Vision & Creativity

“Do you know what was so great about Busnelli? He had the reflexes of a formula 1 pilot: he was capable of making split-second decisions.”
With these words, the architect Marco Zanuso responded to the journalist Giorgio Bocca when asked to describe Piero Ambrogio Busnelli - a man with an unerring instinct, capable of great insights. Behind the wonderful story of B&B Italia lies Piero Ambrogio Busnelli and his extraordinary vision.

Vision & Creativity

Piero Ambrogio Busnelli

Adventure, challenge, innovation. Right from the start, Busnelli experimented with new materials. He focused his efforts on finding an alternative to foam, and on the most advanced technology. By and by, he developed an idea that revolutionised the furniture industry. The industrial process conceived by Busnelli in 1966 has remained virtually unchanged to this day, half a century later. When asked by Cesare Cassina to explain his idea, Busnelli answered: “My idea is to replace the traditional wooden frame with an iron one, and to insert this inside a mould. Once closed, the mould is then filled with cold foam. After 30 minutes, you have a fully-fledged product ready to be extracted.”

From the onset, C&B - founded alongside the Cassinas - transformed a simple furniture factory into something truly special.

On the one hand, lay tradition, collaboration with the best Italian architects, the use of natural products, and the best craftsmanship; on the other, innovation, technology and industrial processes. These two worlds came together to create something that did not yet exist. The logo design was entrusted to another great name, Bob Noorda.

The design of the new headquarters was entrusted to the young architects Afra and Tobia Scarpa, who also designed the Benetton facilities in Ponzano. As a result of a careful study of space and production processes, the Novedrate plant remains a perfect example of functionality to this today. Busnelli had a great eye for talent. And once again, he struck gold 6 years later with Renzo Piano. The new headquarters, designed in 1973, were a miniature Beaubourg, and used the same technological system that was adopted a few years later in Paris - technology as a means of inventing new shapes. Renzo Piano's building in Novedrate became a manifesto of the business model that Busnelli had in mind right from the start. This envisaged a contemporary formula based on innovative materials, the search for new development solutions, and product systems marked by functionality, flexibility, resilience and durability.

Vision & Creativity

1968, Factory B&B Italia - Novedrate (Como)

1971-1973, Headquarters B&B Italia - Novedrate (Como)
1971-1973, Headquarters B&B Italia - Novedrate (Como)
1971-1973, Headquarters B&B Italia - Novedrate (Como)
1971-1973, Headquarters B&B Italia - Novedrate (Como)

An era of new creative potential opened up for the big names from the Cassina universe: Gianfranco Frattini, Marco Zanuso, Vico Magistretti, Mario Bellini, and Afra and Tobia Scarpa. It was the latter who developed the first project - the Coronado sofa - designed, from start to finish for industrial mass production. Split into separate parts that could be assembled with just 2 screws, it was perfect to be shipped worldwide. With Coronado, Busnelli hit the mark. The project soon came to symbolise a new industrial culture. It was the first upholstered product to feature a metal structure embedded in foam.

Within five years, some of the greatest icons of Italian design were produced.

These were supported by innovative advertising campaigns, entrusted to Enrico Trabacchi, the art director behind a series of historical pieces. In 1969, it was the turn of Gaetano Pesce's Up, an undisputed icon of contemporaneity. Up was a revolution, due both to its use of polyurethane technology, and to the way it was presented to the market. The product was purchased in a vacuum - like a giant, colourful cheese slice - and, once opened, resumed its original shape.

Mario Bellini described to us how the Le Bambole series was born in 1972, when Trabacchi turned to Oliviero Toscani. “Le Bambole is basically an articulated cushion: it is not designed with a separate headrest, armrest, backrest, and so on; in this sofa, all these elements merge into one. This was an absolute first. It was the first time ever that a padded seat was designed as a padded cushion tout court”. Designed in 1972, in that same year Le Bambole received the Compasso d’Oro prize, one of the first to be awarded to a piece of furniture. Italian design became an international phenomenon. In 1972, the New York MOMA inaugurated “The New Domestic Landscape”. C&B featured 2 installations, one by Gaetano Pesce.

Five years later, Busnelli acquired the company's full shareholding from the Cassinas, and changed the name from C&B to B&B. “I was about to go to university, when my father said to me: Look, Giorgio, I need you, come join the company. And so, in 1973 I started working in the Research Centre. That was the start of my journey with B&B Italia”, says Giorgio Busnelli.

With the birth of B&B Italia, a new Research and Development Centre was established in Novedrate,

in the wake of the important role played in C&B in bringing together design, business, technology and production. Born from the experience of those first extraordinary seven years, soon the centre was expanded to include marketing and communications. It became the repository of the company's history; an archive of ideas and prototypes, experiments and technological solutions. At the head of this team were Rolando Gorla and Federico Busnelli. These two men of substance had lived in close contact with designers for more than 40 years, keeping abreast with the latest technological advances, the laws of the market, evolving aesthetics and the changing social context. Moreover, the younger generation, comprising of Giorgio's son, Massimiliano Busnelli, and Ambrogio Spotti, brought an infusion of “new blood”.

