner Dette Aquino Tan. “During our time there we found all kinds of high quality, luxury furniture, really beautiful things that were either not available in the Philippines or just overpriced. One of the furniture brands we really loved was Alf Italia.” The latter is one of two brands of Italian-designed and — made furniture that their new showroom carries. The family-run wood furniture company has been around since the ‘50s focusing on high quality woodwork. The other is Saporini, a young yet growing company dedicated to handcrafted leather furniture pieces. The tale of how these four came together is a classic one of shared values and providential timing set in this fast paced world of globalized business.

From Italy to LA to New Zealand to Manila: Globalized Inception

 “I remember entering the Alf Italia store in Los Angeles and saying to Audrey, look how nice, why don’t we have this in Manila?” shares Dette. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We should (do something)!’” Audrey then sent an email to a generic contact off their website making an inquiry then forgot all about it. One day over dinner she received a call “‘Hello Audrey? This is Paolo’ was what I heard when I picked up the phone” says Audrey. “My husband was like ‘Who is this Italian guy calling you up?!’” As it turns out Paolo Vecchia, the sales and brand manager of Alf Italia for Asia and the Pacific, was in the region and ready to meet in the coming days. “We were discussing our plans for the showroom and it was Paolo who said that we couldn’t open an Italian furniture showroom without some leather pieces and he suggested to consider Saporini. After a quick chat on the phone he told us that Ross could meet tomorrow,” she explains further. “Tomorrow! It was so fast! The meeting went well but to be honest we weren’t a hundred percent sure because we had never seen his pieces…. It was over our holiday in New Zealand where we got to visit his showroom. As soon as we saw the pieces and felt that buttery soft leather, we were convinced.”

 Attention to detail and quality

Both brands share the same values — to uphold the belief that “Italian Made” is synonymous with quality and those special design details that make them unique. “The finish we use in Alf Italia in this collection is veneer,” shares Paolo, “with special details like brass and leather.” They range from a rich oak to a light and soft mink birch all with that signature sleek high gloss surface. “We use a polyester film that is heated to seal in that gloss. Each piece is controlled by someone who checks the quality. What is important for us is to give the best service and quality to the client.”

 “We’re a very young company, our factory has been running for five years but our workers have been in the industry for over 35 years and we produce our lounges and sofas the way they used to — all made by hand.” Ross Merlino of Saporini was in the luxury leather furniture business for 30 years before starting his own business. “It’s 99 percent hand-made. We sew and cut it in-house, we produce the whole sofa in our factory and put it together in our factory. The quality control is exceptional.”

When purchasing big-ticket items like a leather couch, quality is of utmost importance. The way the leather was tanned or how the pieces were put together are factors to consider for the durability of the long-term investment. “Poor quality leather products use harsh toxic chemicals to speed up the tanning process,” explains Audrey who personally visited their factories in Italy with her mother Dette. “In the case of Saporini, the tanning process only uses natural materials.”

 Their selection consists mostly of sleek contemporary lines with neutral earth tones chosen to fit any home and any audience. “We wanted something that appealed to me and my friends,” says Dette. “And to a younger market as well,” quips Audrey. There are large and voluptuous sectionals and smaller more compact pieces with versatile elements like headrests and leg rests that can be adjusted individually for personalized comfort. The same goes with Alf Italia’s dining tables that can be quickly adjusted to accommodate more seating. They ample buffets lined with leather and beautiful bar cabinets are not only functional but truly decorative in its own right. If you don’t find something exactly to your liking, clients have the option of customization, selecting from the vast offer in their catalogs and choosing their desired colors and finishes. “Overall we started this business because from our experience we felt there was something missing in the market,” shares Audrey. “We wanted to be able to offer beautiful quality Italian furniture that could cater to the mature market that appreciates the art of craftsmanship yet also tap into a younger market who look for the perfect balance between functionality and design while maintaining reasonable prices. We invite everyone to come visit us and we look forward to helping you find something special for your home.”

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Designa Italia is at Warehouse 14, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Don Chino Roces Avenue, Makati. Call 772-8343, 0977-1003469

Photos by WALTER BOLLOZOS

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