The Fratelli Levaggi workshop crafts authentic
Chiavari Chairs since 1963. The baton is now in the hands of Gabriele and
Paolo, who continue this venerable tradition and innovate it with experimental
and formal research.
When did this business start?
It started in the 1950s, in the aftermath of World War II. Rinaldo Levaggi, our uncle, started working as a lathe turner with the few tools he had: an old lathe and an abandoned barn where he set up his workshop. Thanks to his skill and resourcefulness, in ten years he managed to make his business flourish and he started to recruit staff. In 1963, Rinaldo and his three brothers took over an existing company and founded Fratelli Levaggi, which, thanks to the high quality of its production, has made a name for itself for over 50 years. The young brothers Gabriele and Paolo have picked up the family tradition, which they pursue with unaltered enthusiasm.
How do you combine the traditional manufacturing techniques of Chiavari Chairs with experimental and formal research?
Tradition is not only a historical and cultural value: it is also the result of the know-how of generations of craftsmen. In order to protect it, it is not sufficient to reproduce the models of the past, however faithfully: innovation and research are a pivotal aspect of the process. When we create new products, we follow the lessons of the great Italian designers of the past, who always developed a deep relationship with artisans. We also like to look beyond our national borders: to Nordic design (Wagner, Aalto, Eames and others), for example, a precious source of universal teachings.
Tell us about the different steps necessary to create a chair.
The construction of a chair starts with the careful observation of the pieces of wood: experience is fundamental to obtain light and robust elements. Each component is cut from solid wood and worked with traditional woodworking machines. We only use manual control machines, because the expert hand of the craftsman is fundamental throughout the manufacturing process. Each component is then accurately polished until the surface is perfectly smooth and flawless. The pieces are assembled by hand to obtain the robustness for which the Chiavari Chairs are famous. At this point the seat is woven with thin threads of Vienna straw and the chair is painted.
What type of materials do you use and where do they come from?
All the wood that we use comes from Italy and the seasoning process is rigorously natural, in order to obtain an optimal result. The seasoning can take between two and five years. In some cases, as with wild cherry wood, we personally select the trunks in the Ligurian hinterland and follow them during the cutting and seasoning processes.
How many types of Chiavari Chair exist?
The unusual and curious thing about the Chiavari Chair is the total absence of a designer: each craftsman and workshop created their own range developing new proposals that were the direct result of their personal skill and taste. After two centuries, we have hundreds of different models, some of which are really innovative and original, whereas others are more linked to the traditional “Chiavarina”. The Superleggera chair designed by Gio Ponti has a different story. This masterpiece of Italian design is known all over the world, but only very few people know the story behind the famous model 699.
Who are your clients?
We supply both Italian and foreign private clients, but most of all we work with architects and interior designers, who look for pieces with a high aesthetic and historical/cultural value.
Are the younger generations interested in following in your footsteps?
Young people today are increasingly interested in manual crafts, maybe because they are tired of digital technologies. In fact our work possesses the “mystery and wonder of handicrafts”, of which William Morris was such a supporter.
Your products are featured on well-made.it and italia-sumisura.it: do you think that contemporary craftsmanship needs to be promoted on the web?
It is fundamental. Artisans are no longer considered “old people in a workshop”. Modern day craftspeople, especially the younger ones, need to know how to use the tools offered by digital communication. This often requires a great effort, but it is the first step in becoming global artisans!