Antonio Citterio and B&B Italia’s New York Flagship
A new B&B Italia flagship opened on Madison Avenue in September, 40 years after the Italian design house’s first New York store. The new space was designed by Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel Interiors to reflect an international lifestyle and feature both Maxalto and B&B Italia collections. We spoke with Citterio about the project, which coincides with B&B Italia’s 50th anniversary year.
WHITEWALL: The new B&B Italia flagship on Madison Avenue is on the ground floor of a building designed in 1910 by John B. Snook Sons Studio for Terry & Tench Company (which provided steel for the Manhattan Bridge and Grand Central). How did the origins of the building and the history of the space tie into the design approach, if at all?
ANTONIO CITTERIO: The project took into account the original industrial-like features of the building, maintaining the high volumes and eliminating the superfetation that had accumulated over the years with the different purposes the commercial space had been used for. Special attention was given to the perception of the original height of the ceilings, which are higher than four meters, as well as to the design of the existing entrance door and windows, which were maintained as an element of the location’s historical memory.
WW: The store offers a new concept for product presentation for the brand. How so?
AC: Generally, B&B Italia and Maxalto products are presented in a more scenic manner, and in a single space: a dark box created to present them. Reflective false ceilings made with an innovative material create an increased sense of the space, emphasizing its double-height space. Large backlit images and sophisticated dividing elements in metal mesh are accompanied by a winter garden with luxuriant hydroponic plants.
The space is fluid, and the various areas, while connected to one another, offer a neat, well-defined interpretation, with the purpose of creating sets that suggest atmospheres, inspirations, and emotions, rather than articulating the space into traditional rooms.
WW: What kind of emotion and atmosphere did you want to convey outside of traditional settings of rooms?
AC: This space allowed us to present the products in a different way from the existing showroom on 58th Street, which we originally designed in 1988. Here on Madison Avenue, products, while still being displayed one next to the other in order to form ambiences, are presented in a sort of theatrical way; materials (reflecting ceilings, bronzed metal meshes, hydroponic plants) do not recall residential spaces anymore. The whole setting is more abstract, aiming at a more “spectacular” environment.
WW: You’ve designed quite a bit for the brand over the years, including the Édouard seating system, the Cozy small tables, the Eucalipto storage units, the Richard seating systems, and the Gio outdoor collection. How did your relationship with B&B Italia begin?
AC: Design stories are always stories of people. My drawings are almost simple sketches that express an idea. The rest is up to the story, the dialogue with the Research Center of B&B Italia, a company with which I have worked closely for 40 years now. In my specific case, of the relationship that began with Rolando Gorla and Federico Busnelli back in the mid-sixties. We all went to the Art Institute of Cantù in those days, so we are talking about almost 50 years of acquaintance.
In the area of products for the home, B&B Italia has always had this vision of the role of the company on the raw material, or on the production process, or on the design. The people that are part of B&B Italia have this sort of very clear vision, that design is not just a problem of expression, but something that encompasses all the processes that go into a project.
WW: Is there one project that stands out for you in particular?
AC: One product from B&B Italia I’m particularly fond of is the Charles sofa system by B&B Italia, dating back from 1997 and now available also in the outdoor version. First conceived for the living room of my apartment in downtown Milan, it was put into production and it’s still a best-seller after all these years.
It’s really difficult, in furniture design, to predict the possible success of a given product. Charles was a bet in terms of market approach and timing: It was presented at a time when traditional, “no-brand” furniture was still in huge demand, and owes its enduring success to both its shape and aesthetics. It was designed to replace the Sity, its original inspiration, keeping its typical fullness and range of possibilities but updating it, making it more contemporary, slender, in contrast with the ubiquitous models that stand on the floor.
This article is published in Whitewall’s winter 2017 Luxury Issue.