Re-designing an everyday material

When I look at the transparent body of a Kartell Bourgie Lamp, with its refined finishing and stylish curves, it seems to me that it is made from pure crystal. It’s surprising to discover that such an elegant piece of lighting is made from a much more common material … plastic.



Bourgie Lamps | Ferruccio Laviani, 2004



Kartell was founded by Giulio Castelli in 1949


We often think of plastic objects as containers for something else. Whether they are the drink bottles, snack bags or printer cartridges, it doesn’t matter how attractive they are, once we have finished using whatever is inside, we will throw them away. Kartell is a brand that made a name by re-conceiving the role of this popular, but unpretentious material. In this project Kartell was joined by  the great names of interior design. Italian designers such as Gae Aulenti, Achille Castiglioni and Marco Zanuso and Joe Colombo all succeeded in transforming common objects and materials into extremely fascinating, but functional, works of art.



Re Sole Table Lamp | Gae Aulenti, 1967 



The icons of Kartell’s historic plastic design


Giulio Castelli, a chemical engineer who began his career producing plastic car accessories and household products, founded Kartell in 1949 in a small town near Milan. The first design Kartell produced was a ski rack. Created by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi in collaboration with Pirelli, it was born from Giulio Castelli’s passion for skiing. All of the elements of the Kartell philosophy – passion, simplicity and daring – were present in this first project.


An ad from the 1950s for Kartell and Pirelli's

An ad from the 1950s for Kartell and Pirelli’s ski rack


It was in the ’50s and ’60s that Kartell’s household department formed. During that time, under the supervision of Gino Colombini, Kartell gave birth to some of most amazing pieces of furniture design. Created in 1958, the lighting section produced unique creations such as the  KD27 Table Lamp by Joe Colombo.



KS 1481 Lemon Squeezer | Gino Colombini, 1959



KD27 Lamp | Joe Colombo, 1967



Componibili tondi | Anna Castelli Ferreri, 1969


Kartell also developed the first chair in the world created entirely from plastic. It was a joy for moms because it was the right size for children as well as light, stackable and washable.  The tiny chair was not only pleasantly attractive, but also a triumph of functionality.



4999 Kids Chair | Marco Zanuso & Richard Sapper, 1964



An ad for the 4999 Kids Chair


Designed by Joe Colombo in 1968, the 4867 Chair was born after he experimented with many different materials.  The simple and linear chair is a long time Kartell best seller.  Currently exhibited in some of the most important museums worldwide, it’s a clear example of the saying “less is more.”



4867 Chair | Joe Colombo, 1968



Famous designer Joe Colombo with his creation


Today Kartell continues to be at the forefront of design with bold pieces from top designers. Just a few of Kartell’s iconic pieces include the revolutionary Bookworm bookshelf designed in 1994 by Ron Arad, the world-famous Louis Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck and the Bourgie Lamp by Ferruccio Laviani.


Bookworm | Ron Arad, 1994

Bookworm | Ron Arad, 1994



Napoleon Stool | Philippe Starck, 1999



Louis Ghost Chair | Philippe Starck, 2002


In the end, what has allowed Kartell to become such an important Italian design brand is the combination of functionality and fun that makes its products wonderful to use and look at.  Starting with what seemed liked a utilitarian and perhaps boring material, Kartell’s creativity has led the history of Italian design.