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Open Call – Meet Bababuà

On this week’s Open Call I would like to introduce you to Bababuà. Barbara Mautino sent me an email about her company not so long ago which I immediately loved and gravitated towards. I whizzed over some questions and rather than editing them down I wanted you guys to read it in full as I think its pretty inspirational for anyone thinking of starting their very own business!

What lead you to start your own business?

For most of my life my job has been being an actress but  I’ve always been passionate about interior design. I used to read and re-read tons of interior magazines and books. So when my father, who run a company of semi-finished wood products, asked me if I wanted to follow a furniture collection he wanted to produce, I had a precise idea of what was possible to find on the market and so I started designing what I was looking for and couldn’t find. I had spent days and days figuring out what pieces of furniture would fit best in my home without finding them, now I had the opportunity to literally make them!

Of course the “conditio sine qua non” of my furniture collection should have been solid wood: this is where the name Bababuà comes from:  it’s “Baba” from Barbara + “buà” from the French “bois”. With wood as a starting base, I started thinking of pieces of furniture as characters so, taking inspiration from vintage furniture, I felt they should be built in a coherent manner with design.  That’s why we use the traditional artisan technique of mortise and tenon joints, limiting the use of metal fittings to the absolute minimum. Very soon Bababuà became my own project without my family, and now I run the company with Stefano Pesce, my partner, who is an actor as well. The Bababuà adventure was totally unexpected in my life but now I can’t stop thinking about it every minute of my life, in search of inspiration or of new business ideas, it’s true passion!

What has been most difficult?

Making Bababuà’s furniture look different from the majority of wooden traditional furniture produced in Italy, it has been difficult to spot the accessories I was looking for. For example, I had in mind some glass knobs my grand mother had in her kitchen cupboard. That was really important to me because it reminded me of an entire world from my childhood that I was looking to recreate. It was very difficult to find some which resembled the ones I remembered, because the glass knobs I found were too “rich”, while I was looking for something simple and popular.

I considered using vintage handles, but this meant being unable to keep a standard production which is required when you work with shops. In the end I found them by chance in a hardware shop on the mountains in the north of Italy, and was lucky enough they were still producing them. But I’m still dreaming of designing my own…Now it’s difficult to find the right distribution balance between physical retailers and online shops, which I like very much because of the relationship with the customer.

How do you get your work seen by customers or retailers, is it through tradeshows, mail shots etc.?

Very important for us has being deciding to invest in a very high standard of photography to make our catalogue.  It has been a big investment in reference to our resources, but we felt it was fundamental since our furniture really looks better when seen in person.

We needed a very good professional photographer to render the special feel and look of natural brushed wood. So we called Serena Eller Veinicher and Cristina Gigli as a stylist, we wanted to discover the way people different from ourselves would see and interpret our furniture.The result was really satisfying and the director of “Casa Facile”, the most diffused interior magazine in Italy, liked it and decided to publish an 8 page article dedicated to Bababuà. We started selling a lot on line and this was the confirmation people appreciated our work and products.So we discovered that in Italy press is still very important and decided to invest in a press office.For the future I’m planning to participate to Maison e Objet Fair in Paris.

Any tips/advice to people starting out;

I have only a reflection to share, I noticed that since I approached design not being a professional I didn’t have expectations on the results of my work, I just followed my instinct and pleasure to learn and work, just like children do when they’re playing. I had a lot to work and study so I didn’t have the time to think if what I was doing would be successful or not, I just kept working, trying to finish all the tasks I had to accomplish, and this gave unexpected results.

As a professional actress I know that this attitude is everything but easy to reach, at the same time I have experimented that it is the attitude one should get when approaching a creative job. Another thing I discovered starting the “Bababuà adventure” is that running a business is a highly creative activity as a whole not only for the strictly creative part! I really love it!

What has been most successful about the business?

Using only massive wood for making furniture and assembling it in a traditional way nowadays is a rarity, so we give people the opportunity to choose a natural material instead of agglomerated or veneered wood.Bababuà style in some way is traditional as well but with a touch of lightness and irony, and people appreciate it because it is suitable for almost any style of décor.

For me this is part of a wider project, I think it’s a matter of respect trying to create durable and healthy objects, lasting over the trend of the moment.


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