People + Places

A Day at the Kartell Museum

During our time in Italy, we did our best to split our time between the wonders of Milan Design Week and other off-site activities. One of them was a visit to Kartell’s museum about…well, Kartell.

There, we got the chance to learn about the heavy hitting brand’s background and how it has developed into the well-known international brand it is today.

Primarily open to private tours and PR events, the museum was kind enough to give us an exclusive tour that was like stepping through time. We got to get up close with a multitude of innovative and award-winning pieces that put Kartell on the map (and has kept it there for more than 60 years).

With the large and growing collection on display, it was quite easy to get lost in the established and award-winning museum’s vast assortment, which won the Premio Guggenheim Impresa & Cultura for the best corporate museum in 2000. But, to keep things simple, we’ll start from the beginning.

Contrary to popular belief, Kartell didn’t start off producing their famed plastic lighting and furniture. Instead, the company started off with accessories focused on functionality. Under the leadership of Giulio Castelli (a young chemical engineer driven to create inexpensive products that combined technology and design to meet consumer needs), Kartell was founded in 1949. Within that same year, the company released their first product: the KS101, a highly practical, lightweight and easy-to-install ski rack.

While this piece didn’t win them any awards just yet, it wasn’t long until the company won its first Compasso d’Oro award for the covered bucket, KS1065, a few years later in 1955.

Lamp 4006

Then came lighting. In 1959, the lighting division of Kartell was born with the Lamp 4006. Developed to be functional and environmentally friendly, the brand’s first suspension lamp help segue the company into the home furnishings industry through the recognition of lighting’s important role in the home.

K4999 Chair

With five Compasso d’Oro awards under its belt, Kartell released the first chair in the world made entirely out of plastic in 1964: the K1340 (later renamed the K4999). The child-sized chair marked the beginning of Kartell’s furniture manufacturing, and put the company on the industry map.

Within 3 years, the company made the first adult side all-plastic chair: the Universale, a structurally strong and pragmatic seat suitable for indoor and outdoor use.

Dr. Glob Chair and Miss Balu Table by Philippe Starck, from Kartell

With many design firsts and awards in the company’s wake, it became clear to see that Kartell was nowhere near slowing down. Fast forward to 1988, when Philippe Starck teamed up with Kartell to design Dr. Glob, the world’s first square plastic chair finished with pastel colors and an opaque surface. The chair embodied a “democratic luxury” with a mixed-use of materials that effectively elevated the status of plastic from its previously developed “cheap” social stigma.

From there, Kartell continued to use plastic’s properties to their advantage through inventive and modern designs.

Background (l. to r.): Masters Chair & Stool, Toobe Lamps, Take Table Lamp, Cindy Table Lamp, Battery LED Table LampTati Lamp, Taj Table Lamp, Light-Air Table Lamp; Foreground (l. to r.): Invisible Table, Uncle Jack Sofa, Uncle Jim Armchair

As we completed our tour of the museum, it goes without saying that we gained a much better understanding of and appreciation for the brand we know and love today. Kartell’s vast collection of inventive pieces exemplifies the brand’s overarching philosophy: good design available to as many as possible.

Aimed at educating the public on the cultural value around industrial production, the brand continues to evolve through experimentation with materials, aesthetics, and technology in an effort to drive the brand forward. Built on innovation since the beginning, Kartell has never needed to look to the past for a clearer vision of the future.

Yvette C.

Yvette C.

Yvette is a Site Merchandiser for YLiving. Her deep appreciation for design stems from a background in art history and interior design. During her off hours, she enjoys ogling cute animals, reading, catching up on TV series, following blogs, and enjoying the quirks of California's Bay Area.

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