Urquiola Debuts “Bend Sofa” at Luminaire

World-renowned architect and industrial designer, Patricia Urquiola was in Coral Gables, Florida to present her latest creation for B&B Italia, the innovative “Bend Sofa” at the Luminaire showroom. Luminaire, a pioneering force in the design world for over 37 years is a landmark for the best contemporary design.

Luminaire founders, Nasir and Nargis Kassamali, welcomed Urquiola during an evening lecture and champagne reception also attended by B&B Italia’s CEO, Stefano Ferro. Many of Urquiola’s other original designs for B&B Italia were on display throughout the Luminaire showroom, such as her Fat-Fat Series, Tufty-Time line and the outdoor Canasta series.

The “Bend Sofa” was a design challenge. It had to be affordable – half the price of the other sofas —  yet needed to be as luxurious and comfortable as the more expensive options. At Urquiola’s insistence, B&B Italia developed a technique to inject more air in the sofa’s foam. Her design conveys the idea of motion by alternating full and empty spaces and has a playful, asymmetrical silhouette. No surprise, it was an immediate hit at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair.

Design icon Urquiola, who was born in Oviedo, Spain, has achieved stratospheric success in an industry dominated by men. The output and variety of her designs are on par with Antonio Citterio, Philippe Starck and Piero Lissoni yet at 49, she’s the baby of the group. Her Milan-based company, Studio Urquiola, is quickly outgrowing its present location.

Last year, Urquiola completed W Hotels’ latest resort, a $150 million retreat on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and the $194 million design of the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona. Other projects included a Marriott hotel in Barcelona with Ian Schrager, a line of award-winning bath fixtures for Axor, sets for a Monteverdi opera in Spain, and interiors for the fashion fair Pitti Uomo, in Florence. BMW tapped her to imagine a car designed by and for a woman. Plus, there’s the house in New York she designed for her friend Patrizia Moroso, CEO of the eponymous furniture company. Tired yet?

Even before Urquiola starts talking, you feel her electrifying energy. All smiles, she’s genuinely warm and welcoming and sparks fly when she talks.  I’m not kidding. Interviewing her requires concentration. She talks a mile a minute and words tumble out as her mouth tries to keep up with all the thoughts firing around in that spectacular brain. Utterly delightful!

She starts in English and switches to Italian to talk to Alberto Zontone, Urquiola’s companion of nine years, father of their five year-old daughter Sofia. Urquiola also has a 15 year-old daughter Julia, from a first marriage. Zontone is CEO and head of marketing for Studio Urquiola and the calm to her storm. She then switches into Spanish when she realizes I speak it and announces cheerfully, “great, we’ll do the interview in Spanish, I always have to speak Italian!”

DAISY: How did you conceptualize this sofa design?
The question was how would the high-end B&B client respond to lower priced furniture. You always have to balance rigor and emotion for objects for the home. The prototype has to talk — even when commercializing an object, it should not lose energy… that is correct industrial design.

DAISY: What was your first piece for B&B?
The Fat Fat sofa. I’m very lucky, I do what I love and travel the world presenting products which in the end turns into a cultural exchange! I was in India presenting a line of faucets now I’m in Miami to debut the Bend sofa!

DAISY: What’s the most interesting new architecture in Miami?
Absolutely the 1111 Lincoln parking structure built by visionaries Robert Wennett and Mario Cader-Frech who also live on the top floor.

DAISY: Great! They’re very dear friends of mine! Why 1111?
It’s a miracle really, marvelous like something from filmmaker Luis Bunuel, it’s my roots… the first films I ever saw before Fellini. Bunuel, he focuses on the concept of miracles, mystical dimensions, innovation. The 1111 Lincoln building goes way beyond a mere building! It’s at everyone’s reach. For $15 you can be part of it. As an architect, I appreciate the effort of the work. There’s little to explain! My sister who lives here, calls it “her” parking. Mario (Cader-Frech) showed me cell phone video of a wedding that took place on the fifth floor. We had dinner at Mario and Robert’s house there and it defies logic! They’ve created an iconic space and created a new relationship integrating with the street level.

DAISY: What was the first piece that really put you on the map?
In 2001 the Fjord chair which came out of a trip to Scandinavia. It’s in MoMA’s collection.

DAISY: Where and how does your creative process begin?
I listen to the briefing the company gives me, whether it’s for furniture or an object. I work with several companies, have great relationships, some give me a briefing, or say “bring whatever pops into you head.” I have no problem creating, the key is, it has to interest me. I know I’m interested when I fall in love with the process.

DAISY: Where does your actual designing begin?
Paper many times, then computer and straight to building the prototype. Sketching sounds very romantic, (laughs) but the human brain thinks in 3-D so it’s very natural for me to go from the brain to the hands. I think with my hands!

DAISY: What best describes you? Architect or designer?
My approach to design is in my DNA. If I have to, I would choose industrial designer. My foundation is lifestyle objects and the atmosphere where it all happens, it’s fundamental — but I do move between design and architecture easily. I have the foundation and training of architecture as I design.

DAISY: Aside from the obvious: recognition, financial reward, etc., what’s a benefit of success you really appreciate?
The ability to be picky. Relationships are important to me and I do not work anymore with people I don’t like. I turn down many opportunities. I know I can be difficult. It’s good I have to work with many firms. If you give me only one company, I think they will kill me!

Daisy Olivera


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