Ko receives Italy’s most prestigious award given to people who champion Italy overseas with her luxury furniture brand FurnItalia.
The Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia award directly translates to “Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy.” The prestigious distinction is given to those who actively promote Italian products and develop cordial relations with the European country.
Those nominated have worked in various disciplines such as philanthropy, scientific and technological research, promotion of food and wine, and commercial enterprises.
Ambassador Giorgio Guglielmino shares in an intimate gathering in his Makati home that, as the head diplomat of Italy to the Philippines, he finds it more meaningful when he awards the Star to Filipinos. Italians have a duty to their heritage to advocate for their county continuously, he explains. But when Filipinos do, it’s remarkable because loving Italy is their choice.
As the outgoing Italian ambassador who served in the Philippines for four years, Guglielmino’s last event was to award Florence Ko with the Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy. As the woman behind FurnItalia, the country’s foremost source of Italian furniture brands, Ko has been curating, marketing, and trading Italian furniture for almost two decades.
“Whenever we think of a new product to promote in our country, Italy will always be the first in our hearts,” Ko says upon receiving the recognition endorsed by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
“That’s the reason why FurnItalia was born almost 20 years ago,” she continues. “But it is not surprising, because we all know Italians by heart are very passionate about what they do. Their culture is steeped in architecture, music, food, arts, and many more.”
Ko also mentioned that she shares the award with her husband William, as he “opens the door of love and fruitful relationships with the Italians” for the past 30 years and counting.
She lists the various Italian goods that William has brought to the Philippines, such as hardware, appliances, architectural products, types of machinery, and raw materials. The couple also created their brand Space 2000, which makes modular kitchens and cabinets using Italian machinery and raw materials.
Although when the furniture brand was starting, the entrepreneur shared that introducing Italian furniture to the local market was a challenge.
“But there is a saying: start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. Of course, with God’s guidance and wisdom, I did all of the above,” Ko muses.
Passion for design
From pieces by top-level Italian houses like Poltrona Frau, Molteni & C, Giorgetti, Venini, Fiam and many more, FurnItalia curates luxury Italian furniture labels and offers them to the Philippine market. Ko tells Lifestyle Asia that Ambassador Guglielmino has an “eye and heart” for art, and that’s now not only a professional relationship, but a genuine friendship began.
In Ko’s speech, she notes that Italians place great importance on family, just like in Filipino culture. “That’s why we treat Italian partners just like our family,” she says with a smile.
With all that she has achieved in the furniture industry, it might come as a surprise that Ko does not have formal training in the design and architectural fields. But she applies principles of learning from challenges and the people she works with every day.
“You have to determine your direction with your attitude,” she shares. “And then, since we had the courage to start the business, you have to have the courage to also face anything until the end, in order to reach whatever you want to reach.”
Ko adds that her perseverance in everything she does is paired with placing her heart in every situation. “If you really put your heart in something, that passion, that’s love. You don’t expect anything in return, but you give your best for it,” she says.
Although the honor was not something she expected, Ko realizes why her work in her industry merits such credit. “We are very concentrated only on Italian products,” she shares, adding that, unlike other companies, they don’t mix brands from other countries. “Ours is only Italian.”
She expounds that even with the brand’s name, no explanation is needed.
While some would expect that working with brands from overseas would come with hurdles due to the pandemic, Ko says the Italians have been understanding and still pleasant to work with. She thanks technology for allowing her and her team to see products using digital platforms.
“We can also talk to them and they can explain the product more deeply. The only thing that we can’t do right now is touch the product,” Ko shares. She also noticed that since it’s vital we all stay at home, many people have thought of changing, updating, and shopping for quality furniture investments.
On how she sees her business expanding further, Ko explained that expansion is not on her mind right now. Instead, she aims to create a more sustainable brand, which she considers the most important given ongoing and pressing environmental issues.
“And, of course, we will continue to promote Italian products. Because, by heart, we’re already there. So I think it has been proven for years already that the Italian products are one of the best in this field,” Ko says.
Photos by ED SIMON of STUDIO 100