Right before he heads to Milan for the 2018 Salone del Mobile, we caught up with Tommaso Caldera to chat all things design and Italy. Launching the latest development of the MOUSSE Collection – the MOUSSE Lounge – at the fair this year, Caldera and Chairs&More renew their shared commitment to pushing the boundaries of contemporary design for the contract market even further.
In your opinion, what has been some of the biggest and most interesting developments that commercial design has undergone in recent years?
I've noticed a growing attention on colours, materials and finishings. It's clear that companies are becoming more accurate and exacting about the variety of design benefits that these aspects can have across many product typologies – even the small companies. The industry is really demonstrating a keen understanding that these are fundamental design variables that distinguish authentic design from emerging lower-cost and lower-quality brands.
And what do you believe will be some of the most important commercial design developments in the year ahead?
What I've really noticed this year so far is that companies feel the need to offer as complete a catalogue as possible. Previously, companies that had specialised in one or two product types are now branching out to make their portfolio more comprehensive – even trying to decline each product in a family in three or four variations. Being able to offer a degree of versatility and flexibility of choice continues to be an important concern for us all.
This year in Milan, a lot of exhibiting brands will be focusing on that need for flexibility and (especially) modular design for the commercial sector. Why do you think this remains to be an important trend?
On the one hand, the type of design thinking we inaction speaks to our perceived need to satisfy the final client in a market full of smart and flexible emerging realities. But on the other hand, working and other public spaces are radically changing – and have been changing this rapidly for at least the last ten years. As new ways to live and work continue to change as such, we need to make sure that product can support this ongoing evolution.
What then do you think is one of the biggest struggles that this industry is going to face soon as a result of that shifting landscape?
As always, the main challenge that a design company faces (and will continue to face) is balancing the perceived value of a product and its price. As more and more new emerging brands enter the market, this balancing act will only become more important, and more difficult to achieve.
Where do you think, then, the design industry could begin to alleviate these difficulties?
We've always worked exactly in this field, trying to push the latest in forms, language technologies and functionality with serial products that are a strong commercial reality for design studios. Trying to address these elements with products that don't normally fall within the ambit of 'serial' means that we're then talking about limited editions, art and handicraft – it's just not a sustainable option that can be pursed on scale.
In recent years, we’ve seen an increased focus placed on health in the commercial sector. Air quality, natural light, and psychological wellbeing for the end-user are all important aspects of greater health, but what do you believe we need to begin focusing on as well?
Through all of my areas of work, I am concerned about trying to understand this magical and terrific relationship between people and the objects they use and encounter. I believe in a holistic approach, and this holism needs to be more of a focus in coming years. After all, working deeply on every single product that goes into the composition of a space is one and the same as working on the space itself. Often, we're too granular and idiosyncratic in our approaches. There's a bigger picture we need to see too.
Absolutely. And, in many ways, this holistic perspective is really influencing the commercial sector across Australia in particular. In recent years we've seen design in this space become heavily influenced by hospitality and residential sectors in a bid to approach a more holistic sense of how we live, work and play in design. What are some of the more interesting developments you've seen emerge from this?
Well through this ongoing evolution in residential and work or hospitality spaces during the past decade or so, we've noticed that we're able to reduce the distance between two or more environments by creating objects than can be arranged in each situation. In my opinion, this is the most interesting development: this new type of value generated by design approach.
What impact does collaboration have on your design? And, why do you feel that collaboration will continue to be an important aspect of the architecture and design industry?
Collaborations are essential. Without the relation between designers, their products, and the design commitments of end-users and industry practitioners, then you just get products developed that are nothing but an expression of the individual creator's personality. We need this symbiotic relationship to always be existing because it allows us to create product that really matters in the design field.
Every region across the world approaches design in a very different manner. Which region, in your opinion, do you believe is really pushing the design world in innovative and ground-breaking ways?
Italy is again the country that pushes more than every other. You only need to look at Salone del Mobile every year to see how Italy continues to define the guidelines for the future.
Well, speaking of Milan, I understand that you exhibited one of your more recent designs there last year, and your returning this year with the latest development of that design. Could you tell me a little bit about the reception that MOUSSE has received since its inaugural launch at Salone del Mobile 2017?
MOUSSE was very, very well received last year. A lot of people during Salone del Mobile began to notice the beginning of an idea take shape surrounding the need to create a compact and soft shaped armchair for contract spaces.
