“And doing a chaise is very daunting because you get compared to the very best right off the bat. Eames, le Corbousier, Mies van der Roe, Kierholm—all of them designed iconic chaises.”
Bernett has designed two closely related chaise lounges for B&B Italia. “A number of years ago,” he explains, “we did a chaise for B&B that was both highly publicized and commercially viable. The owner of B&B said that it had captured all the spirit and integrity of the company in one product, and it turned out to be the most successful marketing piece they’d done in twenty years.” When B&B more recently came back to Bernett with the simple request that he “design another big hit,” he presented six or seven different ideas, one of which was a chaise that was reminiscent of the one they’d already done. “We thought there was something to build on there,” Bernett says. “We wanted to create something that captured a spirit of design and promoted balance, harmony, and a level of sophistication, and at the same time put forth a piece that was very representative of B&B.” B&B agreed and asked him to pursue this second chaise design.
“A lot of chaises are thought of as a place for a fifteen-minute nap,” Bernett notes, “Should you fall asleep, at some point your arms will fall and wake you up because there are no armrests,” he explains, comparing the first chaise, which had no arms, to the second. “So we thought a lot about performance, about how people might use this piece, and how we could make it more functional. We thought all along about the problem of how to support the arm and the body and do it in a beautiful way. By adding the arm, it makes the piece a touch more dynamic, and visually it’s a little more interesting. It allows a person to drape, lie in different positions across the piece, be a bit more lazy and comfortable in how you use it and fit into it.”
Bernett thinks of the two chaises as “kind of like brothers,” and points out that with the Landscape 05, “you’re looking at an asymmetric shape that evokes an emotion.” But he also emphasizes that function must come first: “You have to solve the problem in the correct way or it won’t perform well, and B&B sells furniture that performs well; once we solved the performance issues, then we could go ahead and make it beautiful.”
The shape itself posed some interesting production challenges. Because the profile of the chaise is so thin and yet covers such a long distance, “. . . we had to create enough structure and stability in the frame so that it would be torsionally stiff enough to not rock, but also have the seating performance and comfort that is so important to B&B,” Bernett reports. “The seating performance requirement can be a tough challenge.” This particular challenge was solved by developing a steel skeleton, over which polyurethane foam is injected and then upholstered.
© The steel skeleton for the Landscape 05 is necessary to create a structural frame that is strong enough to support the length of the chaise. Credit: B&B Italia
Below left: The underlying steel frame provided the added benefit of a headrest that can easily be attached and detached with internal magnets.
Credit: B&B Italia
© The steel frame for the Landscape 05 Chaise is covered with a thin layer of polyurethane foam. The final product is available in a range of upholstery options, including leather and industrial felt. Credit: B&B Italia
Stability was also a critical concern when it came to the leg design. Two legs made of a single continuous loop run the entire length of the chaise, creating an elegant support that is also sufficiently rigid.
The underlying metal structure provided an additional, unexpected benefit to the headrest design and functionality. “You have to think about how someone’s using the piece,” Bernett emphasizes. “If you’re taking a nap, your head is in a different place than if you’re watching television or reading a newspaper. When you’re working in a pure manner, these attachments can be quite cumbersome and loud in the overall scheme of the project. In this case, because there is an underlying structure of steel slats, we came up with the idea of using magnets that connect the headrest to the steel and allow it to be adjusted in endless ways, and also to be easily removed. There’s no other physical attachment needed.”
While the headrest is always offered in leather, and the chaise itself is available in a range of fabrics, Bernett also suggested a special fabric for the Landscape 05. “Going back to my interest in the contemporary art world, I’ve always thought industrial felt was interesting. It’s made of all the offcuts and waste cuts from the carpet and sewing industry, so it’s sort of a recycled product. We did all kinds of research into the material and sent it over to B&B because we thought it would be interesting for them to bring a new fabric to a new product.” Bernett appreciates the particularly soft and tactile quality of the felt, and the way it accentuates the feeling of comfort the chaise evokes.
Bernett credits the success of this project to the collaboration between his office and B&B. “Working with B&B, I feel very fortunate, because in B&B you have a company that is truly an
industrialized producer that really tries to push innovations, and all along tries to sell a high-quality product that functions very well and is beautiful. There’s not that many companies that can hit that mark on all those levels. We’ve had the good fortune to make pieces that are commercially very viable, but are also aligned with B&B’s core values, and have become icons for the company as they’re trying to create their image of how the world sees them.”
According to Bernett, there were few hiccups in the development of the Landscape 05. “We hit the target pretty easily,” he says. “The right thing to do was pretty obvious. Sometimes, it’s great when you prevail after a longwinded project, but it’s also satisfying when you can achieve your vision right off the bat. It’s kind of like stepping up to the plate and hitting a home run. Not that you don’t hit a lot of foul balls, but everything sometimes comes together all at once. For this project, we saw the prototype, and we were done.”
Even though Bernett may have made this particular home run look effortless, the Landscape 05 is the result of strategic design thinking, logically applied. “Simply put,” Bernett says, “product design is three-dimensional problem solving where the result is a tangible object that takes into account function, price, value, and human needs and conditions. So in any given problem, whether it’s a bathroom fixture or an airplane seat, you have to identify the tasks and challenges to overcome, and then go about the design process. Then, if you can design in a manner that ideally makes the space nicer to be in, and makes you want to spend more time at home, or makes a chair that is healthier to sit in, or performs better, all along you’re improving the quality and value of life. Generally speaking, design is all about improving the quality of life.”