Cassina, 90 years of elegance and audacity

The famous Italian furniture manufacturer Cassina is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Inseparable from the history of design, the prestigious Italian company, an icon of Made in Italy, today owned by the Poltrona Frau group, has produced some of the most famous pieces of international design of the 20th century. A look back at an extraordinary saga..

It was in the Lombardy region of Meda, north of Milan, in 1927, that the brothers Cesare and Umberto Cassina founded their company. At the beginning of the adventure, the two entrepreneurs specialised in the production of furniture for the fitting out of cruise ships, as well as for hotels and high-end restaurants. Historically, the town of Meda was already known for producing chairs. The elder Umberto is in charge of the administrative and financial management of the company, leaving the creative and productive side of the business to his younger brother.

The company manufactured wooden furniture of classical design. It was not until the early 1950s that the family business began to forge links with Italian designers. Gio Ponti (1891-1979), the famous architect and designer, creator of the magazine Domus, began a collaboration with the Cassina brothers. This meeting was marked by the creation of elegant chair models, such as the 646 Leggera model of 1952 and the Superleggera (model 699) of 1957, a highly sought-after iconic piece.

Chaises Leggera, Gio Ponti, Cassina, 1952

Leggera chairs, Gio Ponti, Cassina, 1952

The second major encounter for Cassina was with Vico Magistretti, a great post-war Italian design talent who was also an architect and sought simplicity in his pieces. Free, cultured and of his time, Vico Magistretti

was to stamp the refined and elegant style of the Italian publisher for two decades.

Ensemble de 4 chaises Carimate, design Vico Magistretti pour Cassina, 1960

Set of 4 Carimate chairs, Vico Magistretti design for Cassina, 1960

However, if the Cassina brothers have the intelligence to publish the creations of tutelary figures of Italian design such as Gio Ponti, who unofficially holds the role of artistic director of the house, and Vico Magistretti, they remain attentive to the technical and societal evolutions of the time which agitate their environment. This is why, in 1961, they brought in Francesco Binfaré (1939), an atypical profile with a creative and experimental vision of design. Under his impulse, Cassina, known for the quality and refinement of its wooden furniture, gradually integrated into its production the new materials of the time, in particular the use of expanded polyurethane, which, used in the form of foam, revolutionised the industrial design of the time. In 1966 Francesco Binfaré was entrusted with the Centro Ricerche ( Cesare Cassina Centre ), a laboratory for design research sponsored by Cassina and C&B Italia (Cassina e Busnelli, another entity of the group that would become independent under the name B&B). Cesare Cassina and Francesco Binfaré understood the new aspirations and values of the society of the 1960s. Their laboratory was the ideal playground for expressing them. In 1972, on the occasion of the now cult MoMA exhibition, Italy: The New Domestic Landcape, Binfaré, with the help of architect Mario Bellini

, exhibited a new kind of concept car: the Kar-a-Sutra, a rolling minivan fitted out for living in, the perfect hippie combi!

Kar-aSutra, Mario Bellini et le Centre de Recherches Cassina, 1972

Kar-aSutra, Mario Bellini and the Cassina Research Centre, 1972

Le Kar-a-Sutra, prototype roulant présenté au MoMA en 1972. Conception Mario Bellini et le Centre de Recherches Cassina

The Kar-a-Sutra, rolling prototype presented at MoMA in 1972. Designed by Mario Bellini and the Cassina Research Centre

Another important stage in the 1960s marked the Cassina adventure. In 1964, Cesare Cassina, together with the Italian entrepreneur Dino Gavina, who two years earlier had founded the Italian lighting company Flos, decided to include the great classics of modern design in the company’s catalogue. They contacted Le Corbusier and acquired the rights to publish models by the great Swiss master. In 1965, the year of Le Corbusier’s death, Cassina’s cult collection “Cassina I Maestri” – Cassina and the Masters – took shape with a first collection of four pieces. The LC4 chaise longue

, a cult piece of modern design, was included.

Chaise Lounge Cassina LC4, design : Le Corbusier, Perriand et Jeanneret, 1930. Editée chez Cassina officiellement en 1965. La chaise est toujours éditée chez Cassina, dans la fameuse collection Cassina I Maestri

Cassina LC4 Lounge Chair, design: Le Corbusier, Perriand and Jeanneret, 1930. Published by Cassina officially in 1965. The chair is still published by Cassina, in the famous Cassina I Maestri collection

Within a few years, Cassina acquired the publishing rights to the great names of 20th century design, including Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Frank Lloyd Wright and later, in the 2000s, Charlotte Perriand and Franco Albini. The collection of masters still contributes to Cassina’s reputation. Above all, by developing rigorous technical processes to manufacture historic and prestigious pieces, Cassina established its reputation as a remarkable publisher. The year 1979 marked the end of a cycle. Cesare Cassina, the architect of Cassina’s success in the world of design, died, as did Gio Ponti. The youngest of the Cassina brothers had succeeded in forging bonds of friendship and trust with the greatest designers, such as Mario Bellini and Gaetano Pesce

, to whom he was very close.

Siège 401 Break, Mario Bellini, 1976, Cassina

401 Break chair, Mario Bellini, 1976, Cassina

Mario Bellini, Table La Basilica, 1977, Cassina

Mario Bellini, La Basilica table, 1977, Cassina

Fauteuil Sit Down pour Cassina, 1975, design Gaetano Pesce. Une pièce d'une forme étonnante au goût pop

Sit Down armchair for Cassina, 1975, design by Gaetano Pesce. A surprisingly shaped piece with a pop flavour

After a period of transition in the 80s and 90s, it was the enfant terrible of French design, Philippe Starck, who woke up the sleeping beauty at the end of the last century. In his wake, designers rediscovered the incredible cultural and scientific heritage of the great house and its know-how. Today, the greatest names in design and architecture collaborate with Cassina: Konstantin Grcic, Rodolfo Dordoni, Jean Nouvel, Piero Lissoni, Jaime Hayon, Oraïto, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, etc… Under the artistic direction of Patricia Uquiola, Cassina continues to write its legend


Written by François Boutard