Katia Paracchini tells us the story of Elka, which specialises in making taps and bathroom fittings for the nautical industry, and about how she and Luca Dosso have created a real tailor-made boutique
by Francesco Michienzi
Italy is Europe’s second biggest manufacturing country, renowned around the world for the high quality of its products and the problem-solving flexibility of its entrepreneurs. These are essential factors generated throughout an age-old history and handed down through the generations, revealing a taste for the beauty and the good that characterises Italian manufacturing culture. To this, we can add the culture of work, which is not experienced merely as an activity to support oneself, but as an expression of a passion for producing something that is well made and carefully designed, featuring great attention to detail. Knowing how to recognise beauty in all its expressions and to shape work according to its old and new canons, as well as knowing how to tackle seemingly unsolvable problems with creative and passionate intelligence, are skills so profoundly human that they cannot be passed on in a purely mechanical or notional fashion. They need to be reacquired through a kind of work that becomes an experience of oneness with those who, in turn, have managed to inherit this sense of beauty and passion for work.
«OUR SOURCE OF INSPIRATION COMES FROM THE NEEDS OF OWNERS.
THE EXCELLENT RELATIONSHIP THAT BINDS US TO OUR CUSTOMERS ALLOWS US TO DEVELOP INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS».
We found all of this in San Maurizio d’Opaglio, a municipality with just over 3,000 inhabitants in the province of Novara, Piedmont, known for being the heart of the tap-manufacturing industry. Here the first workshop in the sector was established in 1920, soon followed by others. After the Second World War, the industry experienced a phase of strong growth that turned this area into the “tap capital” of Italy in terms of the number of companies operating in the sector. They include Elka, a firm that we’ve been following ever since it took its first steps in the nautical industry. Elka began life by catering to the world of motorhomes, where its taps and fittings have always enjoyed huge success. In 2006 it entered the nautical world, thanks in part to the great enthusiasm that has always pervaded the company’s owner Katia Paracchini. Katia is someone who puts her heart and soul into her projects. You simply have to listen to her recall her first experience in the nautical field. Even now, sixteen years later, the emotion she felt after a trip out to sea aboard the boat where she had installed her taps still shines through. When she first set up her business, her determination led her to create customised products for motorhomes that proved an instant hit.
In 2008, with Luca Dosso’s arrival in the company, her firm began tailor-made production to meet the specific needs of boatyards.
What was your first custom product? The first custom product was the shower column made for a 43-foot Airon Marine, with all the various accessories, details, showerheads, etc. It marked an important step as this was a completely new market with similar needs but also much more related to product tailoring than to mass production. Then, in 2008, we started our collaboration with Riva a brand of Ferretti Group.
In 2008 we saw the start of the infamous worldwide crisis that presented the firm with unexpected events that would have been unimaginable a few months earlier, but Katia and Luca succeeded in convincing yards that they were able to offer real added value.
Can you tell us more about it? While others suffered from this crisis we seized the opportunity to make a name for ourselves, specialising in the custom nautical product that accounts for 90% of our business today. Right from the start, we put customers at the center of our work: previously customers had to choose from what was already on the market, but with us, they could ask for what they needed without having to distort their design or compromise. Luca Dosso adds: The nautical market was accustomed to a very stale and standardised experience. Architects, or those working in a shipyard, were used to having one or more catalogues to choose from. The catalogue was sent out by post, which is a very cold approach. We put ourselves forward as people seeking out human contact, including with the designers themselves. We asked them what they needed and whether we could do it, offering them something new. We succeeded in putting ourselves forward as key players in the development of a product able to adapt to their designs and requirements. By listening to them, I was able to design what they needed, dealing with all the technical issues encountered on board.
This was also because only new models were being sold in 2010. Having left the crisis behind, owners were looking for original boats, featuring greater attention to detail – something that had been overlooked previously. Luca once again chips in: Exactly. Ultimately we provided a service rather than a product. The service that we put in place between the owner and the designer. We provided a product that suited the shipyard in terms of price, quality, and ease of installation thanks to small technical innovations that allowed them to speed up assembly or to be more flexible than the products they usually bought. It also suited the owner, who found something more attractive, with a more refined design. We’ve never wanted to impose our style. We’ve always sought to put ourselves in the background, going along with the style of the designer who was designing the vessel at the time.
To celebrate the company’s tenth anniversary, Katia Paracchini had a young emerging artist from Novara create a series of collages that tell her story by summarising the most significant moments of her business’ history with great flair. The paintings were displayed in 2014 during the Chamber of Commerce gala night in Miami, Florida.
