Perfect at rest
Potocco may not be a household name, but its products can be found in some of the world’s most elite institutions such as banks and universities
If subtlety is a virtue, then Italian furnishing label Potocco must be lauded for its efforts. The brand isn’t exactly a household name, yet you’ll find its chairs, sofas, ottomans and tables in lounges, lobbies and other public spaces throughout the world. The corporate offices of Credit Suisse and UBS Bank in Zurich; the Smithsonian Institute in Washington; Tokyo University; the British Airways lounges in HKIA and KLIA; and the Bibendum Oyster Bar in London, to name a few.
Defined by elegant soft shapes, neutral colours and refined details, Potocco’s furniture is not statement-inducing. But therein lies its appeal. The pieces are designed to stand the test of time, both aesthetically and performance-wise. It’s a tradition that began almost a century ago. In 1919, Domenico Potocco opened a small artisan workshop producing wooden chairs in Manzano, in the northeastern Italian province of Udine. That same tradition continues today under the fourth generation leadership of Antonio Potocco.
This adherence to traditional values was made patently apparent during our recent visit to the Potocco factory in Manzano. The region is renowned for the high quality of its craftsmanship, the industry referring to it as the Chair District. Indeed, at Potocco, each piece of material – whether fabric or leather – is meticulously checked by hand for any dints or scuffs, tears or faults.
“We prefer to find defects at this stage rather than at the upholstery stage, because it might be too late to change by then,” remarks production manager Ivano Cecotti. Cecotti heads a team of about 40 woodworkers, technicians and upholsterers. While production largely takes place with mechanised means, each stage of production is overseen by human eyes and hands.
Wood lies at the heart and soul of Potocco. Ergo, much of the facility is devoted to storing and processing the raw material. Interestingly enough, the timber – mainly beech (60 per cent) and oak – is sourced from mills in Serbia and Croatia rather than Italy. Cecotti explains that the harvest from those countries has the best quality in terms of hardness and robustness.
When the timber boards arrive in Manzano, they are left to dry naturally for about six months. This is because the boards contains 50 per cent moisture. But moisture levels need to be reduced to 10 per cent before the boards can be processed. Once levels approach 20 per cent – tested using a moisture detection apparatus – the boards are sent to an external supplier to be further dried in a kiln. This procedure brings moisture down to the optimum 10 per cent.
“Other manufacturers are not able to provide the assurance that the wood is thoroughly dry,” says Collin Siow, general manager of The Beuro, which has sold Potocco in Singapore since 2015. “But Potocco can, because the natural drying process is done in-house.”
Once back from the kiln, the boards are cut to size and then tooled using 2- and 5-axis CNC machines. These are lathes controlled by computers. “We use 5-axis machines for pieces that need more precision, for example the joints,” explains Cecotti.
After being glued together, the skeletal structure is either sent to the staining or upholstery department (if it’s a chair). At the staining department, the skeletons are first dipped in a tank filled with coloured solution that penetrates the wood. Spray guns are then used to apply a transparent, protective coat.
In the upholstery department, metal springs or belts are attached to the skeletons. Different kinds of foam and Dacron (a synthetic polyester) are then glued on. Finally, the leather or fabric covers are stitched on. After a final round of quality checks, the furniture is packed and shipped out. Very possibly to a hotel lobby, airport lounge, office or cafe near you, even if you don’t realise it.