Romeo Sozzi, from Promemoria to Bottega Ghianda

At the end of the 1980s, precisely when post-modernism was pushing towards mass production, the designer launched his own revolutionary business, which made his love of wood the protagonist. And that same love led him to take over Pierluigi Ghianda’s historic company.

Do you remember Nicholas Evans’ ‘Horse Whisperer’? Romeo Sozzi does a similar thing with wood. He talks to wood. Wood is for him what marble was for Canova or bronze was for Pomodoro - not a mere inert material, but a living organism that must first be ‘understood’.

Romeo Sozzi knows this, and he does it. He listens to wood, he observes it, he explores it. He works on it for making cuts and joints. He planes it, he polishes it, he shapes it. He knows how to smooth it until it becomes like silk or velvet. He gives it form and voice. And he makes it speak. His passion comes from afar and sinks its roots in his family’s 19th-century business in Valmadrera, a small village on the shores of Lake Como - a workshop specialising in the restoration and repair of carriages of the local aristocratic families. There, amidst the wooden aromas and smells of mordant, that love for detail, that craftsmanship and that loving care for well-made and original work took shape, were passed down for three generations and then resulted, at the end of the 1980s, in the foundation of Promemoria, a high-end furniture ‘workshop’ that has the same taste, knowledge and excellence of those Renaissance workshops where Italian creativity and flair first took shape. 

Negozio Bottega Ghianda. Courtesy Bottega Ghianda
Bottega Ghianda store, Pieces of Styles boiserie designed by Philippe Starck. Courtesy Conseil

Promemoria is not a company in the strictest sense, but neither is it a simple carpenter’s shop: rather, it is a ‘middle ground’, an atelier devoted to research, innovation and experimentation. There, wood is worked with the passion and dedication of the old master luthiers. The pieces of furniture are treated like violins. They resonate. They convey tactile harmonies and chromatic melodies. Because Promemoria’s furniture, as Romeo Sozzi says, is like haute couture pieces - objects to look at but also to touch, smell and even listen to when it comes to their wooden symphony in dialogue with other noble materials, glass, fabrics, metals.

It really took courage and initiative to launch such a project in 1988. Those were the years when postmodernism promoted the standardisation of irony and the irruption of playfulness in design culture. In the same year in which Promemoria was established, 1988, Claudio Luti succeeded Giulio Castelli as the CEO of Kartell and imposed on the company an accelerated process of internationalisation and mass production that perfectly embodied the spirit of the time. Romeo Sozzi, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction. He did not follow the trends of the moment. He went against the grain. Each of his pieces is handmade, often custom-made and in limited editions, and undergoes strict quality controls certifying the level of excellence. 

Adelphi, Romeo Sozzi, Promemoria
Adelphi, Romeo Sozzi, Promemoria. Courtesy Conseil

Promemoria carries out continuous research. Especially on materials. Sozzi loves to seek out and find little-used woods. Woods that challenge the creativity of designers. Woods that, if treated with respect and love, can reveal unexpected worlds. Hence the selection of little-known, precious woods such as Tuscan cypress wood, reddish-brown sucupira wood from the tropical forests of the Amazon, or macassar ebony wood from Indonesia. But also citronnier wood, with its yellow lemon colour with greenish-gold highlights. Sozzi selects these woods and transforms them into furniture-sculptures. World-furniture. Emotion-furniture. But also synaesthetic furniture, which provides truly unique tactile, visual and even olfactory sensations.

Sozzi’s inspiration almost always comes from nature. From careful observation of the world’s wonders. It is no coincidence that he confesses that he always goes around with a notebook and pencil in his pocket and often finds himself sketching the shape of a wave, a cloud or a mountain on pieces of paper.

Amarcord Sahel, Romeo Sozzi, Promemoria
Amarcord Sahel, Romeo Sozzi, Promemoria. Courtesy Conseil

And these drawings inspire the design of a handle, a drawer, a detail. It is the hand gesture, says Sozzi, that generates everything. In drawing as in woodworking, manual dexterity is indispensable, no keyboard or software will ever replace it. Promemoria’s 2022 collection, dedicated to the Sahel desert, also takes its inspiration from nature. Sozzi loves the desert, he loves its lights and colours, the sand that turns from time to time pink, purple and orange, as impalpable as flour. That strip of land populated by nomads who set off from the salt pits in Morocco and Algeria and take three months to carry the salt slabs to the Red Sea has inspired Sozzi with artefacts of rare elegance and skilful craftsmanship.

Like the Amarcord Sahel cabinet, composed of inlays of different precious woods (ebony, walnut, pear, lime and amaranth) evoking the yellow sands and dunes of the desert, ranging from golden brown to dark bronze. Adelphi, on the other hand, is a writing desk in brushed black oak that appears as a closed book ready to be opened and reveal the secrets it contains, just like an atlas that guards and then reveals the secrets of the lands represented on it.

Philippe Starck e Romeo Sozzi. Courtesy Bottega Ghianda
Philippe Starck and Romeo Sozzi. Courtesy Conseil

But Romeo Sozzi is not only a designer in love with what he does. He is also an entrepreneur, a courageous captain. A few years ago, for example, his passion for wood led him to take over another world excellence of Italian cabinet-making: Bottega Ghianda. From its founder Pierluigi Ghianda, shortly before his death, the Sozzi family directly picked up the baton to continue on a path that celebrates the charm of wood and keeps alive a craftsmanship that is admired and appreciated all over the world.

Jamais, Marc Ferrand, Bottega Ghianda. Courtesy Conseil
Jamais, Marc Ferrand, Bottega Ghianda. Courtesy Conseil

In Sozzi’s hands, Bottega Ghianda is not in danger of becoming its own museum: it continues to be a living and productive reality capable of bringing a noble past into dialogue with the needs, taste and desires of the future. Just think of how in the Milan showroom Sozzi invited Philippe Starck to work on an innovative and high-impact project related to the theme of boiserie. Again with Bottega Ghianda, testifying to a fervent and fruitful activity, Sozzi is presenting at the Salone del Mobile 2022 the modular walnut bookcase with satin brass details Jamais content by Marc Ferrand, the beech and leather chair Farfallina by Álvaro Siza and the re-edition of the wenge table with aluminium inserts Cartesio by Mario Bellini, which was awarded in 1962 with the Compasso d’Oro.

Farfallina, Alvaro Siza, Bottega Ghianda. Courtesy Conseil
Farfallina, Alvaro Siza, Bottega Ghianda. Courtesy Conseil

Among other things, during the Salone, Sozzi has presented himself as the sole owner of the Promemoria brand, having bought back the 30% stake that he had sold to the Chinese fund Nuo Capital in 2018, while many Italian companies continue to sell brands and properties to large international funds. His is now not only a world-class creative and production reality in the field of high-profile furniture, but also a unique example of how rigour, passion and discipline can generate truly innovative projects. With showrooms all over the world (London, Moscow, New York, Hamburg, Warsaw, Hong Kong, Taipei...), Romeo Sozzi now has another big dream: to create a real school, a workshop that can train young people in woodworking, knowing that it is not just a matter of teaching a technique, but above all of infusing a passion.

Cartesio, Mario Bellini, Bottega Ghianda
Cartesio, Mario Bellini, Bottega Ghianda. Courtesy Conseil

Opening image: Romeo Sozzi holding Farfallina chairs and Tom Bombadil furniture. Courtesy Conseil

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