The power of insight. In conversation with Daniele Lago

sideboard, lago, salone milano

LAGO, 36e8 sideboard, photo courtesy

“As a company, we don’t cage our procedures up. Insights come when it suits them... What matters is to keep your antennae up.” A conversation with Daniele Lago

You’re the youngest of ten siblings. What kind of relationship do you have? How did you carve out and earn your place?

We’re all born with certain aptitudes. It’s a natural process, not a race for leadership. We have opened our doors to the outside world, to culture, to innovation, to the “not” family, an approach that evolved out of consciously doing what we enjoy as human beings. I’ve been lucky: my hunches have worked out. It’s been a pretty harmonious process.

Family businesses are a double-edged sword. If you consider the family as a repository of values, then it makes sense to maintain absolute power within the team, but that’s not at all how I roll. I made a cultural change, a paradigm shift from one where delegation was not well received. Nowadays, it’s common practice. 

daniele lago, portrait, salone milano

Daniele Lago, photo courtesy

Did you bring your teamwork experience to the company?

As a volleyball player? Sure, even if being born into a family of ten already puts you on the family team. Leadership is in the DNA – either you’ve got it or you don’t. The same applies to harnessing potential in individuals. The paradox is, sometimes organizations’ leaders are the limitation, i.e., I’m the limit at LAGO. I try and minimize this by reminding myself that I’m capable in many areas and less capable in many others. This kind of awareness helps coordinate a team, what I refer to as “a multi-engined train”, with strong collaborators in more cross-cutting areas, allowing us to grow.


Was there a turning point for you, personally and for the company?

Yes, on a business trip to Rome. I went with an agent – something that, if things had continued as they were, made no sense. I suddenly felt a need to break the mould. Change was necessary: that trigger point led us to redesign and rethink the company’s cultural model. 

That “breakthrough” came about twenty years ago, when our core business product 36e8 (2004) came into being and went on to inform all of our product design. We became a little more ourselves, building out our personality not just through our products but through our way of doing business. We created The LAGO Fabrice factory and a host of projects in a humanistic spirit, keen to put more respect into doing business. There is still much to do; teams and companies are built on historical foundations. 

I continue to emphasize this because it spawned our “La Grande Idea” document, outlining a vision of the enterprise’s future into the 2000s. We very powerfully embraced design and its meaning; we designed alphabets capable of being decomposed at will. Reflecting on this relaunch – by no means from the ground up, because the company was already manufacturing and turning a profit – the theme was to take on a character with something relevant to say. Luckily (or I would have been kicked out) we racked up a series of “successes” and innovated our business and family models. We continue to ask questions of ourselves. I’ve always been curious, always wanted to be among interesting people: it keeps me going. 

fluttua, lago, salone milano

LAGO, Fluttua Bed, photo courtesy

Has the family followed you in this change? How are you structured today?

Not so much to begin with, although that didn’t deter me. It was tough because the decision-making structure no longer worked under such conditions. Today, after we’ve made the effort to separate business and family, the company has three owners; others gravitate around the business.

Understanding the context is the launchpad to a design approach. 


Are you particularly attached to any products?

I am so future-oriented, what I care about are powerful insights. 

I remember the idea of FIuttua (2004), eighteen years ago now. I was in the office, back when we still had the old factory. Although I was young, I understood its power (maturity comes at fifty). When you innovate, you don’t know whether it will be understood, whether you’re too far ahead or too far behind the curve. When insights come, when you share them it’s a deep joy, a whiff of a powerful future.

I got back from my first trip to New York bursting with life, with the Air concept which spawned tables and bookcases based on the theme of lightness. As a company, we don’t cage our procedures up. Insights come when it suits them.... What matters is to keep your antennae up. 


Any sneak previews on Salone del Mobile.Milano 2023?

We are working on so many fronts: we’ll have new products to show for all furniture types.

lago, stand, 2022, salone milano

LAGO, stand Salone 2022, Good House

How are you dealing with this particular social and economic moment?

Like all sound-minded entrepreneurs, with optimism and the ability to transform at pace. Speed is of the essence in this day and age! You have to be able to stay silent when needed (for example, at the start of lockdown). Sometimes it’s actually better to just sit there, watching and waiting, but then the time comes to move at speed. Social networks and social phenomena shift balances. You’ve got to be on the ball with this stuff, even if having excellent products is key.

For us, people’s focus on their home was a Covid “blessing”, even if it messed up certain pricing elements and caused supply chain madness, a kind of collective anxiety. 


Are you satisfied to date with your position, with what you have achieved (or not achieved) so far?

Very much so, even if I believe we should be moving on to other present-day challenges; I cannot say whether I will be doing design for life. Life is bigger than any one job. We always set ourselves challenges that make us feel alive. 

Indeed, the slogan “Never Stop” is one we coined to sum this up. You either do things or you don’t; treading water isn’t an option. Either you feel constant, powerful enthusiasm, or it’s better to switch to a new challenge, invent something else.

lago, air table, salone milano

LAGO, Air Table natural Wildwood, photo courtesy

kitchen, lago, salone milano

LAGO, 36e8, Glass Kitchen, photo courtesy

lago, daniele lago, salone milano

LAGO, photo Daniele Lago

Salone del mobile Salone del mobile
26 January 2023