Grande Papilio ~ Putting Subconscious into Design

It all begins with Naoto Fukasawa designing the Papilio Dining Chair for B&B Italia in 2008. The Papilio’s uniqueness lies with its appearance of a continuous form from a single material. A year later, Naoto Fukusawa adopted the basic shape and new principles from his observations of people’s natural sitting behaviours to create an armchair and Ottoman set for B&B Italia – the Grande Papilio.

The Butterfly Winglets can be found on the Papilio Dining Chair

B&B Italia Grande Papilio by Naoto Fukasawa

As mentioned, the Grande Papilio began life with Naoto Fukusawa’s observations about how people use chairs when relaxing. It was found that people tend to move around and twist left to right rather than sitting still and upright in a chair when relaxing. Based on this principle, Naoto Fukusawa built a swivel base in the Grande Papilio to allow the person sitting in the chair to twist freely at their ease. Taking the cue from the opening wings of a butterfly, he spread the back of the armchair around its curved sides to wrap around the body and fit the person lounging in it like a glove. That explains how the chair gets its name “Papilio” which means butterfly in Italian. Naoto Fukasawa had said, “I wanted this kind of chair to look obviously comfortable: to have the kind of shape that “relaxation” might take if it were portrayed in a picture. There had to be something encompassing”.

Interview with Naoto Fukasawa on his Design Philosophy for the Papilio (Video by B&B Italia).

Doesn’t it look cushy and Inviting?

Unlike some contemporary designers, Naoto Fukusawa puts his trademark intuitive, no-nonsense approach above stylistic concerns. I interpret this as “No sacrificing of his design visions and concepts for visual appeals”. If you look at Naoto Fukusawa’s designs, you will find that it is often simple and understated. It may not have the bangs and booms of attractive and loud designs such as Konstantin Grcic’s One Series of Skeletal Chairs and Stools for Magis or Patricia Urquiola’s Re-Trouvé Chairs and Table for Emu. But in place, Naoto Fukasawa’s designs offers proportions and harmonic balance of forms and calmness through visual simplicity. I don’t know if this can be attributed to his previous design role in Muji which is known for its simplicity and minimalism.

Naoto Fukasawa is the Master of Minimalism. Perfect blend with Patricia Urquiola’s Bend Sofa

I had recently read about Naoto Fukasawa’s design philosophies in events organised by Singapore Furniture Industries Council (SFIC). His insights made during his speeches and workshops for the Furniture Design Forum 2011 and Design Inevitable Workshop brought me deeper interest in his designs. During the Furniture Design Forum 2011, he spoke about the evolving interaction between the environment and form and how our bodies would instinctively make conscious choices according to what was given and understand the interaction between different forms. In another Singapore Workshop Event, Design Inevitable, Naoto Fukasawa guided the young Singaporean Designers through a thinking process to sketch actions that people subconsciously perform on a day-to-day basis and to incorporate the element of the human touch into their furniture designs. We can see this design philosophy in full works in his design of the Grande Papilio for B&B Italia. It is after I read about his design philosophy that truly gets me interested in the Grande Papilio. This is one design that does not hit me like a bullet train, but rather, grows on me slowly. I like it for its singular form and wing backs that embraces the body.

The Family of Grande and Mini Papilios

I shall leave this post with a powerful statement made by Naoto Fukasawa at the beginning of the Design Inevitable Workshop last year in Singapore:

“Minimalism is about creating harmony, not just about making it simple.”


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