Kate Macklin had been living near Milan for almost two decades, running a business that imported Irish beef and lamb in to Italy, when she saw an opportunity in 2006 to fill the company's meat lorries – which were returning to Ireland empty – with designer Italian furniture.
An architect friend was working on a few projects in Dublin, and Macklin arranged to deliver the furniture directly from the Italian factories to the clients’ homes. With clients willing to spend high sums on designer furniture for their houses and businesses at the time, Macklin quickly realised the business potential and set up Italian Solutions to offer a supply service.
“Italy is a very stylish place,” Macklin says. “Italians have style running through their veins. You only have to look at their shoes and the way they comb their hair to understand how important appearance is. They apply this to everything: the way they eat, dress, make furniture and build their houses. Their attention to finish and detail is superb. Before the recession in Ireland, Italian furniture was very popular.”
Within two years, Macklin was working on projects with top Irish architectural firms such as deBlacam & Meagher and
Walker, including the construction and renovation of private residences for some of Ireland’s best-known celebrities.
When the recession hit, the industry took a nose dive, and Italian Solutions looked beyond Ireland. London was the first stop. There Macklin worked with interior design studios such as Tara Bernerd and David Collins on private houses and holiday villas for clients in Mallorca, Ibiza and Greece, as well as ski chalets in France and Switzerland.
A project for Grosvenor Estates, the London-based property developers, brought her to Hong Kong, where she met several Irish architects who had abandoned recession-ridden Ireland for better opportunities in Asia.
“There was doom and gloom in Ireland and many architectural firms had closed down,” she says. “I came across a lot of Irish architects in Hong Kong who had decided to get up and go and see what was going on elsewhere. That was inspiring and helped me to create good contacts.”
Appetite in Asia for contemporary European furniture was growing, and having a prestigious client such as Grosvenor Estates in its portfolio opened new doors for Italian Solutions. Over the next four years, the company took on projects in China, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, from small hotels and restaurants to private houses and even yachts.
Its clients now include Gagosian Gallery, Empire Hotels in Hong Kong,Faena Private Residences in Miami, Harvey Nichols in London, G Hotel in Penang, as well as international celebrities Macklin prefers not to name.
The company still provides a “one-stop shop” service for clients who want everything sourced for them, from furniture to wall finishings and fabrics, but has diversified as business has grown.
"While Italian Solutions began by providing an 'Italian furniture solution' for private clients, we have almost outgrown that title now," Macklin says. "Working with many diverse clients has led to demand for furniture from many countries, and it's not always contemporary either. Many of our Chinese clients, for example, have more classic tastes. We have demand for furniture from all over Europe and from the US and elsewhere."
It employs three interior architects to offer an interior design and consultation service and is manufacturing its own line of furniture, which “allows us to accommodate a client’s wish to personalise their furniture using bespoke finishes, sizes and shapes”, Macklin says.
It commissions artisan Italian craftsmen who produce handmade furniture for the likes of Hermès, Armani and Fendi.
"The quality is excellent, the materials are top class. Using fabulous fabrics and leathers from C&C Milano and Loro Piana means that customers end up with items of unique beauty."
Potential clients for Italian Solutions in Ireland have been keeping a low profile in recent years, but now that the economy appears to be on the way up, interest in renovating, redecorating and investing in quality furniture is also on the way up. The company is looking to Ireland for new opportunities and has collaborated with kitchen specialist Porter & Jones, which displayed some of its furniture including armchairs, lighting and stools at its new showroom on Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin, and with luxury flooring company Ebony & Co.
“Because I am Irish, I will always have an interest in working and growing our business in Ireland. But . . . I feel there is greater opportunity abroad,” Macklin says. “Ireland is where my heart is, though: home is home.” Three of her children attend university in Ireland, and she would like the other two, who are at school in Parma, to do the same.
Is she thinking of returning to live in Ireland? “At one stage I would have loved to have moved back, but now I’m not so sure,” she says. “Life is good in Italy. I am back and forth a lot. It is a nice combination.”