Sculptural AmbienceCHAIR DESIGN WITH NAOTO FUKASAWA
‘When I design an object, my attention is on both the object itself and the ambience it creates. In a living room, the sofa and armchairs give meaning to the whole space. They enrich it, even when they are not being used. Their impact is undeniably sculptural.’
Naoto Fukasawa is a renowned Japanese product designer, whose commitment to functionality is coupled with a knack for sublime simplicity. His most notable works include an iconic wall mounted CD player for MUJI and a glossy, doughnut-shaped humidifier for Plus Minus Zero – both are now permanent installations at MoMa – and he continues to design for Maruni Wood Industry, Glas Italia, and B&B Italia.
Fukasawa’s latest furniture series for B&B Italia, Harbor, is a redefinition of Papilio, a seating collection with elegant, winged backrests for the same brand. ‘Since designing Papilio, we were asked many times to add an armchair,’ Fukasawa says, ‘so I wanted Harbor to be an evolution of that series. After some experimentation, we finally settled upon a monolithic form in polyurethane foam.’
It may have emerged from Papilio, which translates as butterfly in Latin, but Harbor feels like the chrysalis in the equation, with gentle, boat-like contours, which wrap and hold the body. The armchair is fitted with a discreet swivel base, and recalls the truncated cone shape Fukasawa first explored with Papilio. The base sinks into the floor as if moored, while the high back extends with graceful lightness. The back and armrests of the sofa ease into an obtuse angle like a rising sail, its gently sloped seat wide enough for two. ‘Although we were creating something beautiful, it also had to be practical.’ Fukasawa says. ‘Comfort is the most important matter. The shape and softness of the Harbor armchair will inevitably make you feel safe and relaxed.’
In Harbor, Fukasawa takes inspiration from Isamu Noguchi and the process of carving Carrara marble. ‘The polyurethane foam can be shaped in the same way that a sculptor might carve a block of wood or stone,’ he says. ‘When I design an object, my attention is on both the object itself and the ambience it creates. In a living room, the sofa and armchairs give meaning to the whole space. They enrich it, even when they are not being used. Their impact is undeniably sculptural.’
There is indeed something in Harbor’s fluid lines, which allows us to respond as though we are experiencing an artwork, yet invites us to curl up inside them as we might in a favourite armchair. For Fukasawa, creating an ergonomic form is paramount. His gift as a designer is his ability to discern what the subconscious gravitates towards. Thanks to this connection to our natural aesthetic instincts, his atypical pieces slip into everyday life without effort or fanfare.