Lune Collection co-founders Mario and Cathy Costantini.
Long before the
green movement took root in interior design, La Lune Collection has been
quietly crafting its environmentally friendly furniture in its Riverwest
workshop for more than 35 years.
Mario and Cathy
Costantini favor invasive wood species like poplar and willow to
construct their upscale rustic furniture. The fast-growing varieties,
which are native to Wisconsin, tend to overpopulate the state.
poplar allows other native trees to grow back," explains Mario.
began using poplar two decades ago when the DNR approached the couple
about using the harvest wood for its furniture designs.
As students at
Marquette University, neither Mario nor Cathy guessed they would one day
be making furniture that has attracted a following of high-profile
clients like Ralph Lauren, Oprah Winfrey and John McCain.
While the majority
of La Lune’s business is residential, the furniture maker also has a
solid commercial customer base from national hotel chains and resorts,
including the Disney Corporation, to trendy restaurants. Locally, La
Lune’s unique hand-crafted pieces can be found at Colectivo coffee
shops, Potowatomi Hotel & Casino and Camp Bar.
of La Lune’s pieces are manufactured in its Riverwest factory;
the Costantinis relocated their company to the Riverwest
neighborhood in 1986; an item from La Lune’s rustic collection.
La Lune Collection
began as a side project for Mario and Cathy after the pair graduated
from Marquette University in 1977. A biology major, Mario had intended
to return to his native Argentina for medical school until he was
summoned for military service. Choosing instead to remain in the U.S.,
Mario turned to interior design while he waited to be admitted to
medical school stateside.
"We were both
23 years old and thought it would be fun to start an interior design
firm," recalls Mario.
Cathy, who had
been a French major, suggested the firm’s name, which means "the
La Lune landed its
first furniture commission in 1980, when a Chicago-based restaurant in
the market for "Southern rustic" furniture contacted the firm.
After researching the style at the library, Mario created a handful of
first started, we thought, ‘We like this style, but is the rest of the
world going to like it?’" says Mario.
Today, La Lune
offers more than 600 items in its collection, from seating to tables to
beds to outdoor furniture. Most pieces in the collection, which are made
by hand using a process that preserves the bark, sell for $500 to
And every piece of
La Lune furniture is made at the firm’s Riverwest workshop.
outsourced," says Mario. "We teach our employees how to
construct the furniture. Even the sewing is done here."
La Lune moved from
its original Wisconsin Avenue showroom to its Riverwest building at 930
E. Burleigh St. in 1986. Despite the area’s high crime rate, the
location appealed to the Costantinis, who had moved to Milwaukee’s
East Side a year earlier.
being close to both work and home," says Cathy. "It’s only a
people’s reaction when they moved to Riverwest.
"They told me
and Cathy we were crazy for moving to the area," he says. "It
was a pretty tough neighborhood in 1986."
But the Cream City
brick buildings, which had formerly housed a construction firm, were the
perfect set-up for La Lune’s office and workshop. So rather than be
dissuaded, the Costantinis set out to help clean up their adopted
neighborhood. In 1989, Mario partnered with a group of local residents,
business owners and police officers to open the Holton Youth Center (now
the Holton Youth and Family Center) as a community haven for area youth.
"It took us
five years to get rid of gangs and drugs," says Mario, who
continues to serve as chair of the center’s board.
A more common
sight today is parents pushing strollers and children on bikes. Problem
bars have closed, and local businesses are starting to move in.
In 2009, the
Costantinis leased a former warehouse to the Florentine Opera. The space
now serves as the permanent home for the opera’s costume and wig shops
and rehearsal studio. The relationship is ideal for Mario and Cathy, who
are devoted opera fans. In fact, Mario was instrumental in launching the
Danceworks Mad Hot Ballroom program, which serves Milwaukee Public
naturally for Mario and Cathy, whose philanthropy has extended beyond
community revitalization over the years to the Milwaukee arts scene.
Cathy has worked extensively with First Stage Children’s Theater and
the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, helping organizations coordinate their
got involved with First Stage because our oldest daughter had an
interest in acting," says Cathy, who served on the First Stage
board for several years.
Despite La Lune’s
stellar reputation for creating distinctive handcrafted furniture, the
Costantinis admit their business took a hit during the Great Recession a
few years back.
"We had five
challenging years," says Mario. "Two things that hurt us were
the recession and e-commerce."
recession, La Lune primarily sold its furniture through design centers
that catered to high-end interior designers. But when the recession hit,
many design centers around the country closed.
and Cathy refocused their selling strategy, offering clients the option
to place orders directly through their online store. Both La Lune’s
product catalog and website are composed of beautifully hand-rendered
pencil drawings created by the firm’s on-staff artist.
recovered from the recession, La Lune is encountering the opposite
problem. Demand is so high, the Costantinis have had to do the
unthinkable and turn down major projects.
are coming in all at once," says Mario. "We’ve had to say no
because we can’t deliver."
All of La Lune’s
furniture is made to order, with lead times averaging between eight
weeks for small orders to 12 weeks for larger requests.
Although La Lune
sells its furniture around the country, the firm seems to have found a
niche market in Rocky Mountain states like Colorado, Wyoming and
furniture fits in well there," says Cathy. "The style is a
good fit for vacation homes."