The Materials of Design with Michele Caniato

Michele Caniato’s companies have transformed the world of design, allowing renowned designers like Starck, Wanders, and Dror to become household names

By Stephanie Wilson


 Some of the largest companies in the world rely on Material ConneXion, which has offices and libraries in New York, Bangkok, Milan, and Cologne.

Michele Caniato firmly believes that innovative materials are the basic foundation of any good design; the 38-year old Italian has even based his life’s work around that fact. He is the executive vice president of Material ConneXion, a worldwide one-stop library for contempo new materials and technologies. As if this wasn’t enough to keep this material authority busy, Caniato is also the president of Culture & Commerce, a firm that aggressively represents designers in a similar way to how IMG reps elite athletes. He is busy; there is no doubt about that. But with Caniato’s tireless drive comes great success, both on a professional and personal level. In fact, his personal successes were multiplying as we spoke: his wife, Margaux, was at the hospital about to deliver their first child-a boy.

Caniato knows to count his many blessings. “I have to say that I am lucky,” he humbly mentions when speaking of the birth of his son, and of the lifestyle he and his wife enjoy, with homes in New York, Milan, and near Portofino, Italy. Yet when speaking of his work, the humility disappears, and excitement about the companies’ many projects exudes. When he speaks, it is as an authority in the design world, and people listen.

His venture into the world of design was a fated one. His mother was a graphic designer, and his uncle, Giulio Castelli, founded Kartell, the venerable Italian company that has been credited with being the first to use the latest technologies in their designs. He credits Castelli as being an important mentor in his life. Caniato also worked for his aunt, Anna Castelli Ferrieri, one of the first female architects to emerge after World War II. “She taught me a lot about work, integrity, and having passion for what you do,” Caniato explains, qualities he still displays today. On the other side was Caniato’s father, a banker. “The result is that I have always lived my life with 50% [of my time] looking at the financial aspects, 50% looking at design,” he says.

His proud pedigree led him to the Polytechnic University in Milan where he received his degree in architecture and design. He made the move to the US in 1994 in order to work with yet another mentor: George Beylerian, founder and CEO of Material ConneXion. Caniato has been working with Beylerian since the inception of the worldwide company. “The concept behind Material ConneXion was to create a one-stop location where you can find the most innovative technologies and materials,” he explains. This stems from a period in the late 1990’s when Beylerian felt there was staleness in buildings and products available on the marketplace. As Material ConneXion’s catchy slogan states, “Every idea has a material solution.” Beylerian and Caniato’s solution was to create a place for designers to learn about the latest materials and technologies. Caniato elaborates: “[We wanted] to create a materials library for architects and interior designers, but we immediately understood, after opening in February 1997, that our resource center was for every professional related with the creation of anything which surrounds us, from cars to consumer electronics. Everyone needs information regarding materials, and the processes applied to it.”

So Material ConneXion created a unique material library where users can discover the latest and most exciting materials for virtually every field. The library houses over 4,000 material samples referenced in eight categories: polymers, glass, ceramics, carbon-based materials, cement-based materials, metals, natural materials, and natural material derivatives. Some of the largest companies in the world rely on Material ConneXion, which has offices and libraries in New York, Bangkok, Milan, and Cologne. Their impressive client list runs from for Nike to Target, from Cotule Lighting Design to Urban Outfitters, amongst others. “We currently work with over 400 international corporations. We have choreographers of Broadway shows to every major company in the footwear industry.”