Marc and Paola Sadler

Marc and Paola Sadler

Industrial Designers

14. November 2016


Marc Sadler, the world-renowned industrial designer, is a citizen of the world. The Austrian-born Frenchman has lived and worked in France, the United States, Asia, and Italy. He started specialising in sports design during the early ‘70s, when he developed the first fully recyclable thermoplastic ski boot for Caber, the Italian company that later became Lotto. It was a huge success. That moment marked the beginning of a long and successful career characterized by collaborations with major multinational companies, such as Dainese, for which he designed the famous back protector that is now part of the permanent design collection at the MoMa in New York. Marc Sadler is an eclectic designer. In fact, he has contributed to several industrial sectors, including luggage, furniture, small and large household appliances. He won the ADI Compasso d’Oro award four times and has received many other international design recognitions. He is very passionate about painting and drawing.

You’ve lived in Milan, Sicily and Parma: what importance does Italy have to you?

Marc: Milan is like the needle point of a drawing compass. You get there for work, but to be honest I didn’t like it. When I had the chance to move here (in Via Savona 27, an industrial complex where residential areas and showrooms co-exist, a stone’s throw away from Milan’s rowing club on the Naviglio Pavese), Paola and I lived in Venice. We thought that it would be easier to have an office in Milan. Milan was a grey city, not as dynamic as Paris.

Paola: We fell for the stereotype of Milan. Then, we changed our minds. I like it. It’s a hidden city, just like this place.

Marc: From here we can easily take a plane to anywhere we want.

Paola: Our little house in Sicily is our nest overlooking the sea, on the extreme point of the island, not far from Africa.

What keeps you moving around the world?

Marc: I like to change, but Paola doesn’t. I have always lived and worked in different countries and I like to think that I can always change again. Work is always the reason to move.

Paola: And that reason is always behind the corner. When we lived in Venice, Marc would often come to Milan. Now that we live in Milan, he frequently travels to North-Eastern Italy.

North-Eastern Italy: a legend or reality when it comes to design?

Marc: North-Eastern Italy is home to craftsmen who have managed to convert themselves into entrepreneurs, maintaining the skills and professionalism of those who know how to do their job. As a person who transforms materials into design objects, this is a fundamental aspect for me.

So does added value come from the ability to overcome the issue of “tradition vs technological innovation?”

Marc: Exactly. This is where craftsmen know how to make a good industrial product without losing the properties of the material and finding, where necessary, new solutions to remain faithful to this approach. When we have a problem with a project, I often think about one of the workshops in North-Eastern Italy. There are eccentric characters that know how to explore a product. For example, Maurizio Riva, who experiments with materials in a unique and creative way.

In Milan, Marc Sadler and wife, Paola, have continued with the “house and shop” formula they had already adopted in Venice. Their home is only twenty metres away from their office.

Does the Milanese movement still exist? Or are designers more cautious?

Marc: There is a lack of courage. I’d say there is an Italian movement rather than a Milanese one. This Italian movement is characterised by the ability to invent solutions that later become design products. You won’t find this anywhere else. The French and Germans can indeed think of new solutions, but Italy is where the magic happens. And to think that there have been times when I’ve said to myself never to return to Italy again, because they always do the same things here. But I did return because if I want to do certain things I simply have to.”

Paola: The Milan system does exist and it’s successful too. I think that everybody wants to be part of it. Perhaps there are too many self-referential design magazines out there. In Italy, there is reverence towards certain people and companies, but very few ask themselves which is the right approach.

How does Milan respond when it comes to design education?

Marc: We like Mudec and we have appreciated some of the exhibitions of the Triennale because they tried to inform and educate – from the history of nuts and bolts to the original Mongolian weaving technique. There are plenty of spaces in Milan but we probably need a breath of fresh air when it comes to curators. When I go to Copenhagen I always see the same design objects, because the way of thinking permeates everything else. In France, they do design with nothing, and designers are really good at hinting at the past. On the other hand, in Germany, everything is so structured. All in all, I like Italy because there is a lot of respect for the companies’ know how.

Where do you start co-designing a house? (They hesitate, then Paola starts laughing)

Marc: Our home was not meant to be a copy of us. However, it ended up looking a lot like us, because it reflects who we are. That said, I like chaos, the unfinished, whereas Paola hates it. For her, everything has to be symmetrical.

Paola: Well now you’re making us seem like Mr and Mrs Jones…!

Marc: We didn’t want a mausoleum but a place for us, our children, and our cat. Our home is made of the things we use and like to have at hand every day. It’s a summary of life, where objects I have inherited from my mother and her family hold their place. In our country house outside Parma, we have an eight-metre wardrobe which is really difficult to open, but it’s beautiful.

