April 1, 2014 | by Mark Lee
Crafted Italian at Calligaris
Sean Amini, Calligaris, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Calligaris remains one of the most ecologically friendly companies you’ll ever find,’ says store manager Sean Amini. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Stepping into the sun-drenched showroom at the Calligaris store is to enter a modern home-lover’s paradise. The sleek lines and looks of an impressive collection of contemporary furnishings and home décor accents enliven the 6,000-square-foot space.

An ebulliently branded storefront at 5252 Wisconsin Ave., one block south of the Friendship Heights Metro station and Mazza Gallerie, is a prominent feature at the southern point of a signature collection of commerce straddling the District’s boundary with Maryland in Northwest Washington. A cascading display of interconnected colorful chairs descending from the elevated ceiling at the entrance hints of the design emporium at the top of the stairs.

One of an exclusive few mono-brand locations worldwide opening a little over a year ago, the D.C. Calligaris store specializes in contemporary furnishings for home or office. An array of commercial-grade chair styles has also found a place in area restaurants, conference facilities and other public environments. It’s a fitting tribute to the company’s nearly century-long tradition originating with the design and production of the item.

The Calligaris Group celebrated its 90th anniversary last year. The internationally recognized, well-regarded Italian furniture maker’s brand, however, now evokes that history in its modern incarnation for the consistent craftsmanship that made it famous. Now partially owned by the prestigious Louis Vuitton luxury brands group LVMH, the company produces and distributes an extensive line of high-quality yet surprisingly affordable chairs, tables, beds, sofas, furniture and furnishing accessories.

Launched in 1923 as a family-owned business by Antonio Calligaris in what would become known as the “Chair District” in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region at the northeastern-most tip of Italy, its “Marocca” chair was the first product manufactured. The iconic sturdy wooden chair with woven rush seat and slightly curved legs was constructed by hand utilizing native wood from the surrounding mountains and straw from a nearby lagoon.

“Calligaris remains one of the most ecologically friendly companies you’ll ever find,” says store manager Sean Amini, noting that the business maintains its own forest, planting three replacement trees for each one harvested. “We are dedicated to caring about the environment.”

Amini, an affable life-long retail business operator passionate about the furnishings industry he has engaged in for much of his professional life, is as impeccably attired and comfortably soft-spoken as the products that surround him. “The clean lines and easy colors are ideal to work with in almost any setting,” he is quick to point out. “Calligaris distinguishes itself on affordable luxury,” Amini says in describing the sophisticated appeal of even the most unique items.

When the company diversified its furnishings in the ’90s, use of wood was expanded to include metal, plastic, leather and glass. Product offerings in the contemporary to transitional market segment with a classically inspired modern appeal are now its exclusive domain.

Assisted by colleagues Samantha May, a credentialed designer, and Marcus Browning, an accomplished furnishings and specialty retail professional, Amini notes that Calligaris pieces “mix well in both contemporary and traditional environments” and offer “sophisticated color palettes” suitable for a broad range of tastes. Product lines are “not that edgy,” he adds, “but the Italian design and construction is the edge we do have.”

Taking pride in a commitment to customer service and satisfaction, Amini highlights an asset of the company’s operation. Both a local warehouse and an East Coast distribution center ensure that all popular top-tier pieces are available for expedited delivery in most fabrics, finishes and colors. “Very few pieces require special ordering,” Amini boasts.

For the customer who has fallen in love with the broad appeal of Calligaris products, the appropriate exhortation is “delizioso”!

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow him @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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