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Inside Compasso, the new home of Italian design

With his contagious passion for history and commitment to storytelling, Daniele Lorenzon, founder of Compasso, is an Italian design connoisseur like no other. After completing a degree in economics, he moved to Milan and took a degree in industrial design at Politecnico di Milano with the intention of becoming a furniture maker. “Soon, it was clear to me that the world didn’t need another chair or sofa, but rather a narrator’s voice to tell the stories about the glorious splendour of Italian design, too often neglected,” he says. From that moment onwards, Lorenzon dedicated his life to spotlighting the forgotten chapters of Italian design and telling the stories of the country’s greatest design voices.

The story begins

Lorenzon started working in vintage design in 2005. He got his first break working with architect Rodolfo Dordoni, managing his archives and research on the development of furniture and decorative objects. He then formed a long-lasting relationship with Anty Pansera, an art historian who recently won the Compasso d’Oro 2020. He also handled the Triennale bookshop where he was responsible for sourcing out-of-print books. All these steps led him to the creation of Compasso, a platform for design collectors with a popular website and an 800sqm showroom in Milan which Lorenzon opened in 2012.

When you manage to hunt down an exceptional piece or collection, it’s wonderful – Daniele Lorenzon, founder of Compasso

Milan-based Italian design dealership Compasso
Compasso in Milan is a treasure trove of Italian design and collectibles

Browsing through today’s collection – composed of more than 800 pieces of Italian design, mostly from 1950 to 1980 – the common thread binding all the pieces together is exquisite structure. Meanwhile, Lorenzon’s study is a treasure trove of vintage publications collected over many years. “My studio is full of books and magazines, every page of which is a world of its own,” he says. “Exploring them fascinates me, even if sometimes they spark an idea that doesn’t lead anywhere. When you finally manage to hunt down an exceptional piece or collection, it’s wonderful.”

A digital world

In the last 20 years, the world of design and collectibles has grown and changed beyond recognition. Established dealers who’ve been dealing since the mid-80s are now sharing the market with a new generation of emerging names who are more inclined to follow mainstream trends. Compasso distinguishes itself because its foundations are rooted in design that’s timeless. Lorenzon values style and the revival of forgotten pieces over the latest fashions. As such, Compasso’s extensive collection features a range of objects, from small decorative items such as a Barbini glass sculpture from the 1980s to more considerable furniture by the likes of Italian art and design pioneer Nanda Vigo.

Despite being inspired by the past, Compasso has had its sights set on the digital future of the industry since the beginning. In fact, its website and weekly newsletter are among the best in its niche. “Our core business has always been online,” Lorenzon says. “A good portion of our clients are in their forties, sometimes even younger. Also, out of 10 pieces, seven are shipped abroad and three stay in Italy, so it’s quite common for us to sell pieces that have never been physically seen in our space.”

Luckily, for Lorenzon, the Covid-19 crisis hasn’t had a significant impact on Compasso, with the exception of a few exhibitions which were put on hold. In fact, its comprehensive collection has allowed Compasso to have an enduring dialogue with public and private institutions, both in Italy and internationally. For example, they recently loaned several Enzo Mari pieces to the Triennale di Milano museum for an exhibition dedicated to the designer.

Beyond the dealership

Milan-based Italian design dealership Compasso
Compasso has a strong digital and physical presence

Compasso is more than just a dealership, however. It’s a curator of unseen or forgotten stories. One of its most recent projects, Esempi, Illuminazione 1934-1964 (Examples, Lighting 1934-1964), saw Compasso organise the reprint of curated sections of two cult Italian interior design publications, Esempi (Examples) and Arredamento Moderno (The Modern Furniture). The book, which pulls together vintage content from 1934 to 1964, was a hit with historians, collectors and designers. The first volume, which is dedicated to lighting, showcases around 500 models of lamps, 200 designers and more than 30 years of Italian and foreign production. The second volume, which focuses on chairs, will follow soon.

This project is perfectly inscribed in Compasso’s vision, which can be further explained by looking at the company’s name. A compass is an instrument which draws neat shapes with great accuracy. This refers to Lorenzon’s careful mindset when researching and promoting forgotten beauties. It’s also about the simplicity and purity of past design. “I chose this name because metaphorically, we consider ourselves as instruments that want to tell the beauty of geometric shapes,” Lorenzon says.

It’s difficult not to be charmed by this dealer and his extraordinary collection. Every time you visit, you’re guaranteed to find a new piece which tells another story, revived from the archives of Lorenzon’s library to make you challenge your perception of Italian design.

Effect Magazine is brought to you by Effetto