Exclusive Interview With Design Holding CEO Daniel Lalonde as New York Store Opens

Exclusive Interview With Design Holding CEO Daniel Lalonde as New York Store Opens

MILAN — Design Holding’s chief executive officer Daniel Lalonde has been on a mission to build an “LVMH of Home” since 2021, and he’s about to cut the ribbon Thursday on his biggest achievement with the company yet: a new hub where shoppers are able to outfit their homes with some of the best of European design, all under one roof.

Driven by the belief that the same shopper who owns a Tank watch from Cartier or a Birkin bag from Hermès shares similarities with the consumer of B&B Camaleonda sofas and Louis Poulsen Artichoke lamps, Lalonde’s new retail concept has finally come to fruition, just steps away from the Empire State Building.

Heritage Italian furnishing brands B&B Italia, Maxalto and Azucena; lighting brands Flos and Louis Poulsen, and kitchen-maker Arclinea, all under the Design Holding umbrella, will be showcased in a 25,000-square-foot permanent space spanning two floors on 135 Madison Avenue. The second floor of the U.S. hub for these brands was designed by Lissoni & Partners, which was founded by leading Italian architect and B&B artistic director Piero Lissoni.

In an interview with WWD on the eve of the event, Lalonde said it’s the first time luxury European furniture and lighting brands will stand next to each other under the same roof, making it easier for customers to build the home of their dreams.

“We have this incredible portfolio and we are always looking to say ‘How can the sum of the parts be bigger than the individual brands together?’ We are very nurturing on developing each brand within their own space, but I very much believe that we’re stronger together,” the former LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executive said.

He added that these synergies have come to life elsewhere in contract spaces the company has curated — hospitality, residential, corporate and retail sectors spaces, including the Bulgari Hotel in Paris; the M+ Museum in Hong Kong; residential skyscraper La Bella Vita in Taichung, Taiwan; the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC), and the Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection in Paris.

Design Holding’s catalogue features iconic objects designed by some of the most famous internationally known designers such as Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni; Tobia Scarpa; Luigi Caccia Dominioni; Poul Henningsen; Arne Jacobsen; Citterio; Gaetano Pesce; Philippe Starck; Piero Lissoni; Konstantin Grcic; Jasper Morrison; Patricia Urquiola; Michael Anastassiades, and many others.

Exclusive Interview With Design Holding CEO Daniel Lalonde as New York Store Opens

Daniel Lalonde

Mattia Zoppellaro for Contrasto

In 2021, the Italian conglomerate inked a joint venture with Fendi to form Fashion Furniture Design, or FF Design, to develop the Fendi Casa business. The line was previously produced and distributed by licensee Luxury Living, operating through Club House Italia.

In recent years, Design Holding has seen the expansion of innovative products and potential future icons like the Thea kitchen by Citterio for Arclinea; Allure O’ table and Flair O’ by Monica Armani for B&B Italia; Borea by Piero Lissoni for B&B Italia Outdoor; the Almendra suspension lamp by Patricia Urquiola, and the Luce Orizzontale by R. & E. Bouroullec for Flos.

Despite all that history, Lalonde admits there is still work to be done in raising brand awareness in the U.S., a nation where Williams Sonoma and RH dominate the aspirational home and furniture market.

“The U.S. market is one in which customers use their designer and architect the most to make decisions. This assisted experience is more prevalent in the U.S. than in other markets in which the architects’ and designers’ influence is, let’s say, a third of all purchases. In the U.S., it’s close to 45 percent,” Lalonde reflected, adding that education will be paramount at the Madison Avenue store, where the team of sales associates will be well-trained to expound on these histories. Storytelling will also be key within the spaces themselves, where consumers will be privy to the lesser known historical facts surrounding brands like Louis Poulsen, for example, the Danish lighting manufacturer that was founded in 1874 as a wine import company and that will fete its 150th anniversary this year.

Design Holding, which first revealed its new store concept to WWD in April, tested the waters with a Boston store housing B&B Italia, Maxalto and Arclinea. This took the place of Montage, which for decades had been regarded by Boston residents as a reference for European style.

During Miami Art Basel, the firm opened B&B Italia’s new flagship positioned in the Design District, with a ground floor that included B&B Italia’s signature products and new releases, the Dambo couch by Lissoni; the Tobi-Ishi table by British designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, and the Camaleonda sofa system by Mario Bellini adorned in a new fabric designed by Stella McCartney with her S-Wave monogram, highlighted with a large installation upon entering the space. Maxalto and Azucena furnishings, Arclinea kitchens and lighting by Flos and Louis Poulsen are also available in the space.

Lalonde disregarded the comparison between a high-end duty free that sells a multitude of brands and products and the new Design Holding space, admitting that it is difficult to find a direct comparison for the new unit.

“The reason I would say no is because we want people spending a lot of time in the store. So the idea is that you come in the store, you discover the brand…you discover the design services that we offer. Architects can spend the afternoon there. They can design and look at different fabrics. They can go do all of their projects just within the parameter of the store,” he explained, insisting he wants any and all who are design curious to feel welcome in the store, spend the day or take a time out for an espresso.

In detail, the first floor will feature a glimpse into high-end living with the Camaleonda sofa, the Tufty-Time seating system by Patricia Urquiola and the Alex table by Citterio on display, as well as items from B&B Italia Outdoor, Azucena and Arclinea.

A special entrance will open up into the Maxalto space, with a collection coordinated by its creative director Antonio Citterio, who celebrates 26 years as the sole designer of the brand’s collections this year. Citterio told WWD last month that Maxalto was poised to benefit from more dedicated showrooms, finally allowing it to emerge from its image as the “quiet” luxury brand in comparison to B&B Italia. B&B Italia founder Piero Ambrogio Busnelli first launched Maxalto in 1975 but abandoned the project. His son Giorgio Busnelli relaunched it in 1993.

On the second floor, Arclinea kitchens and B&B Italia wardrobes will interact with lighting from Flos and Louis Poulsen. The latter will unveil its new space mirrors, as well as new materials and colors. Flos will highlight the latest expansion of the Light Shadow collection, an anti-glare optical solution patented by Flos and Eclectic. A dedicated area will also showcase the most recent outdoor solutions, such as In Vitro by Philippe Starck, Pointbreak by Lissoni, Mile by Citterio and Spine by Vincent Van Duysen. To best serve the A&D community, Flos built a cutting-edge Lighting Design Room onsite for clients to test and experience lighting effects. There will be a dedicated lighting designer onsite to create individualized lighting solutions across decorative, outdoor, architectural and bespoke lighting needs.

Design Holding is expected to release full-year results in April. In 2022, the last year reported, its revenues rose 25.8 percent to 867.6 million euros, compared with 2021, boosted by business in the U.S. and Asia Pacific, as well as its high-end contract business. Contract business, Lalonde said, is expected to drive sales, offsetting losses indirectly due to rising interest rates that have negatively impacted the housing market.

When asked if the group is on track to meet its near term goal of 1 billion euros in sales, Lalonde was confident in business momentum.

“That’s still a goal. And then, I’m gonna ask my team: What does it take to go to two? And I’m very convinced that it’s highly achievable with our brand portfolio today and there’s so much runway ahead,” the executive added, reiterating that a pubic offering is not a priority.

“I’m focused on building stores, like the Madison store and investing in the U.S., the Middle East and APAC. We see tremendous amount of high end projects developing in China. There’s no IPO on the horizon at this time.”

B&B Camaleonda Sectional Sofa designed by Mario Bellini.

B&B Italia Camaleonda Sectional Sofa designed by Mario Bellini.

Courtesy of B&B Italia