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A Man Caught Between Art and the Economy

Posted on Jun 23, 2013 by

Portrait of Fabio

Fabio Faraoni scrolls through dozens of photos on the public computer in the dark back room of Caffe’ d’Italia on the piazza in Cagli, Italy. Next to him, pinball machines clang. He reflects on the images that demonstrate his talent and trade. A designer of furniture, lamps, and interiors, Fabio ran his own design studio between 1996-2010 until the recession devastated his business.

“The economy in Italy flattened,” he says. He was forced to shutter his shop and part ways with his business partner. Until recently, to make ends meet, he worked in an appliance factory.

On a hot June day in Cagli, while many people sponge sweat from their faces and necks, Fabio is dressed in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt with his collar standing at attention. He sports mirrored aviator sunglasses. A small leather borsa or bag hangs across his body. He fiddles with an unlit cigarette as he explains how he began a career designing furniture and interiors.

Fabio discovered his love of craft when he spent five years at a high school that offered a smattering of technical courses. The school allowed him to dabble in design. “I fell in love with the object,” he says, his Italian peppered with English, as he explains how he came to appreciate the lines and forms of items.

Later, Fabio went to work for a company where he honed his design skills. “I went from thinking to building,” he says. He shepherded his first product, a lamp, from concept to design, then into production. The lamp, called “Uomo Luce” (Man Light), was his first success.

From there, he partnered with a company that designed bedroom furniture. He supplied the lighting for the bedroom suites. While he most enjoyed creating lamps, Fabio gained valuable experience in his trade, handcrafting furniture and distinctive objects that were not only functional, but attractive. His designs included a simple-but-elegant outdoor grill, a lightweight circular serving tray, and a portable lap desk that assembles in minutes but collapses into a tidy roll.

Fabio says the custom-made industry in Italy is dying. No new construction means no new spaces to decorate. “It’s really hard,” Fabio says. “I lost my wonderful, marvelous clients.”

In this economy, Fabio explains, many Italians don’t have the disposable income to spend on one-of-a-kind creations. “There are only a few very rich people,” he says.

Fabio says his other challenge is living in a small town. “It is harder to get work, not because of the size of the town but because of the competition created from people ordering products online,” he says.It is harder to get work, not because of the size of the town but because of the competition created from people ordering products online

“I saw it coming 10 years ago,” Fabio says about what he calls the “flattening of the economy.” He traveled to China on business where he witnessed an increased number of international companies with outsourced labor.

Fabio says he has many friends and business associates who are also out of work.  Although times are tough for many, “there is no revolution because we have a place to rest,” he says, explaining how many Italians live in homes that have been in their families for years. Fabio lives in his grandfather’s house, he says, so his monthly expenses are low.

Fabio recently discovered a route that may lead him to a more-prosperous future. He is exploring the idea of creating glass objects – tabletops, mirrors, and décor –that a machine prints designs on. Fabio explains how glass decoration is evolving with the creation of new machines for the task. “Like a phoenix from the ashes, old technology becomes new technology,” he says.

For now, Fabio spends his days meeting with potential clients and lending a hand to others. This sweltering day found him on the piazza assembling the braces that will hold a large umbrella outside Caffe’ d’Italia. Fabio makes several trips up and down a ladder, tools in hand, and at last, the umbrella stands ready to provide patrons much-needed shade for their drinks.

“I have a hard time saying ‘No,’” he says.

At age 47, Fabio has a few ideas up his long sleeves that will keep him employed in the industry he loves. “I could teach,” he explains, “or get involved in web-based digital design.”

For now, Fabio’s future remains uncertain. “I have ideas but no money,” he says, adding that instead of taking one day at a time, “I take a half a day at a time.”

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