Pierluigi Ghianda is one of the most famous Italian cabinet makers in the world: he has worked with prestigious luxury firms like Hermès, and has collaborated with Italian artists and architects like Gae Aulenti, Cini Boeri, the Castiglioni brothers, Gianfranco Frattini, Vico Magistretti, Gio Ponti, Richard Sapper and Ettore Sottsass.

“Whatever Ghianda makes is a jewel. He is not a carpenter, he’s an artist!”, says Maddalena De Padova.

His workshop, which from the outside seems to be a warehouse like many of the others scattered about on the thoroughfares north of Milan, is a treasure chest: samples of inlay and finish, together with pieces of design made in precious wood.

Numerous exclusive products have been exhibited in the Ghianda atelier: among them, a table for the Società Umanitaria in Milan, with a foldaway chest of drawers made with double dovetail joints, a patented table that folds up by pulling a string and that opens up again with a simple gesture.
Standing in front of his worktable, Pierluigi Ghianda tells us that everything he produces is done in wood: he always manages to find the right colour to satisfy his customers’ requests.
A piece of purplish-blue wood from the Amazon forest, for example, is superimposed on a yellowish wood for a box commissioned by an Armenian client.
The attention that he dedicates to objects is unique: when he has to make the legs for stools, for example, he uses pieces of wood from the same trunk, so that they have the same age and thus the same ageing. In this way, the colour will always be similar, even after twenty years.

His workshop, which from the outside seems to be a warehouse like many of the others scattered about on the thoroughfares north of Milan, is a treasure chest: samples of inlay and finish, together with pieces of design made in precious wood.

When he has to make the legs for stools, for example, he uses pieces of wood from the same trunk, so that they have the same age and thus the same ageing. In this way, the colour will always be similar, even after twenty years.

Before moving here, where was your workshop?

Pierluigi Ghianda: We were located in the centre of Bovisio Masciago. At the time, there were three or four families, then a courtyard with the workshop below. At the time, we did things fast, on the way home from school, first you went to the workshop and then home.
The first object I made was a sword, I think: in those days, Zorro was our idol! My passion for this work grew with time: I’ve always liked being an engraver.
We moved here at the end of the 1960s. This workshop is four times larger than the previous one, but when I moved everything here, I realized that I would never manage to get everything inside! For that matter, when you know you don’t have a lot of space, you have to use your imagination.

How many people work here, and what kind of work do they do?

About 8 people work here. A craftsman must know how to do everything, not just a table or a chair; he must love the material. With wood, you can do whatever you want: from chairs to tables, from eating utensils to spheres to spectacles - anything.

How many types of wood do you know or have you worked with?

Hundreds, maybe: I have always been a stickler about going to look for wood in foreign countries. An inexhaustible source of material and inspiration is the Amazon forest: trees of many colours grow there. But there are also extremely beautiful trees in Europe and Japan. I could go on and on talking about wood forever!

Where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration comes from any situation and develops with anybody. Let’s say that with some people, you get on immediately and things happen more rapidly.
We have the bad habit of not throwing anything away: a scrap that doesn’t mean anything today – you set it down over there, then somebody else comes along, photographs it and I get an idea, seeing the photograph: this is really what inspiration is.

Do you think that the evolution of technology has changed your work?

For production in series, it’s really important! Let me tell you this anecdote: one day an engineer came along; while we were going around the workshop, he said: “With the machines we build today, your objects could be carved in five minutes”. I answered that when they make machines with fingertips that feel like our fingers and eyes that see like ours, I would order ten of them. But until that time comes along, don’t come and tell me that machines work better than humans!