Graduating from the University of Florence with a degree in architecture, Sergio Mannino moved to New York in 2001. He was a student of Remo Buti at one point in his life, and thanks to Buti’s wisdom and knowledge, became the great architect that he is today. Since then, Sergio Mannino has made quite the name for himself in the design community, working alongside high-profile names such as Vince Camuto, Jessica Simpson, Steve Madden, and Kensiegirl; the list goes on.
Before establishing the reputation he has today, he branched out at a slow pace by working on product design, furniture, and designing limited edition products. While specializing in architectural branding, Sergio Mannino utilizes his expertise in the retail, residential, interior, and furniture sectors. He provides a unique perspective to both private and commercial surroundings. Mannino said, “We take a brand, or we create a brand but we try to build a space around that brand, and that space should represent what that brand is about.”
Like a mad scientist, Sergio became enamored by the concept of thinking outside the box. “I think every project I try to do is experimental, in the sense that we try to do things that have not been done before, if it’s possible,” said Sergio. “I have friends that are amazing chefs and I’m always fascinated by how they put together ingredients and something else comes out.”
He stated, “We’re always trying to push the boundaries in that sense and do things that are a little off, not what you’d normally see. Obviously with technical issues, you have to figure a lot of things out. And then we try to combine materials in a way that is maybe not the most common.” Some of the examples he provided were about the materials that shouldn’t work together, but how one experiment could lead to something new, resulting in a different story, rather than becoming a redundant piece.
“Each material has a story, not just the story of the material itself, but also the cultural story that is attached to it. For example, if you think of marble, then you think immediately of the most amazing interiors from the Romans, so that stone carries all those elements together. If you think of plastic, plastic has a completely different story, but when you put plastic laminate together with gold, what happens? That’s when the experiment starts,” said Sergio.
He explains that by focusing and tweaking the design process, you’ll begin to question, “What is the feeling that you get out of it? Does the gold with the plastic laminate bring you an idea of luxury?”
Before Sergio stepped foot into the realm of design, he first became interested in advertising. Combining elements of both practices, Sergio explained his unique design process, “So we’re trying to grasp from the clients what they want, who their target is, who will be the lovers of the company; the ones who will promote the brand, who are their competitors, what are they trying to do that is different than what other brands are doing, and so on.”
“We analyze everything, this is a very, very important part of each project. And while we’re doing that, it’s a process that takes several weeks,” he said. “This is the building blocks, the foundations of any project. So once we finish that phase, if we ever finish it, because it always evolves a little bit, but once we build that foundation, we kind of already know where we’re going, so the design comes out naturally.”
Reminiscing about his journey to architecture, Sergio said, “I’m lucky I did it this way,” he talks about how his path was taken differently, “and I think that whatever I learn in that route, I’m carrying it with me, so hopefully, I’m bringing in elements that are not normally brought in by people that started that immediately.”
One project that Sergio has worked on, A.MANO Brooklyn, won an award for Commercial at this year’s Coverings. Ceramics Of Italy presented an honorable mention to Sergio, alongside nine other winners for the residential and commercial categories.
Katherine Wells, owner of A.MANO Brooklyn, approached Sergio after reading some of the articles he had written about design and retail. At the time, he’d been publishing articles for Forbes, when Katherine stumbled upon a piece focusing on the ever-changing aspects of the retail industry.
Wells, a ceramist and enthusiast in ceramics, had been frequenting Brooklyn Clay, a studio that teaches people of all ages how to create ceramics. Eventually, Wells realized that the talent surrounding her didn’t have representation. Upon this discovery, Katherine decided to use the empty space next to the studio and open up A.MANO Brooklyn to promote the community.
Sergio and Katherine collaborated together and created all of the branding assets, arranging the right components for the space. The storefront not only sells the pieces created by the artists next door, but also sells the vintage furniture that she finds and restores.
“The design has to be a reflection of that brand. The idea is if you enter that space, and I’m not telling you anything about it, you know immediately what are the values of that brand, what they’re trying to achieve, if the space talks to you, then it’s successful,” Mannino explained.
Mannino expressed gratitude to his late and great mentor, Remo Buti, who was responsible for mesmerizing works, such as Plates and Brooches of Architecture. Established in 2008, Sergio Mannino Studio is an architectural branding agency specializing in retail, residential, interior, and furniture, for both private and commercial environments. The studio is based in New York, but recognized internationally, having completed over 250 projects including in China, Italy, Canada, and across the United States. Headed by Sergio Mannino himself, the committed team is made up of professional architects, interior designers, graphic designers, and branding consultants. SM Studio is motivated by the desire to create spaces that synthesize creativity, excitement, and functionality – blending classic Italian design with contemporary flair.