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SANTO (SAM) GIUNTA

Cersaie 1980

Cersaie 2012

A young Sam Giunta with one of the award winning ceramic murals imported from Italy

Classic Ceramics Showroom opening 1979. From right: John Abel -Member of parliament, Sam Giunta, Senator Margaret Guilfoyle, General Manager Ron Carter.

Australia in the 1950’s was a rich country experiencing rapid economic growth – a land of opportunity. Migrants from every corner of Europe came to work on major urban construction programs, on the land and on the Snowy River Irrigation Scheme. One such family that arrived in Sydney from war torn Italy seeking a better life was the Giuntas.

Like many before and since, the Giuntas saw Australia as a land of promise, where hard work, determination and imagination would allow them to create a better life for their children. These values were not lost on the young members of the family, especially Santo (Sam), who started his first job as a paper boy, aged 11. Sam left school at 14, and by the age of 17 had worked in a variety of jobs, from bell boy and photographer’s assistant to waiter and carpenter, often having to start work as early as 4 a.m.

In 1965 Sam became an apprentice tiler, becoming a tiler, tiling supervisor and tile merchant in quick succession. In 1969 he founded CLASSIC TILES P/L, trading exclusively in locally manufactured tiles. Even at this early stage in the industry he had a vision and a singular determination to eventually make a mark on the ceramic tile industry.

Sam undertook his first trip to Italy’s Cersaie Tile Fair in 1971, and has not missed a fair since. Upon returning to Australia, Sam founded CLASSIC CERAMIC IMPORTERS P/L in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt in 1972 becoming, arguably, the first company in Australia to deal exclusively in the importation, promotion and wholesale distribution of Italian ceramic tiles. Initial market reaction was ambivalent – both fascinated by, and apprehensive of the new and exotic products. Fascination soon overcame any lingering apprehension, and the operation began to expand interstate, with Sam driving around Australia visiting tile retailers with pallets of tile samples in the back of a van. Gradually his passion, perseverance and unorthodox marketing strategies transformed the attitudes of Australian consumers, and helped increase the awareness and appreciation of Italian ceramic tiles in a market that was now forever changed.

First Invitation to the Cersaie Fair in Bologna 1971

2013 Invitation to the Cersaie Fair in Bologna

By 1978 Classic Ceramics had established itself as one of the most recognizable importers and distributors of quality Italian and European tiles. Having outgrown the original building, Sam commissioned a leading architect and an Italian designer to create new, bigger and better premises.

It was a showroom ahead of its time in terms of design, and was instantly recognized by overseas industry figures as being the most elegant, exciting and modern ceramic showroom in Australia. It was a place, according to Sam, to “stimulate the imagination”.

Classic Ceramics distributed exclusively on a wholesale basis until 1983, when it expanded into the retail sector by once again designing a state-of-the-art showroom. With his innate eye for design, and unwavering determination to be at the vanguard in all aspects of the industry, Sam introduced bold, innovative products to the professional design and building sector. Commercial and residential stakeholders alike were excited by what the company had to offer.

During the 1980’s & ‘90’s Classic Ceramics established showrooms, offices and warehouses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, aswell as distributors throughout Australia. Sam continued to shape the evolving face of the retail experience by leading the way in creating the next design identity, which had started in the 1970’s with the ‘tile shop’, becoming in the 1980’s the ‘tile showroom’, and maturing into the ‘tile design studio’ of the 1990’s and beyond.

Classic Ceramics Leichhardt Showroom 1972

Classic Ceramics Showroom 1980's

Classic Ceramics Sydney Showroom 2000's

Sydney Indent Showroom 2013

Classic Ceramics Brisbane Showroom 2013

Classic Ceramics Melbourne Showroom 2013

It was not surprising then that Sam’s vision and commitment was recognized in 1997 when Classic Ceramics was honoured with Italy’s prestigious Assopiastrelle Award, making Sam one of the first ever non-European distributors to receive the coveted prize, and still today the only Australian distributor to have won it.

A key factor in the company’s successful operation has been to identify future trends, help shape trends and, perhaps most importantly, always be that one step ahead of the competition. It manages this by working closely with its manufacturers (some of them for over 40 years), and listening to the needs of its customers, to determine the right balance between Italian aesthetic flair and the Australian way of life.

There is an old saying, “Start as you mean to go on”. With Sam Giunta at the helm, Classic Ceramics means to “go on” as he started – driven by a passion for excellent design, product and service, achieved through hard work and a willingness to be unorthodox.

Sam receiving the Assopiastrelle Award 1997