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We tried to sum up thirty years of Baxter in eight words.
Each of them awakened a memory or a key moment of the long history of a company and its people. But we believe there could be many more, perhaps one for each of you.
Illustrations - Paolo Bombonato
Text - Antonio Oleari
The feeling with matter begins at a bar counter.
“Is there anything missing? You just have to create it.”
Tannery gates are still closed as uncle and nephew are already there: a coffee at the bar, some yawning, and the resolution to find what they are looking for. Their strategy? Going around the tannery at dawn, as soon as it opens, before workers arrive; looking around, letting themselves be inspired and spotting the right leathers. “That one, for example! Where does it come from?”
That day, their questions are answered by Gigi Ziggiotto, the manager of a small-scale craft tannery. He says that leather comes from a company in Brianza that did not know how to use it. Four millimetres – too thick to do anything with it. But for Baxter, that is a challenge: those four millimetres and Marco Milisich’s pencil give rise to the Alfred prototype, an antiqued Chester-style sofa where matter takes over, so marked and yet comfortable and seductive.
But the real challenge is: how to reproduce those unique leathers you found by chance? The answer lies in a thought that soon becomes a catch phrase: “If anything is missing, you just create it; what is already there, you just forget”. And that is how the tannery turns into an alchemist’s lab: you try, you experiment, sometimes you are wrong, but then you start again. From the most classic to the most innovative materials, from that moment we would study the full potential of all of them, which would become the core of Baxter’s research: idea and substance, design and material would go hand in hand in the great challenge of creation.
The way to uniqueness goes through... jumping on the couch with your shoes on.
“Sorry to tell you this, Paolo, but your sofas look better when they’re worn out”
New York, 1996. A Baxter sofa is displayed among ABC’s windows. Paolo Bestetti is watching it, feeling proud, hopeful, and satisfied. Then he takes a better look and gets scared. The leather is worn-out; the sofa does not at all look as it was when it left the factory. He is embarrassed. As soon as he enters, he apologises to the store manager: “What happened? A clumsy courier? Don’t worry, we’ll send you a new, intact one.” The other man laughs: “Sorry to tell you this, Paolo, but your sofas look even better when they’re worn out. When they are new, their leather is too hard, it does not convey emotions. So, I ask my guys to jump on it with their shoes on: once, twice, a hundred times, until it softens. All I do is speed up the action of time: at that point, customers feel wrapped up by their own sofa”.
It’s a great lesson: time and wear are like reactants capable of bringing out all the quality of materials. Once back home, you get back to work: you need to wear some leathers out, while others have already been stressed. Production times get longer, but it is no problem when you want to break new ground.
Sofas are aged one by one; every wrinkle, every ripple is different from the other. Among the grooves there is a word that also becomes a purpose: uniqueness.
From trust in made in Italy to trust in... made in Baxter.
“That’s great, let’s not change it.”
That year, at the Cologne trade fair, Baxter booth has a kind of British elegance, its space filled with wood and leather. People pass by, take a look, and smile, but they do not come in. The few who do are surprised as soon as they hear people talking in Italian. “How’s that?” they say, “we thought you were English.” That is how the words “Made in Italy” appear overnight under a name born for fun (inspired by a cartoon, and a street in New York). And the booth fills up with visitors.
Trust is the keyword. In Cologne, it is trust in the Italian product; then, over time, it becomes trust in Baxter products. Customers learn to trust a taste and style that they love making their own, they embrace a project that looks very little industrial in its inspiration. So, it occurs that a leather lot received by the tannery has a different colour from what you thought: “That’s great, let’s not change it”. If there is trust, there is a bond. And if there is a bond, even imperfections become something you fall in love with.
Courage of course, but above all determination.
“Items sold? None”
“If you don’t consider me as a designer, then I’ll just go home.” The first meeting with the famous architect Paola Navone, one afternoon in Milan, starts with a funny and a bit embarrassing misunderstanding. “I welcomed her” Paolo Bestetti says, “confessing that I wanted to collaborate with her because I didn’t regard her as a real designer”. In fact, Baxter likes her ingenious ability to open up new paths, her intuitive and unconventional working method, where gestures are worth more than cold design. Paola, in fact, believes drawing is not the only important component; what counts above all is the shape that expert hands will be able to give it. And what she likes about Baxter is just its ability to work leathers in a unique and rare way, to make them come alive.
There is understanding and friendship, not at all misunderstandings. Paola and Baxter begin their way towards contemporary by pursuing the freest expressiveness. Matter becomes part and parcel of the designing process without being subject to it. Softness and comfort combine with the pure and simple pleasure of touching surfaces.
Among the first creations there is Budapest: a sofa with classic shapes, “as welcoming as a nest that attracts you”, Paola says. Its seat and backrest have large cushions with visible stitching. Items sold? For the first year, none. Paola is almost tempted to give up, but Luigi and Paolo invest all their determination into it. It is no coincidence that “determination” almost rhymes with “collection”: the following year the same collection is proposed again, and only colours change. This time, here comes the magic! It’s the beginning of a long success.
Metamorphosis... or skin-shedding (in every sense).
“But how’s that? I thought you said you didn’t like it.”