Paola: Our home is a merger of other homes, previous lives, experiences, and stories.

Marc: Take this table in our studio, for example (the legendary black USM Haller). It’s almost 30 years old but I still like it. I would never throw it out.

Was your house a pure flash of inspiration?

Marc: Our home in via Savona 97 was, absolutely! It was love at first sight! When I returned to Venice, Paola yelled at me because I had made an offer for a house she hadn’t even seen.

Paola: Our home in Venice was our little corner of paradise, with our little boat and everything... Then, one day, he came home and showed me a photo of these ruins – because originally, everything was neglected and in awful conditions. But in the end, it turned out to be a great choice, even if the general atmosphere is not how it used to be.

Marc: Now there are these fashionable dudes with beards and tattoos.

Paola: In the beginning, we were a group of designers and we would often organize parties in our garden. Then, they started opening fashion showrooms and prices started to rise. From then on, the atmosphere has changed. We were the first ones to have children here. Our daughter, who is now 20, was practically the only child of her age. Now, during the weekends, you get the impression of being in a country village.

Marc Sadler’s work ranges from luggage and furniture to lighting, small and large household appliances. He has won the ADI Compasso d’Oro award, Italy’s design “Nobel prize”, several times.

“It’s a delicate balance between molecules, like nitroglycerine. There are rules that need to be respected.”

What is it like to have your home and studio so close to each other?

Marc: You never really stop working. But I like it that way. It’s very practical. Plus I get to avoid Milan’s traffic.

Paola: The only negative aspect is that you never get to “unplug,” because the office is only 20 meters away.

As a couple, is working together a challenge, an opportunity or a stimulus?

Marc: All three things. All three positive and negative at the same time. It also means smoothing out the edges of our personalities.

Paola: It means sharing and clashing all the time. You’re not arguing with your boss. You’re arguing with your husband for work.

But this tension has given great results...

Paola: Oh yes, because, in my opinion, this radical difference is a great source of inspiration.

Marc: It also allows for damage control. If I fall in love with a project with no way out, Paola is there to put me back on track.

What’s the secret behind so much harmony in your work life?

Paola: Perhaps the fact that I’m not a designer.

Marc: She always says she’s not a designer. I’m glad this harmony shows through.

Paola: It’s a delicate balance between molecules, like nitroglycerine. There are rules that need to be respected.

Marc: And there are spaces we don’t invade. When it comes to writing, Paola is in charge. When it comes to drawing, then I’ll do it and then we share our opinions.

Paola: It’s important to respect each other and know that this is not a one-man show. There are things that I do better, and other things that he does better. Perhaps we are managing better now after so many years.

Where would you draw the line between public and private in an interview and in a project?

Paola: Projects are always some sort of compromise. Industrial design is neither art nor craftsmanship.

Marc: A designer is at the service of a company whose goal is to promote itself and its products. Designers should help accomplish that with their personality. Neither Paola or I want to transfer who we are or what we think to a company. Companies are entitled to develop their own response and we can only find it if we work together.

Paola: Certain thoughts and opinions cannot be applied to projects and remain a personal asset.

How do you imagine the future?

Marc: As the French say: "en dents de scie,” so, ups and downs. After the summer holidays I felt like I just wanted to win the lotto and put a stop to everything. But then I spent a day with some clients for the next Milan Furniture Fair, and my enthusiasm was back, just like that.

Paola: Over the past few years, working with companies has been tough. We have seen so many projects that both parties strongly wanted at a standstill due to the crisis. To do our job as we think it should be done it’s important to research and experiment...

Will you say “au revoir” to work one day?

Marc: I’d like to have more time for painting. For now, it’s one of my greatest passions. Then, I love photography. One day, I’d like to devote my time just to this. My brain has always worked in two ways: rational and irrational at the same time. If I deny a part of me, I will miss it.

Paola: Milan and Venice are the perfect metaphor for this. When we lived in Venice, we would always come to Milan. Now that we live in Milan, we do exactly the opposite. There is the idea to say “enough” at some point.

Marc: Well...I don’t think I’ll ever will.

Large full-height windows characterise the living area on the ground floor. An airy open space that includes a relaxation area, the dining room, and open kitchen. Ancient cast-iron columns bear witness to the industrial past of the complex where the house is.

“Our home was not meant to be a copy of us. However, it ended up looking a lot like us, because it reflects who we are.”

Marc Sadler and his wife, Paola, have co-designed their home. “We didn’t want a mausoleum but a place for us, our children, and our cat... Our home is made of the things we use and like to have at hand every day.

A special thank you to Marc and Paola Sadler for opening the doors to their home. Visit Marc’s website to find out more about his projects.

This portrait was produced by the international interview magazine Freunde von Freunden. Find more USM furniture for your home and workspace here.