Creative Genius: La Lune Collection
An immigrant from Argentina designs rustic wood furniture for well-known U.S. brands and transforms his neighborhood.
People often say items in their home tell a story. The rustic, eco-friendly furniture designed by Mario Costantini, whose clients include Ralph Lauren and Disney resorts, has a story that spans decades and two continents.
Costantini immigrated from Argentina to the United States when he was 10 and thought he would return to his home country to be a doctor. After he met his wife, Cathy, when he was a pre-med student at Marquette University, they decided to start La Lune Collection, a Milwaukee maker of hand-crafted furniture.
“I recognized the amazing opportunities in America when I came to the U.S. as a 10-year- old … I thought that someday I, too, could have my/our own business,” he says. “Shortly after I met Cathy, together we started our business when we were 23 years old, without any money or experience. I think that perhaps immigrants can see opportunities in America which may not be so apparent to others.”
Helping their hood
The Costantinis also are doing great things for their community in Wisconsin. Eight years after they started the company in 1978, they took over an abandoned factory in a rough neighborhood in Milwaukee. They thought they could make furniture and restore the neighborhood by providing jobs.
But they also focused on children and the arts.
They co-founded the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, which serves thousands of children, and Holton Youth Center, which hopes to reduce gang and youth violence and is located in the same neighborhood as their factory.
“To move our business into a tough neighborhood and provide jobs and get rid of the gangs, it’s been a very rewarding thing,” Mario says.
In 2006, they co-founded the Danceworks/Mad Hot Ballroom program, which serves more than 21,000 students in 50 local schools. In 2009, they co-founded Florentine Opera Center, a Grammy Award-winning organization, also inside their factory buildings.
“We strongly believe that arts education is critical to the development of creative adults. Imagination and creativity are vital in every walk of life. Unfortunately, funding for the arts has really been reduced in education during the last few decades – and so, we do what we can to help,” Mario says.
Cherishing the past
While they’ve helped provide a better future for their 30-plus employees and families in their community, the company has kept its furniture designs focused on the past and high levels of craftsmanship.
“We’re not making contemporary cutting-edge furniture,” says Mario, who still hand-draws the designs. “We pay less attention to fashion and (produce) something that may be timeless.”
Its “rustic redefined” beds, chairs, tables and other products—about 600 items are now in its product line—are produced by craftsman who sometimes work with century-old machinery.
Over the years, La Lune's materials and product line have evolved. The Costantinis began with about 20 items, mostly chairs and tables, and then added cabinets and beds, including bunk beds for kids and even for pets.
La Lune Collection sells about 4,000-5,000 pieces a year. Sometimes one client buys thousands of pieces, like Bass Pro Shops when it opened a store in Memphis. Its pieces are in Ralph Lauren’s homes, like the Double RL Ranch in Colorado, and stores, as well as Disney resorts, such as the Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom.
Another growing interest has been eco-friendly materials. La Lune started its collection with willow but added poplar, which it now uses the majority of the time, after Wisconsin wanted to remove the fast-growing invasive species from its forests.
“The eco friendly (questions) have moved up the ladder of concerns for customers. We love it that we use invasive species, that we don’t get wood from far away in the rainforest of Brazil to make furniture here,” Mario says. “We use woods that are always a few hours away that are invasive.”
If you want to include rustic items but have a traditional or contemporary home, the Costantinis, who have a Georgian-style home, recommend choosing a table base with an organic aesthetic. One of the items in their collection looks like bundles of branches, for example, and it could be paired with a glass top.
“They look beautiful in contemporary settings,” Mario says.
La Lune Collection also creates custom indoor and outdoor furniture for interior designers and architects around the U.S. Often those designs become part of their collection, such as their new line of hanging beds for porches. In the age of mass production and furniture made abroad, working with designers to produce custom furniture made in America has helped the company survive, Mario says.
“We have always been very proud to manufacture here in America,” he says.