What makes your bond with Germany so strong?
I was born in Germany. It’s where I spent the first years of my life and where I went to nursery school. My parents used to run an ice-cream parlour in Frankfurt. We moved to Italy when I was six and my father founded Valcucine S.p.A. here with three other partners. I have fond memories of my childhood years in Germany and my friends are probably right when they say that those early years deeply influenced my mindset. After obtaining my Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Venice, I decided to go back to the land of my early childhood days and study German which I had unfortunately forgotten in the meantime. A few months later I started to work for a consulting firm in Munich where I met my current partner with whom I share a home, together with our two boys – both of whom are bilingual, of course – in Pordenone. After some years as a consultant, I worked for a table and chair manufacturer based in Manzano (in Udine – Italy) as export manager for German-speaking countries and for Benelux. Subsequently, I managed the German market for Valcucine S.p.A. In brief, my whole life has been divided between Italy and Germany.
Have you ever thought of working for an industry that has nothing to do with kitchens?
Oh yes, there are many interesting sectors out there. I am really fascinated by the development – which has been going on for quite a few years - of the prefabricated house industry and of green buildings in general. In the end though I became really fond of the kitchen industry which is where I decided to stay for many reasons:
- Kitchens are complex products: each is made up of more than one thousand parts which often have lots of variations and options that must be individually designed. It takes a long time to become knowledgeable about kitchens. This means you have to create and keep up reliable, solid relationships built on trust and made to last, both in-house with your colleagues and outside the company with suppliers and customers. I find this very gratifying.
- Service and planning are very important. Competition is not just a matter of prices and design. There isn’t much competition from countries with low labour costs.
- Product innovation in recent years is based mainly on the considerable progress made by suppliers of materials and hardware that have been drastically reduced in number. Process innovation is mostly courtesy of machine tool manufacturers that have also been subjected to a strict selection process. All this has reduced the differences between high and low-end kitchen manufacturers because, simplifying things to the extreme, they all benefit from the same suppliers and produce using the same equipment. The kitchens available on the market are all very similar and economies of scale are what really count. In recent years, many average-high end kitchen manufacturers have disappeared or have had to down-size, making room for newcomers that – in my opinion - can fill the gap only if they have something really original to offer.
What does Convivio mean?
When offering a product or service, every company - to a greater or lesser extent - promises to make their customers happy. I think that the greatest joy, and even sadness, comes from relationships with human beings. Convivio derives from two Latin words:
- convivium: meaning a banquet, a shared meal;
- convivo (cum+vivere): to live together.
I chose the name Convivio because it refers to a place, to the daily ritual of sharing, during which human relations are nurtured. Our little promise of happiness lies in our wish to supply furniture able to interpret the needs of modern lifestyles in a room where meals are shared with the family, with friends and with guests, where people chat and talk things over; in short, where people enjoy living together.
What makes Convivio different?
Convivio stands out for its products and its production processes because we are one of a handful of companies set up during the fourth industrial revolution, i.e. industry 4.0, and to have fully integrated it.
What does that mean?
All companies need to be efficient in the long-term. Few companies concentrate on real cost factors and they often suffer from areas that are inefficient to varying degrees. Quite a few average-low end kitchen manufacturers are successfully managing these issues, especially as far as production processes are concerned, by making the most of the advantages offered by industry 4.0. Instead of seizing the opportunities offered by new technologies, average-high end kitchen manufacturers have put too much focus on their products, thus suffering drops in productivity that make them less competitive. Often, their software is not interconnected, i.e. the designer’s software doesn’t communicate with the software of the machinery or of the sales office. Due to software incompatibility, data must be entered or re-entered by hand over and over again. This often generates errors, and information travels digitally in different formats or even on paper. Nowadays, the cost of all this has become unsustainable: the whole production, sales and after-sales process must be integrated. This is the only way to ensure that data is exchanged between various company processes quickly and without making mistakes. Technical solutions are available but are not fully exploited.
Often, in these cases, management does not understand and is not competent in this field. Alternatively, there may be powerful positions that believe they could be undermined by technological innovation. Often, it’s simply a matter of resistance to change: they want to carry on doing things the way they always have done. There are so-called sunk costs, i.e. already purchased - albeit non-integrated - equipment, processes and technologies that must be used because they have been invested in. There are products that have high production and management costs because they have been designed with only their function or beauty in mind, giving no thought to production and distribution efficiency. Sometimes all these reasons coexist. In short, I think change is a huge commitment for a company already on the market. A new company like Convivio has the advantage of planning all its processes and products so that they are integrated and efficient from the very start, making the most of all the benefits offered by the latest technologies. Beauty and efficiency can go hand-in-hand.
