The slender arms and back of Gordon Guillaumier’s Jermyn sofa help to reduce its visual mass and are complemented by the space underneath resulting from raising the seat above the floor on thin metal legs
When a company steps outside of its comfort zone and diversifies into a new product area, it needs to be confident that it has the capability to do it well. Fortunately for Italian furniture brand LEMA, which is known for its modular shelving and storage systems, when it chose to add upholstered furniture to its product range last year it was able to use its considerable knowledge of customisable industrial manufacturing to create a sofa collection that meets a key demand of contemporary living; the need for flexibility and personalised solutions. Three new sofas launched at the 2014 Salone del Mobile have bolstered the choice available to customers, who can tweak the designs to meet their individual requirements.
An exaggerated seam – a detail also seen in Guillaumier’s Mustique sofa from the debut collection – draws attention to the upholstery’s tailored craftsmanship
The capability to develop customisable sofas is a consequence of LEMA's heritage as one of Italy's leading manufacturers of versatile storage systems for the living room and bedroom. Founded in 1970 by the Meroni family, which had already been making home furnishings in Italy's Brianza region for several decades, LEMA's breakthrough came when it began investing in machinery to industrially produce modular furniture created in collaboration with leading architects. Products such as Lo Scaffale, a free-standing shelving system designed by Tito Agnoli in 1978 and produced in a wide range of dimensions and finishes, helped establish LEMA as on of Italy's most innovative manufacturers of tailor-made furniture.
Aberdeen by officinadesign LEMA has a vintage look influenced by classic sofas, which is brought up-to-date with details like the accurate folds in the fabric cover
The sofa is available in two or three seat versions and epitomises the notion of updated classics that defines the new collection
Having developed a successful range of storage solutions and complementary products including tables, chairs and beds, the sofa collection launched at last year's Salone del Mobile provided the missing piece in LEMA’s collection of furniture for domestic living spaces. "The aim of the company is to present a whole house furnished by LEMA," says the firm’s president, Angelo Meroni, adding that their existing expertise informed the design of versatile products. "As our core business is made-to-measure systems, we have been able to develop upholstered furniture which is very modular so it can be adapted to any home."
LEMA’s debut sofa collection included two products by Milanese designer Francesco Rota; a modular system of chunky upholstered elements called Cloud, and a deep sofa called Snap that can be adapted for linear or corner arrangements. Maltese designer Gordon Guillaumier created Mustique, a sofa with metal legs and an upholstered frame supporting the cushions, while Christophe Pillet’s Ocean Drive design features angular arms and seat cushions that give it a modern look. Each of the products was developed in line with LEMA's focus on laid-back living, and they are all available in different sizes, fabrics and configurations to match the needs of the customer.
The Yard sofa system by Francesco Rota combines upholstered seats with practical surfaces and storage that reflect LEMA’s specialism in modular furniture
A fabric-covered surface supports the back rests, which are slightly inclined to promote relaxed lounging
The new sofas continue to emphasise the importance of customisation and versatility, taking classic sofa shapes as their starting point and updating them with additional functions and modern detailing. The most adaptable of the three products is Yard by Milanese designer Francesco Rota, which comprises upholstered modules combined with practical table surfaces and storage units that can be arranged in numerous configurations. A thin, fabric-covered metal surface raised above the floor on a simple frame supports the various elements, which include cushions, armrests and the solid units.
By combining simple and stylish upholstery with LEMA's expertise in producing storage solutions, Rota's design responds to the multifaceted needs of contemporary consumers. "Overall, hybrid furniture is something which is a really big trend in design today,"Angelo Meroni points out. "Also, customers want to be able to furnish smaller living spaces without losing functionality." The option of integrating small bookshelves, drawers for hiding clutter or table surfaces of different heights makes Yard a true hybrid – a multipurpose space for relaxing, reading, working and entertaining.
Francesco Rota’s Cloud sofa system was launched at last year’s Salone del Mobile and comprises chunky upholstered units in different shapes and sizes that can be combined to create a lounging landscape
The second sofa launched by LEMA in Milan draws inspiration from the celebrated tailors of London's Jermyn Street. Gordon Guillaumier's design evokes bespoke fashion in its customisable form, which can be specified in standard or corner configurations. Its slender back and arm rests lean outwards to accommodate the supporting cushions and create a less imposing form. A prominent seam runs along the edge of the back and arms, highlighting the careful fabrication and reinforcing the notion of a tailor-made product.
Officinadesign LEMA, the firm's creative studio, has created the Aberdeen sofa, whose vintage styling and comfortable shape is at home in contemporary or eclectic environments. The classic look and proportions are supplemented by details such as twisted rat-tail cord surrounding the seat cushions.
Gordon Guillaumier designed the Mustique sofa with a relaxed and straightforward shape which is softened by upholstering the base as well as the cushions and armrests
Through their understated elegance and attention to detail, the new products reveal the influence of LEMA's art director, the Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni. Having collaborated with the company since 1994, Lissoni has overseen its creative development and instigated partnerships with some of the world's leading designers, including Nendo, Toan Nguyen, Neri & Hu, Werner Aisslinger and Tokujin Yoshioka. "We like to experiment and to investigate and a constantly evolving relationship with different creative minds is crucial to this," claims Meroni. "Piero Lissoni works closely with the designers and with us to mediate and to oversee the consistency of our offer so it expresses our mood and DNA at its best."
The contemporary look of Christophe Pillet’s Ocean Drive design results from its curving upholstered seat, back and arms, which meet at angled intersections and mean additional cushions aren’t required
LEMA's focus on innovation extends from its designers and manufacturing practices to the facilities where the products are made. It recently constructed a new building at its factory north of Milan with a roof covered in solar panels that helps it generate all of its own energy. Meroni says he is proud of this innovative implementation of sustainable technologies, which demonstrates the company’s commitment to more efficient and responsible manufacturing.
As well as exploring new product ranges, designer collaborations and sustainable technologies, the forward-thinking firm is enjoying success through its contract division and dedicated office furniture company, and is looking at growing its presence in regions including North America and Asia. At a time when many of Italy’s premier design brands are struggling with the fallout from the country's faltering economy and competition from nations capable of producing low-cost furniture in high volumes, LEMA's strategy is to build on its Italian heritage and expand into new markets where quality is appreciated. "As an Italian company we are lucky because we can communicate an amazing tradition and lifestyle around the world,” says Meroni. “People are eager for quality and this is something strongly linked to our history and soul."
Rota’s Snap sofa features simple geometric lines and generous upholstery, resulting in a comfortable seat that can be customised by changing the length, configuring it as a corner unit and adding poufs
With a continued focus on quality and innovation, LEMA is growing and evolving while maintaining its core competence as a leading manufacturer of functional furniture systems. The latest sofa collection launched in Milan demonstrates the company’s desire to identify innovative solutions that respond to the needs of its customers and the constantly shifting requirements of modern living. With a heritage based on modularity and customisability, LEMA is well-positioned to make the most of the current trend for individuality. “Customers are keen to have furniture that is unique, so personalisation is very interesting to them,” concludes Meroni. “Those investing in design tend to be attracted to unique pieces and our philosophy fits that brief perfectly.”