Do you manufacture any exclusive products? There are many products for Riva that were developed based on an idea jotted on a piece of paper by some of their designers, who then tasked us with making them. They include the Riva 100 and Riva 110 handrail, which also becomes a stern shower. We worked closely with their steel supplier for this project, taking care of the plumbing aspect, and this resulted in an exclusive product made just for them. We’ve tried to develop products, such as the extractable column that can be removed externally and is designed for boats from 20 feet upwards.
Which other products have been that satisfying? The products we make are the sum of all the experience we have gained so far, and not only in the field of work. This was the case with the Cellini tap made in 2012 in partnership with Davide Maule, a master goldsmith from Valenza. His incredible ability to shape precious metal according to the dictates of Etruscan art found support in our 3D printing technology. The result was a product that was, to say the least, innovative both in its form and in the way it was made.
That idea of ostentatious luxury has probably disappeared today. Nowadays, luxury is something intimate and more about the personal sphere, free time… Katia intervenes in this regard: Yes, it’s true, although that tap could be seen as an artwork, in which you can see beauty, something different and exquisite detail. This is how we came up with the idea of showcasing our capabilities, what we have achieved and developed based on the customer’s ideas, and what kind of work we can do. In this sense, I don’t see it as mere ostentation, but having a tap that is different from what the market offers makes it special because it has been made and customised according to a specific request. It could then be made of silver, titanium, or other materials, but what makes the difference is the type of workmanship, such as the careful setting of the diamond tap aerator. These are the little things that make the product a thing of beauty.
Luca Dossi continues: We were also very happy with the tap that ended up featuring in the film Prometheus. Then many other creations came about at the suggestion of customers, such as the concealed bollard-shaped hand shower to be installed flush with the deck. We were a bit puzzled at first because it was a very simple item, but we managed to give it an aesthetic touch that makes it an object that performs a simple function, such as a shower, tastefully. Our customers are our source of inspiration and success. We listen to their needs and those of the owners because otherwise we would just be making brass products like 90% of the companies in this area and it would be difficult to enter an industry like yachting with our heads held high. Instead, the relationship that binds us to our customers allows us to go ahead and develop products that are already in demand, but with an extra touch.
Designing, manufacturing and selling taps and fittings exclusively for the nautical sector has prompted Elka to revise on-board plumbing, originally based on a concept deriving from domestic plumbing, while always remembering that a boat is not a house.
Do you plan to remain in the plumbing field or expand the field to other products, e.g. lights? We like fusion. We thought of a shower column with light when we saw an increase in outdoor spaces on board. We, therefore, upgraded an existing shower that works very well. I simply wanted to increase its period of use, transforming it into a light source too. However, we didn’t limit ourselves to adding a bulb or light but instead created a shower column with no wires, batteries, or solar power system. Instead, it works using the same technology as mobile phones. This is the fusion I was talking about earlier. The thing that gave us satisfaction was seeing how people were amazed by the fact that just by inserting or removing the column from the base, the light would turn off or on.
Luca, how much time do you spend developing what owners and clients have asked for? It depends on the level of detail in the information that is passed on to us. For example, the handrail for Riva was developed in less than a month, while the shower column with the light was created in one evening, watching an old iPhone advert. It’s therefore very difficult to quantify how quickly the creative flair will arrive, and then it depends on the complexity of the product, but we always stick to the deadline set by the customer.
The wide range of articles, which includes brass mixers, aluminium mixers, stainless steel mixers, shower heads, shower columns, and wellness accessories, is designed by Luca Dosso and the technicians in the research and development department, skilfully combining the principles of quality, design, safety, and respect for water.
You’ve spoken about boats up to a certain size. Why not mega and superyachts? Because that will be our next step. We’re getting ready for it. We’ve always gone step by step, from the motorhome market to small boats, then to medium-sized ones, and now to larger vessels. Katia emphasises: We’ve received orders for cruise ship suites. If we can make people realise that our products make their work easier, especially in terms of installation, then we’ll have a new market.
Where do you see Elka in ten years? In lots of other fields, I hope, from cruise ships to mobile homes and houseboats. I’d like all the ideas we have in mind to see the light of day: one of them has been completed over the last few months. We’ve created a showroom that isn’t intended to be a mere display case or a place for customers and suppliers to meet. It’s an exclusive, elegant, and informal environment, but above all an ideas accelerator. You won’t find taps there, or better still, you will find them but placed discreetly, almost hidden away. Instead, you’ll find a lot of creative ideas, a lot of inspiration, and a lot of freedom of movement. This is our concept of service 2.0. So states Katia without a moment’s hesitation.
(Katia Paracchini, extraordinary passion – Barchemagazine.com – November 2022)