Peter C. Cilio
Creative Director of Campania International
The day that the Campania International catalog arrives in the mail must be akin to Christmas morning for purveyors of home and garden goods. Of course, this is no ordinary catalog; it’s more like the Sears Wish Book of decorative accents. Hardbound and weighty with importance, it’s stuffed with hundreds of pages of glossy photographs featuring fountains, benches, pots, planters and statues galore that range from opulent to whimsical. Some are dripping in Technicolor hues—bold blues and fiery reds—while others boast of stately stone or subdued, earthen tones.
The catalog is also the culmination of countless hours of research, planning and designing for Peter C. Cilio, the creative director at Campania, which has been designing and manufacturing its wares for independent garden centers throughout the country since 1983. Its manufacturing facility in Pennsburg now employs some 100 people—an assemblage of artisans, craftsmen and constructors. “We try to be a one-stop shop for our customers,” Cilio says. And to think it all started in a building not much larger than the average shed.
Cilio’s father, Peter Cilio, Sr., immigrated to the U.S. from Italy as a young man in the 1940s and eventually settled his family in Philadelphia. He was a contractor by trade but always had an interest in gardening. In 1972, he founded Peter’s Home and Garden Center in Quakertown. “It was just a little eight-by-ten building,” Cilio recalls. His father specialized in the import of handmade terracotta pieces from Italy. “At that time, it was hard to find good-quality European terracotta pieces,” says Cilio. “You couldn’t really find it anywhere else.”
The business quickly grew in size and popularity when the elder Cilio decided to venture into wholesale, distributing the terracotta pieces to garden centers along the East Coast. In 1983, a new company, Campania Imports (later Campania International), became a reality—the name comes from the region in Italy where the elder Cilio was born. Eventually, he began making his own goods, starting with a line of cast stone products.
From an early age, Cilio and his three siblings pitched in to help the family trade thrive. But, while Cilio says he’s always had an interest in gardening, art and architecture—he was an art history minor at the University of Pennsylvania—when it came time to carve out his own career, he went in a different direction. “I practiced law for 13 years,” he says. That changed in 1998, after he had a conversation with his father. “He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he recalls with a laugh.
The family sold the business in 2000, and Cilio’s father died in 2008. While his siblings are now pursuing other ventures, Cilio has stayed on board at Campania as creative director. His main focus is on product development and creation. He and his team are responsible for coming up with about 250 new products a year that will catch the eye of independent garden centers (Campania typically doesn’t sell to big-box stores). It’s no easy feat, so Cilio is always on the hunt for inspiration. “I’m always looking, always thinking,” he says. “If I take a trip, I’ll find an antique place that I like.” He travels to Asia twice a year, where Campania’s Pacifica collection is made.
Churning out such a plethora of new products is a delicate balancing act of maintaining the Campania style that blends Old World traditions with contemporary American taste, while also understanding the wants and needs of a wide customer base that extends across North America. “Styles are different. To be successful, you have to think about how you can appeal to different tastes,” Cilio says. “What’s appropriate for Florida might not be appropriate for Oregon.” And Cilio is constantly trolling magazines and newspapers to stay on top of the current trends. He recalls that the company’s line of mythical statues—think dragons, wizards, castles and gargoyles—was wildly popular in the heyday of Harry Potter.
Of course, coming up with the idea is only half the battle. “Some things never make it off the drawing board,” says Cilio. But once a design does get the green light, Cilio and his team have to bring it to life in 3D form. Cilio is also in charge of the mold-making department, and he works with a variety of sculptors, woodworkers and other artists to refine and execute the design concepts. When asked to name his favorite Campania creation, Cilio says he can’t pick just one. “It’s kind of like having to choose among your children,” he says. But Cilio has no problem pinpointing what it is that puts a spring in his step while he’s on the job. “I like creating and problem solving. Creating something on paper and marshaling it through the process.”
The payoff is seeing Campania’s products in countless homes, businesses and showrooms across the country, knowing that his father’s vision was the catalyst for the company’s continued success and legacy of satisfied customers.