Michele Cazzaniga, Simone Mandelli and Antonio Pagliarulo are the trio behind the dynamic CMP design studio based in Como, Italy. In this region of Northern Italy design is writ large. In the late 19th century, as Italy was reunified, the region became a center of the Industrial Revolution, adding to its glorious past in textile production and furniture makers. Then, in the post-war Second Renaissance the region cemented its reputation as a crossroads of ideas and design. It’s in their studio, here that CMP develop different design projects, and where they have gained a reputation for fostering dialogue between all members of a collaboration. Together with Dan Nussbaum and Pablo Reich, President and Executive Vice-President of Arconas, CMP worked on various creative aspects of the Atelier Keaton brand as well as the Amelia sofa.
Design Writer, Karen Burshtein, sat down with Michele Cazzaniga to discuss CMP’s design process and working with Arconas to establish Atelier Keaton.
Tell us about CMP
Antonio, Simone and I first met in 2001 while attending Politecnico di Milano for Industrial Design. We studied and did workshops together for three years and met up again in 2009. After university I did some experience for Flos, and other companies in the Milan area. Antonio and Simone worked on design projects in Brazil and Switzerland. We opened our studio in Brianza, the de facto capital of the Milanese modern design movement. It’s really the place where most of the important design companies in Italy are based. The area is full of workshops for cabinet makers, a tradition that dates back to the French who came to make furniture for the royal palace after the French King conquered Milan. The furniture and product design courses we three did in Como were designed around a network that gave students access to these workshops. In the ten years we’ve been together as CMP we’ve designed many chairs, tables, sofas, graphics for different clients all around the world. The first CMP project was the Cartesio faucet by Ceadesign that is still in production.
What more can you tell us about Italy that explains it as a center for design?
We have an aesthetic background that comes from history, from Greeks to Roman to Renaissance. From the beginning of the Second Renaissance, the post-war design movement, we became known for expertise not only with furniture but also in fashion, wine, automotives, buildings, design in industrial products. In the 1950s, companies such as Bossani, Cassini, Flos, opened more ateliers in Northern Italy, around Milan and the Como area. You could obtain every material and fabric: aluminum, metal, wood plastic. Vitra and many others have their suppliers here because of the renown of the area. Still today, there is a lot of creativity here because of the variety of manufacturing, industries, politics and finance all of which makes Northern Italy a center for the exchange of ideas that strengthens all of the industries. The result is we do things very well, we are always pushing limits.
How do you as a company approach product and furniture?
Design is dialogue. A creative process is set in motion by dialogue coming from different perspectives, and along the way, questioning ideas to preserve the poetry expressed in the original concept. In the studio, too, dialogue is the key to developing new ideas, through comments, critiques, and contributions from each view point. Good design lies in the ability to relate with all actors at all stages of the production process: workers, technicians, end consumers, business owners, and, especially, artisans. People who know "how to do", the keepers of a culture based on experience, tests, experiments with materials. These craftsmen have always been the “teachers", in the traditional sense of the word, passing down their knowledge and transmitting their love for the job.
It’s very important that the people creating things feel part of the process. We really nurture this philosophy.
Interesting! Tell us more about this idea and how it guides you in your work.
Conviviality will save the world! In our first works together, we’ve focused on objects that facilitate conviviality. In other words, objects that do not create any distinction between users. And those that create space for the joy of being together. We believe that conviviality is an opposing concept to consumerism and it is a very strong characteristic among Mediterranean peoples. Perhaps it is our habit to stay together in front of a landscape, or in the midst of the swarming market of a square, in the shadow of a chirping arbor that leads us to design and to use objects for stay and rest. It’s interesting when speaking of the Mediterranean two words are immediately evoked in the collective imagination: the sea and the table. Both are surfaces of an omnidirectional exchange. Both, observed from a chair, lead us to reflect, to look at each other, to smile.
Tell us how you began the collaborations with Atelier Keaton/Arconas.
We were introduced to Dan and Pablo by mutual friends and colleagues in Paris during the Maison & Objet exhibition in 2019. We had a great talk and I think we liked each others’ mindsets from the first meeting. Some weeks later we all met again in Dan’s hotel lobby in Milan, during the Salone Mobile furniture fair. That meeting was beautiful. We learned how they started working in Arconas and took the company to the next level, with a lot of success and a lot of modesty. Starting with the airport bench, they had this philosophy of making things in the best way possible, of making the best product out there. They described their vision about Atelier Keaton and the kind of sofa they wanted to make. And they liked our sense of aesthetic and graphic. It was great to meet these young entrepreneurs, whose mentality is very modern with hope and optimism.
Can you share some of the first conversations you had about the brand and about the idea for the Amelia Sofa Collection?
They told us about their vision to produce luxury residential design with a high level of aesthetic and functionality, with a high configurability and absolutely the right proportions, for which the client could choose the dimension and color, and which could be sold online and then would be shipped and assembled by the client. We then began a dialogue. I can say we all delved very deep into the process, into the deep characteristic of the sofa. We had very intense exchanges and this is something we always crave. We always had meetings, email, phone calls. Everything was made with a sense of urgency, rationality, vision and optimism.
Tell us about some of the technical details of the Amelia sofa system?
Amelia comes from a precise and profound study of modern sofas. It's designed based on a very technological frame/chassis in order to satisfy comfort, aesthetic, configurability, shipping and assembling by the client. We wanted to communicate comfort even with the look of the cushions and the overall proportion of the sofa. Amelia’s frame is a high technology piece of design. We had to study the chassis to give us all the configurations we wanted. It was an industrial way of producing the piece. We presented three concepts and the fourth came naturally not forced. When we saw the last prototype, we were very happy about it. We think the sofa is a masterpiece: the silhouette in the space is something very important. It has to be elegant and proportionate. The Amelia Sofa is not too big, or intrusive. It’s the right ratio. The aluminum legs give a touch of industrial technology and organic sensuality.
What are some of your favorite features of the Amelia sofa?
Our favourite features are the overall proportions, the way the fabric suit is perfectly tailored but with a soft look, the curves that give shape to the legs. And its configurability.
What areas of product design are often overlooked in your opinion?
Sometimes in product design it is difficult to obtain functionality and aesthetic so sometimes the product neglects one or the other, based on the target consumer. Something that also is overlooked is sustainability. These are things we really take care of when we design.
Can you describe the work of a great product designer? What contributions do they make to the overall product?
Sometimes the designer may be overwhelmed by the anxiety to design new things. The production of ideas is increased in order to differentiate one’s work from that of other individuals (which, on the other hand, are animated by the same intentions). If designers experience their work as a way of affirming themselves as individuals, we will find many individual design experiences disconnected from each other. Many ideas, but also many garbage-ideas (constantly replaced by new ideas). However, the work of designers can be experienced as a service to the human species. To paraphrase Lamarck, “ designers can study the examples of the past, do the little that is needed to improve the solution of a problem to evolve the solution with the species!” In other words: “Do little!”: This exhortation contains an implicit invitation to better quality.
What do you think people want most in a sofa system today?
We think people nowadays mostly want a sofa that fits great in their space, both aesthetically and dimension wise. A sofa with a warm, comforting look, but with elegant and clean lines at the same time.