When we meet Mario of Diagonal Furniture in his Vauxhall apartment, overlooking the heady heights of London, it’s impossible not to be blown away by the charming space he has created which is so in keeping with his professional style.
With a career in retail behind him, it’s clear that Mario knows a little something about what customers want – and that’s certainly the case with the beautiful pieces for sale by Diagonal and on display in his home. With a penchant for colourful pops of colours, sleek chairs and a long love of a certain designer (Friso Kramer, we’re looking at you), his signature style remains fun and classy at the same time.
We chat to Mario about European post-war design, his interest in the Arts and his journey to become a professional trader.
When did you start trading and how did you get into this industry?
I started trading in March 2014 and I got into it because I love furniture! Our old flat was almost empty and there wasn’t a very nice sofa, so I wanted to buy a new one. I have always been interested in design and art anyway, and so when I found this Hans Wegner sofa, I did some research on his work and it spiralled out of control from there! I then bought this table with four chairs – I’ve always been looking online for great design pieces that don’t cost the earth. I sold the four chairs, made a profit, and bought new chairs so it very slowly evolved from there.
What job were you doing before this?
I was a retail manager and my last job was in interiors, and I just decided to take the plunge and do it myself! Working in interiors meant I met a great deal of people and I learnt a lot – I’d go to Kempton market and Ardingly market and always thought that I’d like to collect furniture and build up my own collection and sell things. I never really imagined it to be a business and saw it as something to pursue alongside my other jobs. But it was going quite well and I thought ‘I don’t want to work for other people anymore and I don’t want to sell furniture that I don’t like – I want it to be more me’. I went to Holland in 2014 on my own, just me and a van! My boyfriend is half Dutch so I’ve always been interested in Kramer, Rietveld, the styling movement and the museums are free there. The love for furniture and then going to Holland all happened quite organically.
What designers or periods are you particularly interested in?
I started with Danish 1950s stuff when I bought a Hans Wegner sofa. I was always fascinated with the way things were made and how you can restore things – I love working with wood and I used to restore my own pieces at home. Going to Holland helped me to discover Dutch Modernism and now I’m feeling the urge towards Italy – so my interests and inspirations are constantly evolving. I have a Nobili chair in the bedroom – which is an incredible piece – cheap materials but quite advanced ways to make them after the Second World War.
Have you ever come across a particularly spectacular find and you just can’t believe you found it?
I found two Ernest Race Unicorn chairs – three legged, very small, cheaply made chairs for the British Pavilion and it was made for that occasion so they are incredibly rare. I found them in Holland can you believe it! The guy came to see me in Rotterdam and I bought them off the van – I’d never seen those chairs in real life in such stunning colours. They were in really good nick and it was almost too good to be true so we did a backyard deal.
What’s your favourite piece you’re currently selling or in your home?
This Nobili chair in my home is my favourite and that isn’t for sale. I’m selling a Tapiovaara bench which I adore and it was quite a find. On the same trip, I found a great P3 chair by Tito Agnoli.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I go to the Tate and exhibitions. My boyfriend is an artist so we go to a lot of shows together. The lines are blurry between working and not working – when I’m home, for example, I do research. My mind is always on – it’s my passion so I don’t always see it as working. I’m always trying to plan my next trip.
What is the first piece you ever sold?
The chairs that sold on eBay was the first ever piece but the first design piece I sold was a sideboard that I bought in Battersea for £10 and I sold it for a great profit.
Who is your typical customer?
I sell a lot to consumers and I have a few artists and architect clients too – architects are often more interested in the minimalistic, sparse pieces. I also have a regular customer base – young professional couples in the creative industries that have just bought a new house – they always need shelves!
What is the most difficult and rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part is finding someone who loves the piece as much as I do and who is also prepared to pay a price that makes sense. I love meeting people who are interested in furniture design, looking for something in particular that I may not have but I’ll always try to help them. Sometimes they don’t even know what they want exactly but I’ll work closely with them and in the end everyone is happy. I like dealing with people and selling, not only for making money, but to educate them in a sense as well.
The biggest challenge is to find the stock – in good condition, at a price that makes sense and having to turn it all around relatively quickly. The difficulty lies in the up keeping of the website, taking photos, and there’s so much work behind the scenes especially as I’m on my own and I have to make it worth my while to go to Holland to source these pieces. In the same way, that’s also the fun part because I do like the hunt!
What’s coming up next for Diagonal?
I really want to open up another pop-up store – I really enjoyed having the presence in Camden. I always worked on shop floors as a retail manager and a shop is kind of a stage isn’t it? You curate the space and that’s my long-term plan to have a shop, bring other people on board and having their ideas/inputs involved as it’s so inspiring. I’m still learning and have a lot of catching up to do which is also fun because it keeps things interesting. My dream would be to have my own store and continue to collaborate with people.