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Thicker than water: The founding of Fanuli

Born as an immigrant’s dream in 1956, the Fanuli brand is defined by close-knit bonds of kinship and a core set of values passed on from father – the late Giuseppe Fanuli – to sons. This is the story of the Fanuli family legacy.

Thicker than water: The founding of Fanuli

The Fanuli family (left to right): Marco, Carlo, Giuseppe, Sandro and Fabio Fanuli, pictured in 2015.

This article was first published in INDESIGN Magazine Issue #62 (2015).

“When I first arrived in Australia 61 years ago, my ship docked in Melbourne and I had next to nothing—only dreams and ambition,” recalled Giuseppe Fanuli, father and founder of the Fanuli family brand. His story is one oft repeated among Italians immigrants, who, armed with courage and hope, crossed oceans to build better lives for their families.

Whilst he may have had few possessions, Giuseppe, like many of his countrymen, carried an artisanal tradition and aesthetic sensibility prized in his young, new homeland – cabinetry. “I started off as a cabinet maker, lending my craft to established furniture companies,” Giuseppe said, “and the goal was always to open a business of my own, with the hope that my family would someday join me to help create my vision.”

At that time, the Australian furniture industry was made up of companies that were firmly entrenched in the market, and there was very little imported product. When Giuseppe realised his dream and opened the first Fanuli store in 1976, the company stocked many of the major, established Australian brands. “I was very familiar with these craftsmen as I had worked with many of them as a cabinetmaker and due to my expertise and experience, I had a unique insight and understanding into the product I was selling,” he explains.

Giuseppe and Fabio Fanuli in 1980.

Guided by Giuseppe’s core values of selling only the highest quality furniture, providing excellent customer service and never becoming complacent, Fanuli grew steadily, with (like so many cultural stereotypes) Giuseppe’s sons helping out with deliveries and odd jobs on the weekends.

In 1995 Giuseppe handed the reins to the next generation, and brothers Fabio, Sandro and Carlo took over the company’s direction. Fabio recalls his sentiments at the time, “…after seeing the work [Giuseppe] put into starting the business, I could see that he needed my input and decided to join the Fanuli brand. The fact that our family name was ingrained in the business meant that the move to join my father was a natural progression, with the common goal to establish and grow the brand with a sense of accomplishment and pride.”

Whilst the family connection has ensured continuity in Fanuli’s identity and culture, the fresh perspective brought by the brothers also paved the way for a defining shift in the company’s strategy, with a much greater focus on high-end Italian brands. As a result of this, Fanuli [continues to be] the exclusive suppliers for Flexform, Kristalia and Riva 1920 [plus many more brand in 2023], with dedicated, branded showroom spaces.

Boss Executive table with Mia chairs by Riva 1920.

The affinity between Fanuli and these brands runs deeper than simply good business, with the particular DNA of family companies contributing to the simpatico: “The fact that we share a family-based business structure has allowed us to form very close ties with our brands,” comments Fabio, “Like us, some of our suppliers are currently in their third or fourth generation in the furniture trade and as such there is a recurring theme of heritage and partnership.”

Sandro expands: “The simple fact is that we only align ourselves with good companies with whom we have a great relationship. There are those furniture companies out there for who it’s all about numbers and figures; companies that are part of multinational conglomerates – but there’s no passion and love there. We can’t work with that, I can’t work with that. I need to work with companies I can really talk to; companies that I can call the owners on their mobile if I need to. There’s love, actually – if I can put it like that – between the companies,” he says.

The feelings are mutual; while visiting Melbourne for the launch of Fanuli’s new showroom in May [2015], Flexform’s Giuliano Gimberti commented that “thanks to our having a harmony of thought and shared vision – maybe even due to the Italian blood that runs in the Fanulis’ veins – together we have developed this program of expansion in the Australian market … the Fanulis are an excellent partner in this endeavour.” Sandro and his family have also enjoyed numerous holidays in northern Italy with Kristalia CEO, Ruggero Magrini, and his family.

Carpentry at Riva 1920 workshop in Cantù, Italy.

With Fabio overseeing marketing and media for the company, and Carlo taking care of Australian suppliers, the brothers have each chosen an area to specialise in, while continuing to share major decisions. As always, working with family has its challenges, and flexibility is crucial in overcoming them, but ultimately, as Fabio points out, “The opportunity to work with family members that share my vision and passion is a rewarding experience. I can go about my work with the knowledge that we are all working towards a common goal, and as such there is not conflict over the state of the business.” And, with Fabio’s son Marco now involved in the company, Fanuli’s future as a family brand seems secure.

Reflecting back on almost 40 years of operation, Giuseppe’s words illustrate just how closely bound the company and family are: “To see the business as it exists today makes me incredibly proud, however the opening of our Melbourne store [in 2015] was a fantastic moment in my life. I am very proud of my three sons, not only for being a part of the business, but for taking it to a place that I could not imagine was possible all those years ago. To see them demonstrate the same passion for quality furniture that drove me to start the business in the first place, gives me the ultimate satisfaction and for me, that is what a family company is all about.”

This article was first published in INDESIGN Magazine Issue #62 (2015), more here.


Courtesy of Fanuli

Soft Dream sofa by Flexform.

We think you might also like this story on Flexform, available through Fanuli. 

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