For the living room of their new home in Tuscany, the Austrian customers were clear: “Anything but leather products. Otherwise, we trust you.” Paola Navone bears this in mind and advises them on different solutions, save feeling surprised when she receives their phone call announcing they unexpectedly purchased the sofas she designed for Baxter. “But how’s that? I thought you said you didn’t like leather.” “When we saw it in the window, we thought it looked anything but leather”, they reply. “We found it out once we got into the showroom, and by then we were already in love with it.”
A small and curious episode like this is the very important confirmation of a goal achieved, of a complete metamorphosis: shaped like this, soft and thin, light and natural, it is as if leather were no longer leather. It resembles a soft and caressing fabric that can adjust to shapes and give you completely new tactile sensations.
If we consider the classic world of the beginning, the turning point is now clear: new customers join the loyal ones, now won over by this new aesthetic approach. Baxter is moving more and more towards design and experimentation, making this continuous “skin-shedding” part of its DNA.
Dig (or rather, dredge) in search of a soul.
“Are you really in Como? I would have said New York.”
In Krakow there is a whole shop to be furnished, but the consultant bails out twenty days before the deadline. Who to rely on? A well-known magazine, Elle Decor Italia, has just dedicated a report to a fascinating couple of artists. She is Serbian and moved from the world of fabrics to something new and personal: she gives new life to old chairs or armchairs by giving them a vintage effect. He is a German artist. They opened a workshop together, and by looking at its photos you would say it is in... New York. But it is actually in Como, a few steps from Paolo Bestetti’s house. All it takes is a phone call and a meeting: Baxter has not only found the solution for Krakow, but also the right people to move on to a new phase in its history.
Interpreting the material, painting it, being rough on it, and at the same time loving it. At Baxter, all this can be summed up in one verb: “to dredge”, in Italian “dragare”, which also echoes the designer’s name, Draga Obradovic. From the very first meeting, in fact, she and Aurel K. Basedow have got everyone used to their extravagant “forays” into their retro-flavoured pieces, original and above all unique interventions that go beyond the classic concept of collection. The Deshabillé naked armchairs, the printed leathers, the Table-au coffee tables, and the in-depth study of textures blend perfectly with Baxter world. “A world”, Draga says “that gave me the opportunity to express myself and dare with great freedom”.
It is the transition from a product company to a company that now has a real soul, with new furnishing elements to enrich it. Together with them, the way of conceiving design also changes; the process does not only involve lines, but also many types of new materials. Stones, resins, glass, and steel: designing continues in production and becomes something physical, closely linked to the material you want to shape.
Baxter soul has become multifaceted by definition, not tied to a single name. Over the years, collaborations have extended to the world of art. Self-manufacturing, new skills, the connection with galleries. Every single talent is a piece in a great mosaic of beauty and creativity.
Baxter experience becomes lived experience
“You really know the product only if you live it.”
In this case, only saying “experience” can be confusing. Because if it is true that Baxter does not lack in experience, the idea here is better expressed through the concept of lived experience, i.e., going through, living through an experience.
From the sofas of the early years to a whole world of beds, armchairs, chairs, tables, mirrors, lamps and an infinite number of other pieces of furniture and furnishing accessories. There is everything you need to create a universe visitors can plunge into, something active and dynamic where people meet and get to know each other while getting to know Baxter, in places that are perhaps forgotten, but at the same time full of history and charm: this intuition triggered the opening of the first Baxter Garage in Rome in 2007, and then of Baxter Cinema in Milan in 2015.
Spotlights and backlit billboards illuminate Largo Augusto, in Milan. The old and glorious President movie theatre that becomes a store – a store that in turn becomes a stage for events and meetings: from furniture to the big screen, from book pages to the drinks served at the bar counter. It is not just a simple frame for displaying products, but a recognizable, welcoming space, that allows Baxter to open to other brands that feel akin to it and that wish to share common initiatives.
And what about the future? “We don’t lack in ideas” Luigi and Paolo Bestetti confess, “to take our customers to the heart of our philosophy, to give them the opportunity to experience and live our products to the full”. Dreaming big is something Baxter has always been good at.
From two to a hundred. The heart is people.
“Would you like to come to Paris with me? We’re introducing Baxter”
Combining experience with passion, the sense for business with the desire not to follow market rules at all costs, and shapes with materials. The story of Baxter is a story of encounters – of ideas, of course, but above all of people. Starting with the two of them, the protagonists it all began from.
January 1990. A young man returns from his military service and accepts his uncle’s somewhat informal proposal to go to Paris with him: a new sofa brand called Baxter will appear at the fair for the first time. The uncle expects his nephew to get busy setting up the booth, assembling and dismantling it. But on the first day, the young man shows up dressed to the nines. Used to selling furniture in his father’s company, Paolo Bestetti is convinced he can do his part this way. When they go back home, Luigi Bestetti takes him on board with great spontaneity: he offers him the opportunity to work at Baxter and move from distribution to production, and to turn what was only a business idea into a company capable of surprising and imposing itself.
Making everyone feel in the right place, expressing ideas in an authentic way, creating naturally and tastefully, enhancing the talent of individuals and the synergy of the whole. With these simple goals, even today Baxter has brought together tanners, designers and makers, but also workers, managers, and directors.
There are over a hundred of them. And beyond their qualifications and skills, they feel like members of a large and not so ordinary family.