Photo: Jeremy Hooper

Studio Italia’s Valeria Carbonaro-Laws on guilty pleasures and 30 years in the design game

Considering her Italian upbringing and education in law, it’s hardly surprising that Valeria Carbonaro-Laws’ business Studio Italia has gone from strength to strength under her passionate leadership. Now the exclusive New Zealand stockist for a number of famed design brands, including Poliform, Knoll, Poltrona Frau, Living Divani and Kettal, Studio Italia has been responsible for furnishing some of the finest houses in New Zealand — such is the precision of Carbonaro-Laws’ eye, and the quality of the collections she brings in.

Exuding a clear passion for her work that extends to her staff and clients, Carbonaro-Laws has established herself as the unofficial matriarch of Italian design in New Zealand. Here, she offers a few pearls of wisdom, from her father’s seminal advice to her favourite guilty pleasures, and why a sabbatical is on the cards.  

I had to work harder to be taken seriously. I arrived in New Zealand almost 30 years ago and started working in design almost immediately. But my background was in law (a far cry from the beautiful world of furniture design and interiors) and because of my lack of experience and ‘creative English,’ I had to work harder to be heard. I guess you could call it tenacity, but it really was a drive to make my business successful. It might sound a bit corny but now, I genuinely love coming to work every morning. Seeing my staff and talking to clients gives me a real buzz. I love people, and I find that I really thrive when I have human contact. Also, of course, being Italian and having the opportunity to work with the best Italian brands in the world, made this job feel like a natural fit from the get-go.

My father told me when I was a teenager: “You must enjoy the little pleasures that life gives you every day, don’t just wait for the big ones.” At the time it sounded so boring but now I really get it and I couldn’t agree more. 

Transparency and honesty are the two traits I value most. So, of course, they are a must in a business partner. I need someone as driven and as hardworking as me otherwise the partnership can feel unbalanced. Someone with the same goals but different skills, so that we can challenge and complement each other.

My dad was my inspiration. He was an incredible human: kind and adventurous, incredibly intelligent and cultured. He learnt to fly planes and to sail across the Atlantic ocean. And when he finished his career as a lawyer, he started acting onstage in big, important Milanese theatres. Everything he did in his life, he did to perfection (including creating me, clearly!).

I feel most proud watching my daughter. I’m a mother, first and foremost, and seeing her grow into an incredible human being is so special. She reminds me of my father. Professionally speaking, I also feel extremely proud of how Studio Italia has evolved over the last 15 years. We get so much positive feedback from our suppliers, and considering that we operate in a small country, it makes me feel so happy. I owe this all to our clients, of course. Kiwis have a great appetite for good design.

True leaders mentor, they don’t over-manage. It’s a trait I’ve always been impressed by. Many of the people I look up to also seem to be able to strike a sustainable balance between their work lives and their private lives. 

If you love what you do, then you do it with love, and that, to me, is the root of success. The success I’ve enjoyed also comes down to the fact that I’m a good communicator. I love talking to people and understanding their wants and needs. 

I am not a morning person. I am a night owl so I hardly ever get up before 7am. I have a coffee straight away before I start talking to my wonderful family. I love to start the day with a call to my friends or family in Italy.

Motivation is not what I am lacking… it’s relaxation that’s my problem! I have tried meditation many times, but I’ve been trying to do it every day. Now that we are back with the craziness of work, however, I often don’t find the time.

I just love indulging. I have so many guilty pleasures, really too many to mention. But nothing beats a lunch with shaved prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella and a cold glass of rosé. I also love finishing dinners with a glass of the Nottambulo Limoncello, which we have been making with friends for the last three years. The process is just as fun as the end result!

No matter how busy I am, I always make time for clients. I realised long ago the importance of responding to clients immediately. Even when I am frantic and can’t do much more, I make sure that before the day is over, I reply to any inquiries. 

My husband is who I turn to in a crisis (and always). He is there for me in a calm, collected way and he knows what to say and how to help me. Although sometimes he makes me mad too. I call him often during my day, not just in times of crisis. We don’t work together but he helps me a lot by offering different perspectives and business ideas.

My catch phrase would be, Non piangere sul latte versato…. Don’t cry over spilled milk…… do you say that in NZ too? Basically it means get on with it, move forward and don’t dwell on things that you can’t change.  

I wish I had known how enjoyable owning a business would be. And that, ultimately, it was going to go well. It would have saved me so many stressful moments.

I have always wanted to take a sabbatical. A year travelling the world and meeting people of every culture. It’s something I think everyone should think about doing.

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