It is said that burl was discovered in France, in the mid-nineteenth century, by some craftsmen of Saint-Claude in Bourgogne: the craftsmen noticed a sort of swelling at the base of the root of the erica arborea – an evergreen shrub typical of the Mediterranean region that grows partly underground. They tried working it in order to understand its potential. Erica burl only grows underground, and is the basis for the so-called briar pipe block: in plants of around seventy years of age it can reach forty centimeters in diameter – the minimum size for harvesting. A burl is a woody mass found close to the roots, but which can also form at various points of the trunk. Like scars, growths, as a reaction to repeated pruning, after a fire, an abnormal formation of buds. Technically speaking the burl is a defect: it is actually a deviation from the normal anatomical formation of the wood. Besides finding pieces already of a shape suitable to be worked into decorative objects, ornaments, pedestals, it can be used to produce thin sheets of marbled wood, its patterns and variations of color and shine used for marquetry. The trees that most commonly produce burl formations are the walnut (the burl of the Turkish and Persian walnut is particularly notable), elm, maple, ash, birch, black poplar and tropical species – Tetraclinis or Thuya. In Scandinavia an attempt was made to grow burl through artificial stimulation of the tree wood. Burl joined clay, china and wood in the manufacture of objects in contact with heat. Since the land on which burl is found is often state-owned and facing the sea, the woodsman must first obtain permission before removing the block. Once it has been removed it is taken to the sawmill and cleaned of stones, to be stored in the cool and damp. Ready to be worked.
In the automotive industry burl is used for decorating interiors – dashboards, center consoles, door panels. Inlays are produced by gluing the thin sheets of wood to an appropriate mount. Once it has been sanded and polished, its natural swirls and patterns are revealed. Over time, burl has become a distinctive feature of English cars. “For our home collections”, says Monique Zappalà, Art Director of Bentley Home, “we use amber-colored walnut burl, or the lighter burl of the chestnut, the same kind used in the car interiors. Our furniture is hand-veneered. The burl is paired with leather, another reference to the car theme. Traditional tastes become contemporary through curves, contours and dynamic lines”. The Bentley home collection has been produced for six years by the Forlì group Luxury Living, headed up by Raffaella Vignatelli, who introduces it herself: “In 2013, my father started to develop a collection for Bentley: a way had to be found to utilize and incorporate the features of the British car company into a furnishing collection. An English brand, now owned by a German group, with interiors designed and produced in Italy. We made an error of judgement in thinking that the Bentley client is male. Over time we have learned that it is often a woman driving the Bentley, while the man owns a Rolls-Royce. In furnishing, like in most families, it is the woman that has the last word”. Bentley Home has found its place on the luxury furnishing market, experiencing double digit growth every year.
This year Bentley Motors celebrates 100 years: a hundred pieces of furniture with the Bentley Centenary logo have been produced, which make up the capsule collection presented during the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April. The lines were designed by Carlo Colombo. The designer and architect was inspired by the work of Achille Castiglioni and Mies van der Rohe – the Modern Movement can be seen in the rigor of the forms pursued by Colombo. The designer traces curved lines, recalling the body of models such as the Continental, the quilted diamonds of the upholstery of the seats. Materials used include metal, leather, larch and liquidambar, silk, cashmere, and marble. Burl is a distinctive feature of the entire collection. Wood and suede covers, polished wood; the use of larch is inspired by the car dashboard. Details in gunmetal-finish steel, edges shaped and covered in Vermont leather, and legs finished with diamond inlays of white maple.
Palazzo Orsi Mangelli is the former home of the Student Secretariat for the Faculty of Science of the Forlì branch of the University of Bologna. Located in Forlì’s old town, in Corso Diaz, it is a seventeenth-century Baroque building with a square layout, and an inner courtyard surrounded by a loggia. Bought in 1802 by Cardinal Paolo Orsi Manganelli, who embellished it in the Baroque style, it was restored by Ariodante Bazzero in 1925: three sides were modified while the facade was left intact, with its two stone portals surmounted by balconies, pilasters, and its framed windows above. Inside are paintings attributed to Bologna artist Angelo Zaccarini; in the gallery, three trompe l’oeil windows on the main staircase. A year of restoration, in collaboration with Jacques Grange, has transformed this three-story building into a gallery for collections of furniture and design. On the building’s piano nobile is the Sala Gandolfi, named after the vault attributed to Gaetano Gandolfi, a painter born in San Matteo della Decima, in the province of Bologna, in 1734. The flooring is in terrazzo, made with stone chips and small fragments of marble, earthenware, and glass, and decorated in geometric patterns. The antiques, columns and capitals give rhythm to Massimo Listri’s photographs. Amid paintings depicting scenes linked to Forlì and to Rome with themes on the Papacy and Curia, the Orsi Mangelli family used to pray in the Altar Room: an altarpiece, hanging on the wall, hides a wooden panel activated through a horizontally-tilting mechanism.
President Raffaella Vignatelli picks up the thread again: “My father started out selling cut rubber. In the mid-sixties he brought a then-unknown material to Italy, dacron” – a thermoplastic resin suitable for food use and used for its electrical properties, chemical resistance, performance at high temperatures, and speed of molding. “At the time, furniture was developed using Pirelli molds – dacron gave greater freedom to the designers in the creation of new shapes”. The first collection of products for the home was created, and a collaboration with Fiat begun, as the supplier of seat-backs for certain models such as the Uno. “At the end of the eighties”, continues Raffaella, “when the venture with the Turin giant was over, my father met Anna Fendi at a party in Rome. It was the start of a collaboration with the Roman house and of our commitment to interior design”. Alberto Vignatelli died on 4 December 2017. “We worked together for thirty years, I am his daughter and I was his right-hand woman. Our licensees wondered if company continuity would be possible”. In the mid-sixties, Alberto Vignatelli bought a piece of land in the industrial area of Forlì and built the works that still today are the center of upholstery production: from the cutting of leather and velvet, to the sewing and the varnishing, this is the place where the group’s craftsmen make the collections by hand. “For years we wondered if we were industrial artisans or an artisanal industry. Beyond these definitions, I believe that the manual skill of the craftsman is the guarantor of quality. We export 97% of our furniture. While up until a few years ago the main market was the Far East, today it is Chinese. 60% of the clients that buy from our Los Angeles showroom are Chinese, as are 80% of our customers in Milan. Even in London we have noticed an increase in the Chinese public compared to the Indian and Arabic. The States, like Europe, are growing nonetheless”. When Raffaella Vignatelli began working in the company there were fifty employees: today there are three hundred and sixty.