The words of 49-year-old engineerAndrea Margaritelli trigger a stream of images. We are back in the time when Rome became the capital of unified Italy, of if you prefer, that of the Paris Commune following the victory of Bismarck over Napoleon III at Sedan. We might as well begin with France, as the company would not even exist without the forests of Burgundy. Andrea’s great grandfather Eugenio, founder of the family company, had an industrious spirit. He constructed parts for farm machinery, invented a new kind of plough and made a name for himself in that new-born Italy, a country filled with hope. But Germany’s mechanical industry was a tough competitor. Then came an economic crisis that lasted all of 20 years, from which the country only emerged in the mid-1890s. It was a bit like the crisis we have been through at the beginning of this Third Millennium, which also came from America. While the USA fought against Sitting Bull, it flooded Europe with cheap products of every kind: as if they were the Chinese of the Belle Epoque. Fernando took over the enterprise of his father Eugenio and transformed it, “going into the forest” to seek his fortune. There he found the primordial energy of wood, which could be burned and turned into charcoal. This was a hard and humble occupation but one that brought economic and social rewards at the beginning of the 20th century. The supply of railway sleepers to the State permitted the consolidation of the company.The Miralduolo di Torgiano plant, in Perugia province.The “short century” got under way, arriving at the halfway point after two world wars and an extraordinary acceleration of many aspects of life on its shoulders. Energy, now, no longer came from the mine or the forest: the Modern Era burned oil. Fernando decided that his time was up. In 1946, in exchange for a little Fiat Topolino and a fine vineyard in the hills of Torgiano, near Perugia, he handed over the enterprise to his three sons. The company employed 600 people, and its products were distributed all over Italy. The reconstruction of the ravaged country showed promise but timber, which until that time had been collected in the province of Rieti, was scarce and of mediocre quality, and would not be enough to meet the challenges of the future. It was in the years of the economic boom that the Margaritelli family provided confirmation of the “resilience” of character that represented its entrepreneurial strength. They went to the great forests of France, to Burgundy, home to the best oak. Giuseppe lost his two brothers but this did not stop him. He set up shop on the fringes of the forest of Bertranges, near Beaune in the département of Chalon-sur-Saône, and constructed a large industrial sawmill at Fontaine for the first stages of processing timber. Italians, in those days, did not receive a warm welcome, and they would only be accepted after years of hard work.Legname proveniente dai querceti della Borgogna.The opening of the Mont Blanc Tunnel made it easier to transport the rough-hewn material to Italy. The firm became the main supplier of sleepers for the Italian Railways. But progress never stops, and neither did Margaritelli. High-speed trains arrived and the sleepers had to be made out of more solid concrete. Giuseppe did not give up, and sought a new outlet through the supply of “his” oak to furniture manufacturers in Italy. But semi-finished products offered no satisfaction and this family of Umbrian entrepreneurs, following the entry of other relatives into the management, were now seeking more than profit. As Andrea says, “We wanted to produce something that would connect us directly to the end user. And we wanted our chain of production, from the sustainable forest cultivated by the French for centuries on the basis of strict principles to the seasoning of the timber, its mechanized processing and the selection of the wood, to be properly appreciated.”Marc Sadler’s “Fabrique”.Wood for flooring was the turning point. The encounter between Giuseppe and Guglielmo Giordano, a professor at the University of Florence with a scientific understanding of trees, was decisive. The pair patented the multilayer support of birch that would hold firm the oak surface of Margaritelli’s parquet. This allowed boards to be made longer, initiating a revolution in the manufacturing sector. The patent, granted in 1984, was enforced for ten years. By then there were so many imitations around the world that it was allowed to lapse. But it had proved a great success. Partly due to the introduction of this innovation, wood accounts today for 5% of the floors in Italian houses. Andrea then fills in the background: “It was the Sun King, Louis XIV, who launched parquet: in 1684, in the process of a restoration of his court, he had the Carrara marble of the “Hall of Mirrors” replaced by a wooden floor: panels of a square metre with inlaid patterns, and the nobility of Europe wanted to imitate him.”The Oak Avenue parquet designed by Matteo Thun for Listone Giordano’s “Natural Genius” range.The firm, in homage to the contribution made by the inventor and scientist, used his name for the trademark of a product whose range is so varied today that it is available in as many as fifty different shades of colour. At Miralduolo di Torgiano, location of the main factory (restyled by ABDR), the old vineyard of Giuseppe’s father has turned over the years into a company that produces, after aging in barriques of Burgundy oak, a hundred thousand bottles of DOCG wine a season.Terre Margaritelli is the family’s second business activity in addition to Listone Giordano: the 52-hectare organic vineyard produces 100,000 bottles of DOCG wine each season.And the noble 16th-century residence in which the Margaritelli clan, which is still close-knit (although Andrea’s father is now in his nineties and retired a few years ago), has lived for years is the seat of a foundation that promotes classical and contemporary art. It is also the owner of a precious Baby Jesus by Pinturicchio, loaned out to museums all over the world. As Darwin is claimed to have said, those who survive are the ones who are able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which they find themselves. And this is an apt way to understand the history of this Umbrian family, who have always remained united and ready to tackle crises and find a way out of them. Yet, as Andrea reflects, stroking a wall faced with oak cut in a trapezoid pattern (an idea of Michele De Lucchi’s to serve as a reminder of the history behind a simple piece of wood under our feet) “if it had not been for the oaks of Burgundy…”Andrea Margaritelli, brand manager of Listone Giordano.
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