When you think of great Italian design brands you think of Ferrari, Vespa, Piaggio, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana or Maserati – to name just a few. But one brand you might not think of as quintessentially Italian is Smeg, despite its incredible heritage. Its most recognisable product is of course the curvaceous fridge with its striking colours and 1950s shape that adorns many a kitchen. Yet Smeg, which stands for Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla (or the Guastalla Emilia Enamel Works), was originally set up as an enamelling business in 1948 and is truly inspired by Italy and the idea of being ‘Made in Italy’. The head office for Smeg is in Emilia-Romagna, a region well known for its food – specifically Prosciutto di Parma, Balsamico di Modena vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano – and being the birthplace of Ferrari.
Approaching Smeg's headquarters under the erratic leadership of Apple maps, I am sure I am in the wrong location. There is no sign of a huge company; instead, it feels like I should be looking for a holiday villa. Finally, I turn a corner and am greeted by the most elegant of security gates, lines of trees and manicured lawns that cleverly shield the building. The headquarters were designed by Guido Canali, an architect who restored the Duomo in Milan and the National Gallery in Parma. The building is a low slung modernist beauty which is nestled within the landscape and is surrounded by shallow pools of water. Inside is a huge atrium of polished concrete and walls adorned with large contemporary paintings. It is more akin to a modern art gallery in New York or London than a white goods company headquarters located in rural Italy.