Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa tells Design Anthology why it took three years to perfect the design of the simple stacking chair, the latest addition to his phenomenally successful Papilio range for B&B Italia.
When you first created the original Papilio chair did you envisage that it would evolve into a range including a bed, armchair and outdoor furniture?
We didn’t start with the idea of a family-it just happened. Soon after the first one, we developed the bigger chair for more privacy and comfort because that was the concept of the shape. It grew from there but has always been about the shape.
Was it difficult to extrapolate the form and level of comfort from fabric and leather to polyurethane?
We wanted to keep the natural form; to cut out the surface into a shell that could be attached to different kinds of legs and make a chair for different uses. We spent three years just completing the shell without losing the organic shape in a solid material. It was very difficult because this is a new way of using a surface, but the technology for realising this sort of project has improved dramatically over the past few years. 3D printing used to be a craft, but now we can transfer this kind of handmade shape to 3D printing machines so it becomes a kind of ‘industrial craft’, combining old and new technologies to make the shape.
Why was it such a challenge?
My biggest job was to find a perfect outline as part of the Papilio series but to slightly modify it. Normally this kind of stacking chair is flat and not organic. We wanted a flush rim and wanted it to be simple and light. It also had to have a little spring and not be too hard. There are many invisible details but they are very important. We had to check and test the structure to make sure it was strong and comfortable, and only then consider the legs.
What is most important to you: simplicity or efficiency?
Well, simplicity has to be efficient or it is just a shape or a form. Simple is not just simple. If function is perfect then you can call it simple. It is like a metaphor of your mind and body- they are separate but absolutely the same. If your mind likes the look of a chair but you are not feeling comfortable, you may still try it a couple of times but then you will forget it because you will chose comfort rather than just the shape.
What about the relationship between designers and the manufacturers?
That relationship has to fit very well. First, you have to have a very clear image of the form and not lose that outline while trying it functionally. People don’t understand the subtlety of minor change.
So, it is the role of the designer to hold the original vision?
Yes, and B&B has a lot of experience in this. It is part of their philosophy to consider comfort in design while other companies think style is enough. Some high level plans are all about avant-garde shapes and sculpture but B&B has to have both and that is why they are long-lasting.
Does this new stacking chair provide something new or different?
I am not trying to design something new, simply to adjust a masterpiece into our modern life. I am not trying to be different you can’t be. So many great chairs already exist so it is about creating an ambient atmosphere. That is my role but even I have to try very hard to achieve it.