You just need to take a look at Sergio Leoni's stoves to understand that they have a story to tell. Feel their warmth, admire their charm, colours and craftsmanship, discover that their design has not changed in fifty years. If you are lucky enough to visit San Polo d’Enza and meet Sergio in person, you will soon grow fond of this small, heroic Italian company.
You founded your company in 1961. How did you start out?
I didn't have an easy life. The only child of a widowed mother, I had to suffocate any artistic ambition in a trade that would allow me to earn a living: a builder. The turning point came when I was working in an architectural firm in Parma. There was a ceramics workshop and I was immediately struck by the material, as it is versatile, ductile and has many forms. I realised that what I was able to draw effortlessly on paper could be turned into ceramic items with endless shapes and variants.
Where did the idea of ceramic stoves come from?
I started out by making objects, lamps and ceramic coatings for fireplaces. While installing fireplaces, I listened to clients as they chatted. Open fireboxes were beautiful of course, but didn't warm up enough during long winter days. You had to sit right next to the fire to feel the warmth.
You would hear about ceramic wood-burning stoves, so-called Kachelofen stoves, which apparently were much more effective, though they came from Nordic countries and no one had ever thought of offering them here. I did though and made the first models with entirely original designs that had nothing to do with Tyrolese models.
I presented the first stoves at the Artisan Fair in Florence in the Sixties.
It was a totally unexpected success. People would call me from Milan, France, Germany and asked me: "Can we come and see your factory?". But I was the factory!
Do you still work in your lab? Is there a family member helping you out?
I feel at home in the lab and even today - I'm over 80 years old - I like to come here every now and again. My children, Matteo and Chiara, now control of the company. Matteo takes care of production and sales and Chiara works on the admin side of the business. Over time, we have surrounded ourselves with a good team of people who like this job as much as we do and make every product exactly as I would.
What fascinates you about this trade, about modelling ceramics?
The ductility, the versatility of ceramics is somewhat representative of life itself: if you are able to lead it in the right direction, life will adjust accordingly. As soon as you step in the factory, there is a statue of Padre Pio I made with my own hands. The encounter with the saint from Pietralcina was crucial for me. It led me towards the direction I needed. He "modelled" me and I did the same with my own life... and with my stoves.