Company was founded as C&B in 1966 by Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, alongside Cesare Cassina, the owner of furniture company Cassina. The first decade of its existence brought a series of exciting innovations which would fundamentally ingrain the enterprise into the international contemporary design scene. The riveting success of the business is illustrated by the fact that Cassina decided to leave only seven years after the company’s establishment, as its revenue had surpassed that of his own, already established furniture brand. With the Busnelli family gaining full ownership, C&B became B&B Italia, the company as it is known today.

It was evident from the get-go that something about B&B Italia was different – like two sides of the same coin. Dualism is a core theme that shaped the brand’s identity to this day: from the initial partnership of C&B, to the dual nature of the company’s main divisions. However, it is a cohesive dualism, wherein one would cease to exist without the other. This theme is strongly rooted in the brand’s design philosophy. It represents a merging of innovative technology, which sparked the company’s existence, with the quality and timelessness of handicraft, the very thing it sought to replace. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the merging is that initially, B&B Italia rose to prominence with a forward vision to replace traditional craftsmanship with industrialization. In the end, a deft balance of the two ensured the company’s position as a leading manufacturer. 

Only One Way Up

The brand’s obsession with innovation started with its founder, Piero Ambrogio Busnelli. А sharp and intuitive person, he recognized that the future lay in the industrialization of design. This line of thinking was in complete contrast to the Italian way of the fifties, characterized by craftwork with long manufacturing hours and high product prices. C&B was at the forefront of the revolution, bringing great changes to Italy, and later to the world. 

All of these great changes, brought in the company’s early years are contained in one particularly prominent design: Up5. Gaetano Pesce’s design for C&B was nothing short of revolutionary, both for its use of state of the art technology and for the strong message incorporated into the launch in 1969.  The technological innovation of Up – a seating collection with seven pieces – resulted from extensive material research which essentially brought the world an inflatable chair. Inspired by the simple idea of a sponge – Pesce designed the chair, made from polyurethane, to be flat-packed, only to regain its full dimensions with the help of Freon gas once it arrived at its final destination. It made for an exhilarating performance in which the consumer could sit back and watch as the furniture assembled itself. 

Yet however inventive the technology, the political statement of the piece brought it controversial fame. Pesce was always obsessed with finding meaning in his products. It was not enough for them to exist for the sake of fulfilling their primary function. The feminine silhouette of chair, attached by a chord to a spherical ottoman was a metaphor. “The woman as a prisoner” with a ball and chain to hold her down – it sent a strong message regarding the position of women in society.

C&B didn’t fail to cause controversy with their upcoming pieces either. Le Bambole, designed in 1972, managed to surpass its inflatable predecessor’s success with the simple idea of comfort at mind. The piece was meant to look like it was created solely out of fabric with no underlying structure – in essence, a cushion. The design rose to prominence, fueled by a scandalous collaboration with fashion photographer Oliviero Toscani. The campaign was unveiled at the Milan Furniture Fair, raising eyebrows for its provocative display of nudity. This only made the piece more successful; Le Bambole won several awards including the Compasso d’Oro prize – the most prestigious Italian industrial design award. 

B&B Italia has won four Compasso d’Oro awards to date. It’s a testament to their brilliant designs brought to life by a fusion of ingeniously simple ideas with innovative technology and great marketing strategies. The second was awarded for the Sisamo wardrobe, unique for its patented mechanism which allows for the sliding doors to be fully aligned when closed thus creating the illusion of a seamless wall rather than a bulky piece of furniture. In 1987, the launch of Sity, a modular seating system designed by Antonio Citterio bagged the company its third award. And in 1989, B&B Italia made history, receiving the first-ever Compasso d’Oro directly awarded to a company. These awards stand in testament to B&B Italia’s devotion to the continuous development of new solutions for the constantly evolving contemporary home. 

The Devil’s in the Research

A trailblazer in contemporary design innovation that never fails to surprise and exceed beyond limitations, B&B Italia has been dedicated to research and experimentation since its founding days. The Research & Development Center was created very early on with the purpose of pushing the limits of what design and engineering can achieve when working together. It is a crucial mediator in the dialogue between designers and the production team. It significantly aids the manufacturing process and ensures that the initial vision of the designer is authentically brought to life. 

The R&D Center’s central role in the company’s development has led to it being referred to as the beating heart of B&B Italia. Aside from the problem-solving aspect, it also houses the historical archive. All of the company’s concepts and prototypes, some of which were never materialized, speak of the rich and thoughtful process of design. 

B&B Italia is unique in the fact that it has two divisions. The first is the Home Division, with the aim of providing design solutions for the residential market. The second is the Contract Division which deals with turnkey projects for the hospitality, retail, office sector, etc. It is this division that places B&B one step ahead of the game. Not many furniture manufacturing companies offer services that involve managing the entire process from procurement to installation. 

In stark contrast to the large-scale, fast-paced commercial nature of the Contract Division stands the Maxalto collection. Launched in 1975 under designer Antonio Citterio, it indulges in the rich intimacy of the crafting process. The pieces draw inspiration from the French style of the interwar era and have remained firm classics throughout the years. 

The Many Faces of B&B Italia

Over the decades, B&B Italia has worked with a number of distinguished designers such as Mario Bellini, Michael Anastassiades, Jasper Morrison and Patricia Urquiola. 

The company also has a long-standing tradition of collaboration with renowned architects like Zaha Hadid, Afra and Tobia Scarpa and David Chipperfield. The company’s headquarters were designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers in 1972. It was around the time of the construction of the famous Pompidou Centre, also by the iconic duo who were just beginning their careers. In perfect harmony with the core vision of the firm, the high-tech style of the building embraces the technological and industrial in design. The building itself is suspended on an external steel structure, showcased on the facade in all its unrefined strength. 

Not one to shy away from unexplored territories, B&B Italia has been a front-runner in terms of bold forward-thinking design for over half a decade. It has placed Italian industrial design of the second half of the twentieth century on the map, yet still, the company pushes forward, expanding itself beyond the confines of its borders. It is B&B Italia’s openness towards thought-provoking design that places it in high regard, as well as its openness to creative minds with promising visions of the future. The company’s opus is characterized by a subtle and timeless simplicity that seamlessly fits into contemporary life, yet the brand’s presence is bold, its powerful influence on the history of design – irrefutable. 

Featured image: Terminal 1, B&B Italia 2008 by Studio Massaud is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0

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