In a new series created for SCP Contracts, we are looking at designs that have become iconic, whether new or old, functional or decorative. We are going to unearth the stories behind their creation and the personalities and companies responsible for bringing them into existence.
Designing for Cappellini
We begin with a number of products designed by Shiro Kuramata and produced by Italian manufacturer Cappellini, namely the Revolving Cabinet, Bookshelf and Progetti Compiuti storage series. These products, all of which are still in production, are beautiful examples Kuramata’s idiosyncratic approach to design and represent a high-point in the Italian furniture industry that was both outward looking and openly romantic.
In any field, whether artistic, scholarly or sporting, there are certain personalities that transcend the boundaries of their discipline; Shiro Kuramata is one such figure. In a piece recently published online entitled “In Search of Shiro Kuramata”, Dejan Sudjic, who wrote a monograph about his life and work for Phaidon in 2013, notes how hard it is to grasp his legacy. This is due in part to the fact that many of the interiors he created in the 60’s and 70’s are no longer in existence, but also because his work is “characterised by a kind of graceful immateriality” that is quite hard to pin down. “He was a designer who never expected his work to survive, but always saw it as a fragile, transient firework display, or an elegant soap bubble, beautiful but always temporary and always on the edge of vanishing.”
Kuramata was born in Tokyo in 1934 and is one of a generation of Japanese designers and artists to emerge in the post-war period who defied convention and developed their own modern sensibility, which stood apart from both Eastern and Western traditions. After initially studying architecture, Kuramata took an interest in furniture design while working at the Teikoku Kizai Furniture Factory in 1954 and then went on to train at the Department of Interior Design at the Kuwasawa Design Institute in Tokyo. Much of his early work focused on commercial interiors, and in 1965, at the age of 31, he founded the Kuramata Design Office, which he ran until his death in 1991. It is said that he designed more than 300 bars, restaurants and stores in the course of his career. Fashion designer Issy Miyake, for whom he designed store interiors, says of Kuramata, “He was hero for us in the sixties when I started my career in fashion. His usage of material to furniture in an unprecedented way was magical and had caught the heart of my generation. Had I not met Kuramata, my creation would have been different from what I do now.’