In Conversation With: Alain Gilles and Alessandro Busana

There are very few physical things that last a lifetime. The creative spheres of art, design and architecture are often the closest we can get to this kind of immortality. In 2016, Bonaldo celebrated their 80th birthday; an anniversary that heralded a lifetime spent making the everyday stylish. A key protagonist of the Made In Italy movement, they are a brand that seeks to design love at first sight, creating furniture that demands an emotional response whether it’s shock, lust, or inspiration.

As part of our new In Conversation series, we sat down with two of their most prolific designers, Alain Gilles (2012 Designer of the Year) and Alessandro Busana to discuss the future of homes, design and finding success through personality.

CHAPLINS Cop Dining Table by Bonaldo

1) There can be no doubt that we’re living in a golden era for design. Designers occupy the top spots in every industry and we are seeing a rapid innovation in the way we live, work and communicate. How is technology changing the way you design?

Alessandro: The designer represents the first step in the creation of a new product so we, more than anyone, have to be aware of the latest technologies and trends in order to be original in every sense. 3D printing is one such innovation, which allows the designer to touch something that a few minutes before was just a virtual volume on a display.

And then there is the Internet, a great inspiring hub of images, photos and videos from all over the world that act as windows into far-flung societies. Through these we can capture knowledge and inspiration, but they can also serve as a tool to verify if your new design concept already exists or is in production.  

Although everything is moving very fast in this fluid age, for me, the best tool at the designer’s disposal will always be curiosity. It’s funny, technology is often useless when you have to solve technical problems that require real and divergent solutions. For this, only the experience and ability of a craftsman will do.

In the end, technology can help us to make some steps of the project easier but the human touch remains the most important thing.

CHAPLINS Hula Hoop Dining Table

CHAPLINS Brno Armchair by Bonaldo

2) The ability to shape spaces according to our needs is widely regarded as a crucial component for the future of interior design. What role does the company see interior design playing in how we live, work and play in the future? And how are they preparing for it?

Alessandro: People want to live in a space that reflects their needs and yet the range of existing design solutions is almost never-ending. For a company and designer, it can be really difficult to hit the target because everyone’s tastes are so different. 

The answer is probably hidden in the world “personality”. The talent of the designer and the right marketing choices can create products and spaces rich in personality, which is often enough to capture people’s attention and create a sort of magic reaction … desire.

In an industrialized world awash with identical products, I think it’s important to create something unique that people actually want to have.

CHAPLINS Mille Dining Table

CHAPLINS WINTER SALE - Cuff Bed by Bonaldo 2

Alain: I would tend to agree with that. Just about everything we design as designers are tools for people to define their own lives, their own personality. People may be inspired by a style or a lifestyle, but they will never be able to fully replicate it, instead they take certain elements to show who they are and what they stand for.

CHAPLINS Frame Sideboard by Bonaldo

3) It’s funny you both mention that because one thing that sticks out for me when I think of Bonaldo’s bold designs is a fervent desire for contrast. From the inside out Blanket Bed to the Big Dining Table, Bonaldo has consistently surprised design lovers with their unique and highly personal collections. Could you tell us about two of your favourite Bonaldo designs and the impact you think they’ve had so far?

Alain: As a designer, I can only speak about my own designs for Bonaldo. I believe that the Eddy Armchair establishes a new level of customization and a new way of thinking about modern furniture. It takes cues from the world of cycling from a visual perspective but also from a construction point of view since the idea of a “quick release” is used to connect different parts of the seat.

The Eddy Armchair also outlines another way to live with our possessions, in that the user can adapt it to their specific personal needs. Leather side pockets that double as armrests or storage for magazines, tablets or remote controls behave a bit like bags put at the back of a bike. Likewise, a cushion and/or a plaid can also be stored close at hand at the back of the seat thus totally redefining the armchair’s typology.

CHAPLINS Eddy Armchair by Bonaldo

CHAPLINS Eddy Armchair - Detail Shot

Alain: We have also been working on the idea of how visual weight functions in a product. We started playing with this logic with the Mass Table, a modern dining table that is visually very present but also lightweight since one can see through its base.

Together, we then furthered this experimentation with the Assemblage Coffee Tables. In this instance, the mass that provides stability is made of cork, a material normally known for its lightweight, floating qualities. By presenting it as the weight that holds the table up, the product becomes a discussion between materials, opening up an intriguing dialogue for design lovers.

CHAPLINS Mass Dining Table by Bonaldo

CHAPLINS Assemblage Side Tables by Bonaldo

Alessandro: For the Blanket Bed, I tried to create something very far removed from the standard ways beds are designed and perceived. Something that still recalled the concept of cosiness and softness but with a detail able to surprise. I soon realized that the detail I was looking for wasn’t hidden but very visible in the bed… the blanket.

I decided to change the rules and use the blanket like the bed structure, a soft and mouldable platform that once rolled-up, became the bed’s headboard.

CHAPLINS Blanket Bed by Bonaldo

CHAPLINS Blanket Bed by Bonaldo - DETAIL SHOT

Alessandro: Another product I’d like to mention is “Theduck”, an irreverent object made by a design approach that was more instinctive, almost metaphysical. In this case, the contrast is not about the material mix but about something unreal, something that you’d never find in the real world.

This stylized version of a duck becomes a metaphor for a pet, a helpful and ironic object that, thanks to its mad nature, has no rules and can be allowed in every ambient of the home.

CHAPLINS Theduck by Bonaldo

4) How does Bonaldo approach collaboration with its designers? Are you given creative freedom to design at will or do they have an idea of what they’d like you to produce first?

Alessandro: My first contact with Bonaldo was by e-mail, regarding a project (the Medley Table) that I’d sent them. I personally don’t like this approach although it is not an unusual method, rather a sign of the times in which the Internet is changing all of the rules.

After this successful first project we got to know each other in all professional aspects and there was a constant collaboration between us. 

I always try to present to Alberto Bonaldo and his team something straight from my imagination, but often it’s the case that the company ask me to design a particular object. There’s never a precise rule, simply a common desire to create something special and unique.

CHAPLINS Medley Table by Bonaldo

Alain: Bonaldo has always given a lot of freedom to the designers that they collaborate with. They will usually tell us in general what typologies of new pieces they are looking to introduce in the upcoming collection but are always open to innovative ideas. Of course, at one point, they decide if it fits their vision and their specific know-how.

As far as I am concerned, I have always been able to develop my own vision within the collection of Bonaldo. In a way, I almost feel as if I have my own line within their collection and it is probably the same for other designers that they collaborate with regularly. Then again their full collection is, and will always be, very Bonaldo!

CHAPLINS Big Table by Bonaldo

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