CR&S, Centro Ricerche & Sviluppo </br> Piero Ambrogio Busnelli
CR&S, Centro Ricerche & Sviluppo
Piero Ambrogio Busnelli

In 1975, the company established Maxalto. The first collection of wooden furniture designed by Afra and Tobia Scarpa (Artona 1975, New Armony 1979) brought with it a new method positioned between the revival of classical forms and the manual craftsmanship of the cabinetmaker. Antonio Citterio has been developing and coordinating the Maxalto collections since 1993, sealing the brand's prestige and reputation worldwide.

The 1980s were marked by radical change. Alanda, by the architect Paolo Piva, was a highly innovative product greatly influenced by changes in daily habits. Piva worked very closely with the Research & Development Centre in the 1980 s . In 1984, the company received its second Compasso d'Oro for the Sisamo wardrobe designed by Studio Kairos, thus confirming B&B Italia as a leader in innovation also in the field of bedroom furniture. “Harry was an absolutely normal sofa, except for the feet in the corners. 30 years later, this feature seems absolutely normal because today we see plenty of sofas with metal feet in the corners. ” It was the mid 1980s. Antonio Citterio designed a series of highly successful pieces. In 1987, it was the turn of Sity, which transformed the sofa into a multi-purpose seating system, equally suitable for resting, chatting or relaxing. As home interiors became more complex, furnishings had to embrace new shapes. “I call it the science of understanding movements, evolutions,” says Citterio. The result was yet another Compasso d’Oro. The third. The fourth arrived in 1989, and was the first one ever to be granted to a company.

B&B Italia has always been trail blazer at home and abroad in markets such as America, Brazil, Japan and Spain.

And not only in the residential context, but also in hotels, offices and showrooms. Setting up a Research and Development Centre proved to be a winning decision, in an industry marked by the demand, not just for products but for solutions to complex problems. B&B Italia became an international point of reference for design applied to the contract market. The first project in this area of the market was with the Meridien Hotel in Kuwait, and was followed by many more: Puerta America in Madrid, Aman Canal Grande in Venice, Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona and Milan, Hotel Gallia in Milano, Bulgari in London and Milan. These great worldwide hotels, with ample open-air areas, form the perfect setting for the company's outdoor collections, like those designed by Patricia Urquiola, first of which were the 2007 Canasta armchairs.

In 1992, Piero Busnelli celebrated his 65th birthday. At this stage of his career, he had delegated much of the running of the company to his children and to his executive team, whose members had increased from the original 3 to 23. But life, and his unerring instinct to grasp every opportunity, offered him a new challenge. And he took it up with relish, without a moment's hesitation. “I was at that meeting. My father could hardly believe what Pierluigi Cerri was suggesting. He said: ‘I'm with you. The entire centre is. Just tell me when to come, and I'll come down with my men.’ And that was the start of B&B Italia Marine, a 50:50 partnership with Costa. We soon became world leaders, with my father and my brother Emanuele, who had just joined us at that time, fully managing the work on 32 cruise ships. It was not a simple task,” says Giorgio Busnelli.

The B&B Italia Marine adventure meant harnessing all the know-how gained over the years: the Research Centre, experience in the contract industry, and the quality of the designers' work. When he embarked on this new adventure, Busnelli delegated key roles to his children.

“In 2000, I thought it was time to improve our distribution and open a number of flagship stores”

Giorgio Busnelli was in no doubt: his father's international vision needed to be reinforced by strengthening the company's identity. Stores were opened in London, Paris, Milan, New York, Beijing, Taipei, Monaco and Tokyo.

B&B Italia felt the need to be more visible in the market. It was the designers who conveyed the soul of the brand, and not the B&B Italia brand that had become an indistinguishable receptacle for creativity. “Antonio Citterio said to me: Giorgio, we should find a space in which to put all our products together, so as to see how they look together. That was when we realized how difficult it was to put our products together. ” From that moment, a fully-fledged B&B Italia lifestyle was born.

“I think it's fair to say that if you are a designer working for B&B Italia, the style of your work should fit into the family of B&B Italia products, while respecting your work and your signature style. You need a father and a mother in order to have a child. It is not just the designer who produces these things.” This is the belief of Jay Osgerby, who, together with Edward Barber, created some iconic pieces, such as the Tobi-Ishi table.

In recent years, the company has also chosen to collaborate with renowned international architects, such as Zaha Hadid, who designed the Moon System in 2007, and David Chipperfield, whose Posa collection was dedicated to the Marquis von Posa, a character in Schiller's Don Carlos. Today, 20 international designers work for B&B Italia, including Naoto Fukasawa, Jasper Morrison, Jeffrey Bernett, Vincent Van Duysen and Doshi Levien.

“The world is changing because of design; on the other hand, design keeps changing shape, importance, meaning. It is amazing to see that many of the designers who work with B&B Italia are not Italian. In this context, a business cannot stand still; it must find ways to operate in this new world. This involves financial partnerships, collaborations. The view of the world must change and evolve.” This is the conclusion Dejan Sudjic reaches when analysing B&B Italia .

B&B Italia. Poetry in the shape. When design meets industry.

“Until yesterday, I thought that making furniture in the Brianza district of Italy was a matter of glue, wood, paints and money. Now I think I know it is something else entirely: it is about new-frontier figures, rough on the outside but brimming with imagination; people who are alive, eager for adventure and risk; people who are almost unimaginable in this country of bureaucracy and clients.”

Giorgio Bocca
After a meeting with Piero Busnelli