Is that why you're returning this year with a further development of the MOUSSE Lounge? Like its earlier example, the MOUSSE Lounge certainly carries a distinct form. It balances lightness with strong, sweeping lines and a generally curvaceous structure. Could you tell me about some of the inspiration behind the design of the collection?
At the end of summer 2016 I received a very precise brief by Chairs&More; they were looking for an armchair for contract spaces, comfortable and with a kind of freshness in terms of language and general aesthetic. I tried to work on these guidelines, but the MOUSSE Collection was also influenced by the need to create cozy pieces of furniture, warm and at the same time contemporary. Wood mixed with a double upholstered rounded and enveloping seating was the perfect combination to get that result.
For something that appears so fuss-free and simplified, I understand that the collection’s design is quite complex. Can you tell me about the prototyping development of the range?
The softness of the shapes is obtained without a mould. This means that there's a flat wooden structure inside the foam. But one of the key challenges this then presents on the manufacturing side is that during the development phase we needed to perfect ways we could achieve this level of continuous and rounded edges.
In your opinion, what is something new that the MOUSSE Collection introduces into your portfolio?
Well for me, the MOUSSE Collection is the first I've developed that's really geared toward hospitality spaces.
And with respect to your other work, it seems to be equally popular in the commercial environment as well as hospitality environments (and, I’m told, quite a few homes too!). Is this broad appeal something you always strive for?
I never want to focus my work just on just one environment and I feel this distance between public and private spaces is really getting smaller. I'm design-driven rather than sector-driven, and this I think also speaks to my more holistic approach too.
Is that, in your opinion, what really characterises your work? Is there a distinct Tommaso Caldera signature?
I'm not sure I am able to define my work. It seems to me that it is always other people who can define you more precisely. But I think that I can certainly say my work is more about language than function.
We were talking earlier about MOUSSE, which is actually one of the collections you've released through Chairs&More. I want to know, how did your relationship with Chairs&More begin? And what, in particular, makes this collaboration so strong?
I met Chairs&More four years ago during the fair in Milan. Since then, I've been impressed by their stand at Salone del Mobile each time, and I perceived that it would be a beautiful reality to start a dialogue even without knowing what the starting point would be in terms of a collaborative relationship.
Can you explain the thinking behind your brand’s slogan for me?
Well, our slogan of 'Our aim is to design something good, for someone we love, for somewhere we’d like to be' actually goes all the way back to why I decided that this was the vocation for me. When I started to build the brand, I was inspired by the idea of being a part of people's lives through objects – even just for a little while. The slogan talks about my approach through this job of design: I'm trying to create good products that are able to reach places where I too would like to be, working with people (customers and craftspeople) that I love.
Working across lighting, furniture and accessories, your brand is certainly an agile (and busy!) one. What unique challenges does working across so many design typologies present?
Even if you work on different typologies variables are quite similar most of the time: client, brief, materials, production technologies, final users, these considerations are always consistent. But I believe that the very unique challenge is to be able to manage all different issues mixing them with your language and general approach, but then tailoring that to each product typology. It's definitely a difficult balancing act.
And if you had to select one word to describe your brand, what word would you pick?
Following its knockout release at Salone last year, Tommaso Caldera and Chairs&More return in 2018 with the latest iteration of MOUSSE: the MOUSSE Lounge. As an armchair carrying all the aesthetic cues of its forebear, the MOUSSE Lounge develops the initial design resolution anew with a more generous, embracing design specifically targeted to the evolving dynamism of the commercial and hospitality sector worldwide.
Arising from the collaboration with Roberto Paoli of Babah, NUBE is a seating collection of chairs and stools all bearing the characteristic quadrant of cushion-esque elements forming its shell. With either a metal sled or wooden base, NUBE's soft, elegant lines express comfort and aesthetics in one harmonious design resolution.
Developed with Studio Pastina, CHIPS arises from this inaugural collaboration between the two brands. As a collection of padded seats with fabric upholstery and an array of base options, the CHIPS collection makes a bold, confident statement about the place comfort ought to play in our day-to-day lives – whether that be at work, at a restaurant, or even at home.
Working with leading names in contemporary design, the brand's new releases for 2018 represent the result of a journey into R+D that combines the expertise and eye of renowned world experts and the company's will to invest in pushing the envelope of novelty.