Q&A: Anna Lenti on Design, the Outdoors and the Timelessness of Colour
The former engineer (and sister of designer Paola Lenti!) joined the Milan-based brand in 2000.
In a world of contemporary furnishings that, for the most part, lean more minimalist than eccentric and favours shades like white, black and grey, Paola Lenti refuses to blend in. The celebrated Italian designer launched her eponymous label of indoor and outdoor furnishings in 1994, and has earned a rep in design circles for her wool-felt fabrics and playful sofas, rugs and chairs—all of it coloured in vibrant hues like lime, violet, fuchsia and tangerine.
For many, the designer’s works represent the essence of summer: light and bright, with a decidedly carefree edge—so much so that Vancouver’s Livingspace has dedicated a large portion of its recent fifth-floor expansion to housing a Paola Lenti shop-in-shop, where locals can get up-close and personal with the brand. Below, we chat with Anna Lenti, a former engineer (and sister of Paola!) who joined Paola Lenti as CEO and general manager in 2000, to learn more about the company both her and her sister have built and what makes colour so timeless.
How would you describe the Paola Lenti brand for those who are unfamiliar with it?
We are quite an unusual brand—unusual because we are kind of like two brands in one. We always say that we’re a fabric company and a furniture company, because all the fabrics, all the materials we use in our collections are produced exclusively by us. In terms of our aesthetic, everything is timeless. You should be able to mix and match pieces from past collections with those from newer ones. It’s simple, fresh. Everything is hand-made, hand-woven, hand-embroidered in Italy.
You have a background in nuclear engineering. How did you end up running a furniture business with your sister?
My sister has always been creative. She used to be a graphic designer, so she was always in tune with that part of herself. I’m more scientific—I worked for many years in the space field, so I never saw myself working with Paola. For years, she was saying, “You have to join the company!” and I would always say, “No, no, no, no. I don’t want to. I want to do my own thing.” But, in 2010, I had a baby and my life changed completely. So I said, “Okay, maybe I can try this” and it’s been good decision for the both of us.
You describe Paola Lenti as “timeless,” though many people would consider the colours that the brand uses—purples, greens, oranges—as the opposite of that. Why is the brand so dedicated to using colour?
Colour is what makes a product personal. We really want people to find a colour that resonates with them—whether that be yellow, pink, blue—and, maybe even more importantly, the right shade of that colour. Although, when it comes to the outdoors, we believe it’s important that whatever colour you choose doesn’t overpower the colours that are in nature. Of course, I can’t say that a certain colour will be timeless for years to come, but we want to give people options. In some of our products and fabrics, we have up to 300 different colours that you can choose from.
In your opinion, what’s the most important piece of furniture in a home?
The sofa, for sure, but also the rug. At home, I always sit on the floor, so I like having a rug that’s comfortable—something that gives you a good feeling. And, of course, from a maintenance point of view, something that’s easy to clean. My home has a lot of light, natural colours—with pops of complementary colours—so I look for something that goes with that, too.
What are some Paola Lenti products that do particularly well in Vancouver?
Our outdoor products do really well: the Ami collection, the Sciara table, the Portofino collection. I think we really created a new vision of outdoor furniture 20 years ago, because, when we decided we wanted to make an outdoor sofa that has the same feeling as an indoor sofa, there was not a lot of stuff like that on the market. So it was challenging to begin without any sort of blueprint.
But we’re proud to say that, today, we have a very large outdoor collection. And the outdoor market is now a huge market—I think because people are stressed all day working. And they really like the outdoors and having this beautiful space where they can spend time in this really comfortable way.