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Cappellini hits sweet spot with Candy table, Lace lamp

June 4, 2012 |  7:31 am

Giulio Cappellini No, it's not some Don Draper-devised take on Rodin's "The Thinker" staged with midcentury modern accent tables. This is Giulio Cappellini, artistic director of Cappellini, the Italian furniture manufacturer known for more than 30 years for discovering talent and producing works by designers such as Jasper Morrison, Marcel Wanders and the Bouroullec and Campana brothers.

For those who equate high design with out-of-reach prices, here's a pleasant surprise: The new Candy table, pictured here with Cappellini, is set to land in the U.S. this fall with a price around $300. 

On a recent visit to Los Angeles, the dapper Cappellini, 54, sat down with L.A. at Home and answered some questions about his life, his work, the current state of design and the surprising material used for that Candy table.

Question: How did you get started in the family business?

Answer: I studied architecture and in 1979 I started working in the company. Cappellini was founded in 1946 and then made very normal, traditional, classical furniture. I thought I could change everything in six months. Now, I understand that one lifetime is not enough to do what I want to do. 

And what is that?

Cappellini wants to produce designs that are powerful and will be long-sellers, not best-sellers. It’s very important for customers to see pieces that have been for sale for 20 years, to see the quality of the product and the design. It’s like when people buy a chair designed by Arne Jacobsen, they know it is a classic, not a fashion piece. 

You have designed some classic pieces for Cappellini, such as the fiberglass Bong table in 2004. What was the inspiration?

I call myself a Sunday afternoon designer. Every so often, I like to create things that are simple and pure in shape and can be easily produced. This can be used inside and outdoors and is light enough to move. But the most important thing for me is to be the designer of the company. 

Candy_Tables (3)That means discovering new talent and exploring new materials and manufacturing processes?

Exactly. I always say that the most beautiful shapes have been done in the 1950s and '60s. It is very difficult to make something new and different, but using new materials and production systems we can give a new image to familiar shapes and create more affordable products for the younger generation.

The Candy table (right) by the Belgian designer Sylvain Willenz is an example. The base is made from industrial rebar that is powder-coated. 

I like the idea of using such a rude material to do something simple and sophisticated in a scale that works for people who live in smaller spaces.We used smooth, matte colors that were chosen very, very carefully, because if we do a strong yellow or red it will look like IKEA.

The Candy table certainly breaks with the traditional notion many people have of contemporary Italian furniture: sleek metal and glass tables parked next to expensive leather sofas.

There has been a big evolution in terms of materials and colors. We are trying to make design more and more friendly with more textural fabrics and sweeter colors like pale pink, pale yellow, pale blue, which work so well with natural woods. For me, the most important thing is that you should touch it and it feels like wood. If you lacquer too much, it feels like plastic. 

What is decorating all about these days?

In the past, people would buy furniture like it was a piece of art, something more to show off than to use. Now consumers can buy product designs from all around the world and are moving away from this image of the total coordinated look. Now everyone wants to be contrary. Decoration is a game of creating the right balance of objects, whether you live in an old environment or a contemporary space. If you have a traditional house, you don't have to fill it with antiques and a new house doesn't have to be all modern. I like the free mix of things.

What does your home look like?

Like myself, it is a mix of different things. I live in the center of Milan in a 1960s condominium. It is not all Cappellini. There are contemporary pieces, some unique pieces, prototypes and nice pieces from the 1950s and thousands of books. I also collect old ceramics and furniture from China and have a few pieces that are not really antiques but done in old wood from Africa. My home has a lot of personality. In fact, around our dining room there are five people in the family, and each of us have our own special seat and none of them match. I sit in a Jasper Morrison chair. 

Lace Metal Lamp - FUWL bWhat will the house of the future look like?

I don’t think it will be 100% technological. People like to have a real warm atmosphere. We want to live in houses that reflect ourselves -- maybe with something contemporary, with something from the '50s and with an ethnic product we picked up on our travels. We might have a chair in carbon fiber, plastic or cast aluminum with a table made of natural wood. Mies van der Rohe used to say that each material, natural or artificial, is good if it’s well used. I totally agree with this. 

What is Cappellini's new Lace lamp (right)  made from?

It's steel mesh, a secret formula and special technology developed by a Swedish company that's over 300 years old. If you put a lamp like this in a dark room, you have spots of light coming out of all the little holes and it’s like having all the stars in the sky in your room. It is like Marcel Wanders' Knotted chair. It looks delicate, but it is strong -- and people like things that are light and transparent, especially in smaller homes. 

Have you noticed any other trends?

Reclaimed and recycled materials are becoming popular and can be very powerful when they are used in the right fashion. Outdoor furniture is growing in an incredible way. It used to be hotels would have a white plastic chair around the swimming pool, and now it’s a beautiful chaise lounge. Now that closets are rooms, the kitchen has gotten bigger and the bath has become a wellness center, people want to live outdoors.

Does any of that strike you as ridiculous?

Sometimes, yes. If you do something for yourself that you really like, OK. But I hate when people furnish their home just to show it to their friends. That’s ridiculous. The most important thing is to live well with things that are a part of your life. I like the casual look of Los Angeles. It is very human and to me that is interesting.


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-- David A. Keeps

Photos, from top: Giulio Cappellini; the Candy table; the Lace lamp. Credits: Nicola Zocchi; Cappellini