Chiaro Chair by Leon Ransmeier for Mattiazzi

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By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell
American designer Leon Ransmeier's new chair, for Italian brand Mattiazzi, proves that simplicity trumps radicalism when it comes to seating.

Introduced at the 2014 Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Mattiazzi's Chiaro chair, designed by American Leon Ransmeier, is a study in simplicity. Mattiazzi is regarded for its streamlined wooden furniture made in Udine, Italy, since 1978, and for Chiaro, Ransmeier stripped down the properties of a seat until it resembled, well, the idea of a chair as much as its reality. We chatted with the designer about his latest design: 

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Leon Ransmeier designed the Chiaro chair for Italian furniture company Mattiazzi; the deceptively simple seat launched at the 2014 Salone Internazionale del Mobile.

Tell me about this product line for Mattiazzi.

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Ransmeier's Chiaro chair for Mattiazzi is not meant as a "radical" chair; instead, the designer explains, "The connections between the parts are direct and uncomplicated, and the structure under the seat (perhaps the most unique aspect of the design) evolved from an intention to simplify the joinery while reducing the total number of parts."

This project is my first collaboration with Mattiazzi. I've known [creative director] Nitzan Cohen for years, but I have to say I was a little surprised when he called me. 

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Chiaro comes with and without armrests and both versions stack for more efficient shipping and storage.

Why so?

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The chairs are available naturally finished in oak and in ash, as well as in white, gray, red, blue, yellow, and black stained ash.

Their roster is quite impressive . They’re big shoes to fill, so it's an honor to be included.

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The oak version of Chiaro, with armrests, designed by Leon Ransmeier for Mattiazzi.

Fill me in on Chiaro.

The name means several different things but the meaning I was most attracted to was "straight-forward": it's a very familiar chair and from the beginning, I wanted to make it to feel reliable. I do believe that radical objects can be intuitive and comfortable when they’re well-conceived, and sometimes those are the most important objects we have. But I also believe that our past experiences legitimize our expectations in a way, so when you want something reliable, sometimes you want something familiar. And that makes it comfortable.

It's really well thought out and well-designed. It’s like a kid’s drawing—a chair-chair.

A driving force in its design is the efficiency of manufacturing. The edge profile that’s used on the top and bottom of the backrest is also used on the front. So when you have these two elliptical profiles intersecting, it creates this edge-shape. Its applied here for ergonomic and comfort reasons because your arms don’t hit a sharp edge, but it also gives the chair some volume and some sort of character.

The same technique is used on the seat so this elliptical profile is a bit thicker, is also applied to the front edge. Mattiazzi is known for this very sophisticated, numerically-controlled manufacturing and nobody does it as well as they do. It's incredible. This chair has almost no CNC work on it. It's about straightforward quality that takes a great attention to detail. It's easy to mess up.

How long was the development process after they approached you about collaborating?

We worked on it for seven months. Generally, in my studio, that’s a short project. It’s been exciting.

Working with wood is very satisfying, because we build a lot of prototypes in the studio, and this is one of the rare cases in that the material we build the prototype out of is the same material that [the finished chair will be]. There’s a real sense of materiality from the beginning, which is hugely satisfying.

How did the process work?

My workshop is very simple. We have to be super resourceful and creative with how we make the models. We sent the photographs and computer geometry to Mattiazzi. It takes one day, maybe two, and they make a beautiful prototype, put it in a box, and send it back to me in New York. It was very fast: Things were changing in a week. I’ve never worked quite so spontaneously on what I consider to be an industrial product.

What else are you working on these days?

I’m working on a new project for Hernan Miller which is in development. And I just did a really fun project with the Glass Shop at the Corning Museum of Glass. It was so fun. I have to say, I love industrial design with all my heart but the spontaneity of this project was inspirational in a way. It really gets back to the basics.

Check out more coverage from 2014 Milan design week and Salone del Mobile here. 

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