Back then, the seat was still a mere prototype, which turned up – like a long-awaited VIP guest whose presence you can never be sure about until the last minute – on the Caimi booth the night before the opening of the show.
When you see it, you wonder if the chair is made of wool, or silk. Surely there must be a textile on it. It’s only when you take a closer look at the transparent model that you realise that it is indeed made of plastic. And you are amazed by the glittering effect of its surface, subtly decorated by a hologram-style texture.
Kaleidos is an extraordinary chair. With its soft, rounded edges, the seat looks (and is) extremely comfortable. But it’s the changing, moving and gently glittering finish that makes it particularly sensual and inviting to touch. The addition of colour adds three-dimensional optical effects to the transparent model, and silk-and wool-like textures to the white and black versions.
Ever since it began, Caimi Brevetti has coupled an engineering approach with high-quality design.
This is a hard-core furniture and home solutions company that clearly moves away from empty styling and that likes to focus on the intelligent coupling of form and function – a coupling that, in Italy, has always been achieved through lively collaborations between industry and independent designers.
I am not surprised when Franco Caimi, MD and owner of Caimi Brevetti, explains that the project started because he wanted to work with Michele de Lucchi. In 2002, Caimi asked the great Italian maestro, known for his rigorous yet emotional and poetic approach, to design a new chair for him.
De Lucchi’s answer somewhat startled Caimi. “He was not interested in designing yet another chair,” he says. “Michele has designed basically everything in his decades-long career and he openly stated that if he were going to create another chair, it would have to be a thoroughly innovative one, with unprecedented characteristics. Otherwise for him there was no point.”
Design sketches by De Lucchi and his collaborator Sezgin Aksu were the starting point of the project.
Yet it soon appeared clear that in order to produce something radical, design was not enough. “You can make a chair any shape you like, but it will always remind you of something else that already exists,” says Caimi.
After many concepts were put on the table, both the designers and the company realised that they needed to focus on the finish. “Yet again, just a nice-looking superficial finish did not satisfy us,” says Caimi.
“We wanted to embed the new finish in the body of the chair, which meant basically inventing a new material or using an existing one in an innovative way – which in the end is what we did. We were after a visual effect that would complement an attractive and extremely comfortable design.”
De Lucchi came up with the design for the seat, featuring round edges that wrap around the lower part of the body. This ‘wrap-around’ characteristic strengthens the chair and, coupled with the very elastic characteristics of the plastic used, makes it very comfortable even for heavy people.
The weight that leans on the side edges is in fact translated – thanks to the dynamic shape of the seat – in a push-forward force that starts from the back to the seat itself, providing extra support.
De Lucchi also designed the pattern for the mould, which, together with the material used and the injection-moulding process, is the key to the special finishing effect of Kaleidos. The engineers and designers decided to work with PET, the plastic material that is normally used for making water bottles.
“It’s extremely light but also resistant to shock as well as to many cleaning acids. But, above all, it is a very elastic type of plastic which is an important feature for a chair.” PET was mixed with another component to form a copolymer called PETg.
The PETg is injected into a steel mould featuring the texture decor of the chair. The colour is injected during the process.
The kaleidoscope-like finish of the chair is determined by the calibration of the mixture of materials that form the copolymer, the quantity of plastic injected into the mould, the pressure, temperature and feeding of the material in the mould, and the time span used for solidification.
“It’s like alchemy,” says Caimi. “We did not know what we would get. We just took a trial-and-error approach until we obtained something that was truly amazing. It did take a long time.
We are now extremely proud of the result, which was made possible by the combination of Michele de Lucchi’s poetic approach with Caimi Brevetti’s technological know-how and willingness to explore.”
This type of collaboration is actually what made Italian design appreciated all over the world decades ago and it is, as Kaleidos suggests, still a key to successful product development and innovation.