Museo, a store specializing in classic and contemporary furniture, lighting and accessories by leading international designers, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. In 1987, Steve Maturo founded Steve Maturo & Associates, a multi-line manufacturers representative group promoting products for corporate interiors, higher learning and health care, in Kansas City, Mo.
Museo (museousa.com) is his retail showroom, where he sells 25 lines including products from B&B Italia, Kartell and Cassina.
Maturo, just back from meeting with vendors and scouting new manufacturers at the Milan Furniture Fair in Italy, talked about his business and some of his discoveries abroad.
Question: How did you get into this business?
Answer: Twenty years ago, European design firms did not have distribution in the United States and were looking for channels of distribution. When they first came in, they went to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and Chicago. Beyond that, the Midwest was not a target, and the Midwest market didn’t have any resource for classic contemporary.
Q: So you saw a need. Was it a tough sell?
A: From the beginning we had success. Kansas City, Mo., and the Midwest are sometimes stereotyped as unsophisticated. Kansas City, especially, has a very vibrant community of arts and culture and is appreciative of fine design. It’s a very established community with a base of successful people.
Q: And what did you carry?
A: Primarily European design from Italy, Spain and the Netherlands and some companies from the U.S. and Canada. We’ve tried to curate a package of manufacturers that are regarded around the world as producing world-class design.
Q: And who are some of those manufacturers?
A: Kartell, hands down, is the leader in plastic manufacturing for well over 50 years. They started in kitchen and labware, and in the 1950s and ’60s they began experimenting with furniture and tables. They produced the iconic Philippe Starck Ghost Chair.
Another iconic design is Ferruccio Laviani’s Bourgie Lamp, designed in a baroque style interpreted in plastic. It has a plastic base and an accordion-pleated plastic shade.
Q: You have a number of designs by Starck.
A: The Masters Chair is one of his newest. It combines elements from chair designs by masters Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen and Eero Saarinen. Starck also designed the Bubble Club Armchair in the window. It’s made of polypropylene and can be used outdoors.
Q: Can you give me an idea of prices?
A: The Bourgie Lamp is $385. The Starck Masters Chair is $269. We are also expanding our line of home accessories. We now have Alessi’s Anna Gong folding cake stand. It’s a table-top sculpture. When open, it becomes a multi-tier cake stand that can be used at the table.
Q: What are some other iconic designs that you carry?
A: This LC4 chaise in chrome and cowhide by Le Corbusier is part of Cassina’s Masters Collection. Le Corbusier was regarded as a leader in new construction in the 1920s, when furniture design was coming out of the Victorian era. He was the first to envision the frame being exposed and an integral part of the design. This chaise sits in a cradle, and you can adjust it. You can use it as a chair and also recline in it.
The story goes that Le Corbusier designed it for himself. He was fond of catnaps and didn’t want to sleep too long, so he made it so narrow that you have to cross your arms when you’re lying down. When your arms fall, you wake up.
Q: And who are some of the new designers?
A: The Dutch firm Moooi, founded by Marcel Wanders and Casper Vissers, is named for the Dutch word for beautiful, but it has an extra “o.” They’ve really taken a new approach to the vernacular. This sofa by Wanders is upholstered in their red and white Eyes of Strangers fabric patterned with monkey faces. Moooi also carries these big pendant lights that look like string wound around a balloon. They’re called Random.
Moooi also has a Smoke Chair, designed by Maarten Baas. It’s one of many new things that we’re bringing in from Milan. The wood frame is charred by hand. He makes an antique-style frame and burns it. It’s upholstered in black leather with a tufted back. It has a Victorian silhouette with cabriole legs.
Bocci is a new design firm based in Vancouver. The name alludes to a popular Italian ball sport. They did this chandelier, which features artisan glass molded into balls that are suspended from a canopy at different heights. You can customize how big you want it. You can have a fixture with a half dozen or more, or hang a single ball over a counter.
Q: And the lighting element is …
A: LED is the wave of the future. In Milan, we also went to the Euroluce lighting fair, and everybody is now moving to LED lamp sources. They’re energy-efficient, there’s less heat, you don’t have to replace them, and they give lighting designers more freedom. LED is now making great strides. They’re dimmable, and you can get different qualities of light from cool to very warm.
Q: What do you think about Ikea coming into the local market?
A: It’s fabulous for us. I love Ikea. I wish they were around when I was in my 20s. It exposes people to good design, and they have a unique approach to making it affordable. There’s room for as much good design as this city can handle.
Q: Any pet peeves about the furniture market?
A: What bothers me is knockoffs. This Navy Chair was designed by Emeco in the 1940s for the U.S. Navy to be indestructible and lightweight. Emeco produced it in aluminum. Their tag line is, “First, let’s make things that last.”
Companies like Target and Restoration Hardware have been knocking this off. The real Emecos come in brushed and polished aluminum and are always stamped.
We also carry the Navy 111 chair. Emeco knocked itself off and collaborated with Coke to come up with a version of the Navy Chair made out of recycled plastic Coke bottles. The 111 refers to the fact that each chair uses at least 111 plastic bottles. It’s sustainable, recyclable and durable.
Q: You carry a lot of leather furniture. What should people know about leather?
A: With most finishing, the more you do the better. Leather is the opposite. Only 1 percent of the leather produced is of the best quality. The Montis firm is known for their leather furniture. It’s from healthy animals, with no scars from bugs or barbed wire. It’s colored with aniline dye, and the color penetrates the leather.
Inferior leathers are sanded down to buff off the imperfections and sometimes reprinted with a grain pattern. Then they’re painted. But with a painted hide you can scratch through the paint. Also the leather can’t breathe. Leather that’s not painted can breathe. The open pores will develop a patina.
Q: Do you have any guidelines for decorating?
A: The design philosophy that I enjoy is very basic good design works with good design. I live in a mid-century ranch house in Roeland Park. The interior is traditional, but it’s well-designed. I can put a product from 2008 or a Le Corbusier from 1928. Good design works with itself. It doesn’t all have to match.