Factory Tour
Mattiazzi's Udine Headquarters

An hour east of Venice, in the province of Udine, Italy, three small outlying villages make up an area quaintly known as “The Chair Triangle.” For centuries, the municipalities of Manzano, Corno di Rosazzo, and San Giovani al Natisone have been home to workshops and factories, woodworkers and artisans, tool-makers and sawmills, all devoted to producing the more than 40 million chairs that emerge each year from the region. The city of Udine itself is no slouch in the manufacturing department — it’s home to Moroso, one of Italy’s most storied brands — but the chair triangle is known more for its specialized production and for manufacturers who do anonymous, subcontracted work for the big brands.

Mattiazzi is one of them. Founded in 1978 by brothers Nevio and Fabbiano, who built by hand the original brick woodworking shop near their home, the brand began by producing small turned parts for traditional, country-style chairs. It grew over the years, moving eventually to a proper factory where it made whole chairs in wood; the brothers were investing in high-tech equipment even as many of the workshops around them failed to recognize looming competition from China and Eastern Europe, eventually closing. But while Mattiazzi was becoming more and more known for its craftsmanship, “they were always behind the scenes, never recognized by the customers who were using their products,” explains Cristina Salvati, Mattiazzi’s sales and marketing manager.

That all changed in 2008, when the company decided to embark on its first-ever branded collection. Through a friend, the brothers were introduced to the Munich-based industrial designer Nitzan Cohen, whose 2009 He Said, She Said collection for the company was such a hit that Cohen was asked to become creative director. Cohen in turn brought in Florian Lambl, the Berlin-based graphic designer responsible for the gorgeous Mattiazzi collateral that first caught our eye at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair. There, in a tiny courtyard in Zona Tortona, the company was presenting its second collection, this time authored by Sam Hecht of the London-based firm Industrial Facility, who’s been responsible for some of our favorite designs of the past decade. In addition to a catalog presenting Hecht’s Branca chair, Lambl created one detailing Mattiazzi’s years at the forefront of wood production, filled with gorgeous photographs of the company’s now 54,000-square-foot facility. What follows is a selection of our favorite shots, as well as a tour of the facility, graciously provided last week via phone by Salvati.

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The oldest part of the factory. "What you're looking at are very basic machines used in the first production steps," Salvati explains. "The machines in the back where you see the red signs are Weinigs, a German machine from 1986 that's used to make grooves in straight planks and to take the roughness away from raw material. We make production runs on the CNC machines, but for smaller runs, we'll also make finger joints on the green machines in front."

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Planks from the sawmill, waiting to be machined.

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Shown here is Fabbiano Mattiazzi's son, Fransceso. Even though Mattiazzi is known for using high-tech equipment, its furniture has a soft, handmade-looking quality. "An eight-axis CNC milling machine allows wood to take the complex shapes associated with injection-molded plastic. Operating such a machine is an art and Mattiazzi disproves the modern myth that mechanized manufacturing is not a craft,” writes designer Jonathan Olivares in the catalog.

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The production leftovers stacked here are often used for the next run.

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The sanding department.

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Mattiazzi does contract work for Europe's biggest furniture brands, but the client list remains strictly confidential. Much of those products were made on this 5-axis CNC machine, which is "the first one we bought in 2000, used to shape, curve, or make a specific radius," Salvati says.

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The company employs traditional techniques and wood-cutting machines as well; these are molds used to make mortise holes and tenons for the square-peg-in-square-hole technique used to join planks of wood. "At Mattiazzi, the future and the past blend together in a way that's quite unique," Salvati says.

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Assembled frames, waiting to be polished.

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Sanding machines.

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"This machine is used mainly to make legs," says Salvati. "Whereas the Weinig is used only for straight parts, this machine is for shapes and curves."

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Tools of the trade.

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Blades awaiting sharpening. "The harder the wood, the more the tool needs to be sharpened," Salvati explains. "If we work with oak, we sharpen the tools about once a day, especially if we've been working against the grain of the wood."

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The desk of Mattiazzi's sample-maker, who constructs prototypes and first models of each new custom or production design.

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A 6-axis CNC machine.

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Hecht's Branca chair, introduced this year...

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... and Cohen's 2009 He Said, She Said chairs, waiting to be shipped. "Nitzan's He Said, She Said chair was more squarish, more aggressive," says Salvati. "What Sam designed is something really soft, which begs to be touched. Each has its own personality, but from our point of view they're totally different."