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Design History: The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini

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Design History | The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini
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Design History | The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini
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YOU MAY HAVE noticed a certain modular sofa set all over social media the past year and a half in the homes of celebrities and influencers alike, and you may even have known that it was the Camaleonda sofa, originally designed by Mario Bellini over fifty years ago, but did you know that it has become so popular in contemporary times that it was reissued in 2020? The Camaleonda currently has such a following, that four of the homes we featured recently here at TIG all included it: here, here, here, and here. In this instalment of Design History, we will be taking a closer look at the über-trendy Camaleonda, beginning with its designer, Mario Bellini.

Mario Bellini is an internationally known architect and designer who was born in Milan on February 1, 1935. Like many other Italian architects, his work covers a wide range of disciplines, aside from architecture, including urban planning, electronics, cars, and furniture design.

Bellini graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan in 1959 and founded his own architecture firm in Milan in the early 1960s. It was at this time that he also began working beyond architecture, first for Olivetti, where he served as chief industrial design consultant from 1963 to 1991. It was here that Bellini oversaw the design of some of Olivetti’s most popular typewriters.His electronic design work also included cameras for Fuji, audio devices for Yamaha, and televisions for Brionvega. The architect then moved on to cars, serving as design consultant for Renault and designing the interior of the 1980 Lancia Trevi for Fiat. Over the past 70 years, Bellini designed porcelain for Rosenthal; lamps for Artemide, Erco and FLOS; office furniture for Vitra; and sofa sets and more for Kartell, Natuzzi, B&B Italia, and Cassina, to name a few.

More current projects include the T3 international air terminal, which was recently completed in Rome-Fiumicino, the New Polytechnic School of Genoa (2006-2020), a hotel and residential facility on Virgin Gorda Island in the British Virgin Islands (2018-2020) and the new RAI headquarters in Milan (2018-2020).

Mario Bellini has received many awards for his work, including the Compasso d'Oro Award eight times. Twenty-five of his works are in the permanent collection of the MoMA in New York, which dedicated a retrospective to him in 1987, the first great retrospective on a living artist, in fact. Bellini has also designed art and architecture exhibitions both in Italy and around the world, including the Palazzo Reale with Giotto's masterpieces (2016) and at the 1900 Museum dedicated to Margherita Sarfatti (2018-2019).

 

Design History | The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini

via Livingetc



Design History: The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini
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The Cameleonda Sofa

To some, Bellini's most renowned contribution to furniture design is his CAB chair, designed for Cassina in the late 1970s. This chair featured leather stretched over and zipped on a simple steel frame rather than being upholstered in fabric. Traditionally made leather was paired with factory-made steel frames, combining an old-world technique with new. It is a design icon, of course, but to us, the architect's best contribution to furniture design is his 1970 Camaleonda sofa for B&B Italia (then known as C&B Italia).

The design was an entrant to the 1972 MoMA show “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, where it was an immediate success. The show explored the work of a new wave of Italian designers experimenting with innovative materials, production methods and ways of living. Bellini considered this sofa to be an architectural element, its flexibility and mutable nature the core of its timelessness. "Cameleonda is a name I invented by mixing two words: the first is the name of an extraordinary animal, the chameleon (camaleonte in Italian), that can adapt to the environment around it and the word onda, (wave). Both these words describe the shape and function of this sofa." Its modular form makes it infinitely flexible: "Of all the objects I have designed, Camaleonda is perhaps the best in terms of its sense of freedom”.

Despite it selling well, the Cameleonda was retired after only eight years of production. Nevertheless, the sofa would become iconic, and B&B Italia would reissued this design 50 years after it was first debuted.

Image above via @eyeswoon

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Design History | The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini

“Of all the objects I have designed, Camaleonda is perhaps the best in terms of its sense of freedom.” ―Mario Bellini

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Design History | The Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini

The 2020 Re-issue

Can we improve what is already perfect? That is the question that the B&B Italia Research & Development Center and the architect Mario Bellini asked themselves before the Camaleonda's 2020 reissue. As it turns out, they decided to retain the design's original aesthetics, dimensions, proportions and system of use, with the same 90x90 cm seat module, the same backrest and armrest of the original design, even using the original templates for cutting the covering, which have been recovered. The characteristic capitonné, has also been retained, with its innovative system of cables, hooks and rings. In other words, the elements that have made the Camaleonda an icon have been preserved.

What has changed is that the 2020 reissued is now made with all recycled materials and interchangeable seat covers. The interior has been completely redesigned to make Camaleonda even more comfortable than the original, as well as sustainable. The internal structure now includes layers made of recycled or recyclable materials, that can easily be disassembled. The seats, backrests and armrests are made of wooden panels and the padding is made of polyurethane with different densities and bearing capacities, with different shaped layers that interact with each other to create a comfortable spring effect.

The fundamental characteristic of Camaleonda is its almost infinite modularity, a geometric nature that allows each element to be reconfigured to suit any home environment. The tie rods and rings make it possible for the modules to be detached and recombined at will, allowing the sofa to adapt to changing moods and tastes. The new Camaleonda can also be upholstered with any selection from the entire range of fabrics and leathers from the B&B Italia collection. Perhaps this design icon is even more popular today than when it was first dreamed up, over 50 years ago...



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