Now that we’ve looked into “how”, tell us something about “what” you produce!
I know that aluminium framed doors are the best for kitchens and I must also thank my experience in Valcucine for this. The frame – better still if it is completely concealed by the decorative front panel – becomes a universal support for various materials such as laminate, glass, MDF, metal, ceramic products, etc. The door is light – a very important quality for the integrity and long life of hinges and drawer runners – and the way the frame is made compensates for any expansion of panels. Water-repellence is guaranteed and there are no edges that can come unstuck.
Other kitchen manufacturers adopt the same solution...
True, but at Convivio we have taken it one step ahead. Our handleless cabinet version – the best for streamlined beauty and hygiene – uses a channel to open the door. Contrarily to many other manufacturers, we build the channel into the door, not into the carcass, thus increasing storage space because there is nothing to obstruct access to the cabinet. Moreover, we have patented a channel that can be customised with a second panel fitted behind it that is just as thick as the larger, front panel. This makes it possible to plan a kitchen with horizontal or vertical channels that create a coordinated look with the fronts in terms of materials and colours. Alternatively, the channels can have contrasting-coloured panels to create customised lines.
Nowadays, many kitchens share an open space with the living room, but we don’t all want a kitchen in our living room...
I agree with you. As far back as 2012, I patented an idea that has now matured into a system ready to be mass produced, i.e. the Mirabilis system. In an open space, a kitchen usually remains in view: it can be seen from the living room and the latter can be seen from the kitchen. This can sometimes be an advantage because you can enjoy the benefits of sharing a large space, but it can also become a disadvantage. Thanks to Mirabilis, these two areas can be separated by two, downwardly-gliding doors. More and more often, the kitchen is the place where guests are invited to make themselves comfortable. It’s no longer merely a room where food is cleaned, washed, cooked and stored. This trend has been developing for many years now and has almost eliminated the typical traits of “technical kitchens”. That’s why brushed steel is now found exclusively in industrial kitchens that are built with only functionality in mind. Household appliances have also forfeited their initial machine-like appearance in favour of a more glamorous look: extractors are now invisibly integrated in the ceiling, in wall units or in the worktop. Following the trend of cabinets, kitchen plinths have also become more discreet. Even in countries where they were very common, garage-style roller shutter cabinet doors are no longer offered. Kitchen design trends are letting the “technical kitchen” fall by the wayside in favour of cabinets that look more like living room furniture. With Mirabilis, we have taken this concept one step further: we have designed a functional kitchen that can be transformed into a piece of living room furniture. When you have finished cooking, the kitchen is usually in a sorry state: dirty pots and pans, leftovers, a soiled hob, etc. If the kitchen is in a different room you can just shut the door and sit at the dining room table without further ado. This is usually impossible in an open space but, with Mirabilis, you can hide the mess on your worktop from view as soon as you put the food on the table. Your family, friends and guests won’t see a worktop but a cabinet that fits in beautifully with the living room furniture.
And when Mirabilis is open?
... That's when you can use it like a normal kitchen. From a practical and ergonomic viewpoint, lift doors are the best possible solution because they don’t get in your way when you are using the kitchen.
Are your products and processes kind to the environment?
Of course they are. Eco-sustainable production is now a requirement that all companies should comply with. We favour long-lasting products which is why we make good quality furniture. We use recyclable materials such as glass and aluminium and at the end of their lives our cabinets can be completely dismantled. Our carcasses are made from water-repellent chipboard that is FSC-certified, i.e. sourced from forests managed in a sustainable way; they are also CARB2 certified for their low formaldehyde emissions. We use efficient heat pumps to heat and cool our premises - including our production department - and the building has even benefited from an energy efficiency retrofit.
Do you have any other ideas up your sleeve?
There are various products and ideas in the pipeline. One, in particular, will be ready soon. We've already mentioned the roller shutter door: it's usually applied to a wall unit installed above a worktop or on a tall unit containing small appliances. Although it's undeniably practical, its appearance is far too technical. We have developed a new opening system called „libra” which offers the same functions of a roller shutter door but without the aesthetic drawbacks.