The family-run Spanish outdoor furniture empire takes stock of its past as it looks to grow into new markets.
BY IAN VOLNER
In 1996, José Antonio Gandía-Blasco Canales was building a house for himself on Ibiza, designed by architect Ramón Esteve. At some point in construction, an issue presented itself, one that stymied the pair. They simply could not find the right kind of furniture for its outdoor spaces. Undeterred, Canales and Esteve struck on a novel solution: They would make it themselves.
With surprising speed for a first-time furniture maker, Gandía-Blasco was able to put into production the Na Xemena line, a collection of all-white anodized aluminum chairs, tables, and lounges that seemed a perfect fit for his dreamy beachfront villa. The first foray by his family’s eponymous company—one that his father, Jose Gandía-Blasco founded 55 years earlier—into the outdoor market, Na Xemena has been followed in the two decades since by a veritable swarm of furniture that has transformed the celebrated Spanish fabric-maker into a protean, multifaceted presence on the international design scene.
This most recent chapter in the Gandia Blasco story is only the latest in a journey that’s had its share of twists and turns. “My father [José] founded the company during the Second World War, right after our civil war,” notes the younger José; as inauspicious a year as 1941 might seem to start a major manufacturing concern in Western Europe, Gandia Blasco managed to weather not just global conflict but the sometimes dizzying changes in Spanish cultural and political life. “There have been crises as you’d expect during this period, but we’ve survived all of them,” says José, adding that the real challenge has been to keep up with the changing design landscape. “Taste,” he says, “has changed just as much.”
The passing of the torch, generationally speaking, began in the late ’80s, as the current José began to assume a more active role in the company from his father. “Up to that point,” José says, “we only made blankets.”
In a rapidly globalizing economy (in which Spain, after the Franco years, was more and more an integral part) the necessity to diversify became increasingly pressing, and so Gandia Blasco began to expand from quilts and comforters into rugs and carpets. With a new company logo—the abstract form of a black cat, its back mischievously arched—and new designer partnerships (with Sandra Figuerola and Marisa Gallén, among others) the company began to take up a little more bandwidth in the interiors trade.
The move into more and bigger fabrics was easy enough, logistically: The firm’s longtime factory, located in the small town of Ontineyent, near Valencia, was quickly re-geared for the new materials and patterns being created by Gandia Blasco’s growing roster of collaborators. But the shake-up in the ensuing decades—particularly the establishment of the blockbuster outdoor furniture business—has completely reshaped the once-modest family firm into a global behemoth. Now divided into two primary brands, Gan (responsible for the textiles side) and Gandia Blasco (which handles the outdoor furniture), the company produces more than 300 different products across 15 collections, distributed through 11 directly-owned showrooms and dozens of licensed dealers worldwide.
Symptomatic of Gandia Blasco’s approach to outdoor furniture—and of its success—is a recent collaboration with Seville-based architect Fran Silvestre. The designer was commissioned to create the new Blau collection after an introduction whose fortuitousness recalls the origin story of Gandia’s first furniture initiative 20 years ago. “They’ve often used our houses to photograph their furniture,” Silvestre says. That shared aesthetic is one Silvestre describes as less minimialistic than holistic, as evident in Blau’s simple contours, cleverly masked joints, and a playfulness that turns a slender-silhouetted lighting standard into the shape of a slim, leafless tree. “The identity of Gandia Blasco,” Silvestre says, is about “transmitting Mediterranean design to the world.”
While the company’s outdoor furniture expresses a sense of breezy modern cool, the Gan brand stays close to Gandia’s roots in textiles, even as it subtly pushes what fabrics can do to enliven and enrich the interior environment. Patricia Urquiola’s recent Mangas collection takes large swatches of bright color, splices them patchwork-style with thick woven grays, and applies them not just to floor treatments but to ottomans and settees as well. Hector Serrano’s Sail uses beguiling black-and-white patterned Dhurri wool to form a subdued ensemble of stuffed seating and rugs. The sense that this really is a family enterprise is reinforced by one of Gan’s most charming new lines, Valentina. Traced in light arabesques, Valentina is the work of Alejandra Gandía-Blasco, José’s daughter.
With one foot planted firmly in tradition, José seems determined to continue exploring new territory. “In the next few months, we’re getting ready to launch three new brands,” he says. At Milan’s Salone del Mobile in April, he unveiled two of them: GB Modular, a new aluminum furniture line for interiors, and Exterior Spaces, a dedicated brand for Gandia’s larger outdoor fixtures. New clients, new markets, and new showrooms may follow. As it enters its 75th anniversary year, the little-family-company-that-could isn’t just chugging along. It’s picking up steam.