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Giulio Cappellini on the Changing Design Landscape

By Dwell @dwell
We sat down with design impresario Giulio Cappellini to chat about workspaces, authenticity, and the state of the furniture economy. Photo

Giulio Cappellini sits in a Tulip chair by Marcel Wanders for Haworth Collection.

Welcome back to San Francisco! How has your trip been?

Coming from old Europe where everything moves very, very slowly it’s incredible to see the energy of San Francisco. I visited a few studios and was very impressed with the work they're doing. I think that thanks to all the companies working here, it’s really a strong city at the moment.

Which designers did you visit while you were here?

I went to see Gensler. They're working on big projects for interiors and architecture. I always think that through public space, we can promote better solutions to design problems.

San Francisco has a start-up culture in which many people don’t work the typical "9-5" and don’t always have traditional meetings around big boardroom tables. The city also has a large freelance workforce so offices expand and contract on a regular basis. What are your thoughts on how office design should evolve to accommodate these behaviors?

Yes, offices are really changing. And I have to tell you that step-by-step it’s changing worldwide—this "nomadic" concept of offices. Just looking at some of the projects done by Gensler, the studio I visited today, I see this concept of freedom. That means more open space that's nice to stay in. Everything is more casual. I think that it’s very important to have nomadic pieces of furniture that you can move around quite easily. Offices have changed a lot and they’re still changing a lot.

Can you explain some of the differences between offices of the past and present?

In terms of colors and materials, there are big changes. Before, offices were cages—the executive offices with the dark wood, the dark leather, and so on. Now you see spots of color. There is also more attention paid to materials. What I like very much about the offices here in San Francisco is this idea of open space. You can work everywhere. You can work at your desk, you can work on your computer, or just in a chair. You can work in these kitchen areas where you can also have very informal meetings. I think that it’s very nice to stay in a very good, friendly, environment.

Many companies work with technology and so they look to the future. In turn, they like to use objects that are very contemporary and look to the future. So I think there’s a strong synergy between the image of the company and the image of their offices—their headquarters, the design products they use, and of the products they produce.

With the openness of offices comes the issue of privacy—of noise of having a moments to yourself. What can offices do to counteract that?

Some offices prefer sofas with the high backs so you can have your privacy if you want to speak with other people or a make phone call. These cocooning areas are very interesting. I think a softer room divider is better rather than walls. It’s nice to see other people working, I think, so you don’t lose concentration. I think that flexibility is very important. Maybe you work alone but if you need to work with two, three, or four other people, you have a table on wheels.

Can you tell us a bit more about the concept of "nomadic furniture"—pieces you can move and adapt?

The same thing is going on in residential design. In an apartment we still have the bathroom, the bedroom, the kitchen, the living room, and so on. In the kitchen, for example you cook, you can work with your computer; you can have a conversation with your friends. And the living room is the agora of the house. That’s why there aren't just very formal sofas, but this piece of furniture where you can sit with your family, you can sit with your friends. More and more, there is a relationship between what is residential and what is public space. The city before was a very, very different image than your home or office, now I think that they’re becoming closer and closer.

In the future do you think there’s going to be less of a divide between contract and residential furniture?

Absolutely, I strongly believe that we have to work on hybrid products. I think that products that are beautiful, like a nice chair, can fit in an office, can fit in your home, can fit in a restaurant, at a bar, or in a hotel.

Speaking of innovation and design relates the knockoffs vs. authentic designs debate. We ran a story on the subject about a year ago and has still been popular months later. What are your thoughts on the issue of knockoffs and authentic design?

The real problem is just a problem of communication. Some companies have always made beautiful products, but maybe didn’t take care to communicate well. It’s very important to explain to the end consumer why a knockoff chair costs $300 and an original chair costs $600. Sometimes people buy copies because they don’t know the originals. For example, they see a couch that's yellow and they say, "It’s yellow, okay, I like yellow."

Manufacturers don’t give the all the information about a product's quality or sustainability. Everything happening on the back-end of the product is very, very important today. Today, to make a good product doesn’t take months, it takes years and it’s very important to explain this to the end consumer. Communication is the most important thing because if you do a fantastic product but you are not able to communicate in a proper way, it’s nothing.

What have you done to improve communication on your designs?

We have videos. People are always very, very fascinated by this. We can show a very artisanal way of working or a very high-technology way, but people are fascinated by seeing what’s behind the scenes.

Last year you spoke with us during the Design Assembly Program at Arkitectura and we asked about the overall state of the furniture business and Italian economy. Checking in, one year later, have things improved?
Unfortunately, it is worse. In Italy, we have big, big problems but this is just the general situation. Italy has a strong heritage of quality in terms of production, which is why, fortunately, Italian products are successful worldwide. The general situation in Spain is unclear. For example, Spain is a disaster, but last year we got some interesting contracts for hotels and businesses so it was a good year for Cappellini. Northern Europe is doing very well, the crisis is in Southern Europe. It is strange because it’s not just that money disappeared—people are waiting. This is a psychological process rather than a real crisis. On one side there are a lot of people with a lot of financial problems, on the other side there is this idea that okay, I have to rebuild my home, I have to buy a new car and sofa, I’ll wait. And this is not good, so Europe is still quite bad.

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