'1 plus 1 can equal more than 2', says Laufen's Director of Marketing and Products, Marc Viardot. The new Laufen by Kartell collection, the result of an intensive collaboration, is a space-defining, added-value total concept for the bathroom
When two heavyweights come together, there are often sparks. Think of Kennedy and Nixon. Federer and Nadal. Alien vs Predator.
But when leaders in their fields unite with collaboration in mind, it’s a whole different story.
That pioneer of industrial design Henry Ford understood that bringing together the talents and uniting his various teams under a clear creative vision was a sure means to delivering the best, most innovative products when he said ‘If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’ And so too have two of most respected manufacturers in the design industry – Kartell and Laufen. Kartell, the iconic Italian brand that has single-handedly transformed plastic into an aspirational design material, has partnered up with leading Swiss sanitaryware specialists Laufen, renowned for their innovation in high-end ceramic products for the bathroom, to create a completely new bathroom collection that mines the key competences of both companies.
Greater than the sum of its parts is the phrase that comes to mind when encountering ‘Kartell by Laufen’, a striking collection of ultra-thin-walled washbasins, WCs and bidets, bathtubs, furniture, storage and fittings, all conceived as a highly configurable programme by award-winning architects and designers Ludovica+Roberto Palomba. The Milan-based duo, who have enjoyed a long-standing creative relationship with Laufen, are known for delivering expressive, sculptural designs for bathroomware. This time, charged with creating a total system of products that would embrace the very design DNA of both manufacturers, they made the notion of dialogue their guiding principle, resulting in a body of work that is characterised by formal and visual, as well as material, lightness.
The ultra-precise lines of Laufen's washbasins, made of their material innovation SaphirKeramik, is echoed in Kartell's high-quality-plastic accessories, as well as in details like hidden drainage, inlaid LEDs and infinity overflows
Dialogue operates on two levels: on the one hand in terms of the individual products themselves, which share a design language that privileges strong, precise line and clearly defined volumes, and on the other in terms of the common language the two companies share with regard to material and technical innovation. ‘I wanted to introduce something new to the market for the bathroom,’ explains Kartell CEO Claudio Luti, ‘but to achieve this it wasn’t enough to use just plastic. Ceramic is very important and Laufen had developed the perfect new material. For me, it’s the number one.’
The material in question is Laufen’s revolutionary SaphirKeramik, which, developed over five years, allows for the first time sanitaryware to be designed with phenomenally narrow edge-radii of a mere 1 to 2 millimetres. Robust as they are visually spare, not to mention weighing much less than products manufactured from traditional vitreous china, the new range of ultra-rational washbasins in SaphirKeramik are agents of architecture. Their emphasis on line serves to delineate space optically and, in doing so, the products converse with the interior-architectural space in which they are installed.
Even on the level of detail, the uninterrupted continuity of line is preserved. The washbasins come, optionally, with hidden drainage, where waste water disappears under a narrow, linear opening. A concealed overflow has also been developed. The overflow in the bathtubs, meanwhile, takes a cue from the idea of the infinity pool and is located right at the top of the vessels, allowing, when the bath is full, liquid and solid to form a visual continuum. A strip of inlaid LED lighting also adds to the privileging of line, as well as helping create an atmospheric mise-en-scène.
Place these paradigm-shifting ceramic pieces into a comprehensive collection featuring technically sophisticated designs in high-quality plastic and you have a real synergy of form and content. ‘The ceramic and the plastic products in the Kartell by Laufen collection are so close in design,’ says Luti. ‘You can recognise that similarity immediately. And Laufen are strong in research, as we are in plastic. There aren’t that many differences.’
Colour becomes the prism through which the theatre of the bathroom interior is staged, with a palette of transparent hues, including tangerine orange and smoky grey, joined by opaque silver and gold, as well as a 24-carat gold plate
For Laufen – ‘true technicians of ceramic’ as Luti calls them – Kartell were also a natural fit. ‘We quickly discovered our common philosophy,’ says Director of Marketing and Products Marc Viardot. ‘A collaboration is a process in itself and so requires more time than the standard development process, which is one of the reasons why you don’t find many successful and sustainable collaborations on a larger scale. But we were able to define our common aims and, for the last year and a half of the project, met once a week, not only discussing the products, design and communication, but also looking beyond the way each of us normally does things, our usual business models.’
Effective collaboration is clearly a time-intensive, resource-heavy business. Viardot is, however, completely convinced of the reward. ‘The constant dialogue and sharing between Kartell and Laufen generated something of added value. A product of great emotion. This is an example of where 1 plus 1 can equal more than 2. Sharing is the new form of possession.’
What Laufen and Kartell have created together, shaped by Ludovica+Roberto Palomba’s finely honed designerly vision, is a total concept for the bathroom, where the levity of Laufen’s minimally drawn ceramic forms dovetails with the optical lightness of Kartell’s versatile family of stools and side tables, storage, shelving, mirrors and lamps, the space they occupy offset by their visual transparency. The result: a bathroom landscape that itself touches the ground lightly, lent architectural definition by the products specified for and placed within it.
'True technicians of ceramic' is how Kartell CEO Claudio Luti describes Laufen, while the latter's Marc Viardot describes the partnership as a 'royal wedding between complementary companies that make innovation and design the bedrock of their strategies'
Placed but not entirely fixed. The plastic components within the Kartell by Laufen scheme are moveable, interchangeable, and sometimes stackable, providing a true flexibility of overall design. What’s more, colour performs a key function here, with a considered palette of smoky grey, tangerine orange, amber, blue, and a completely transparent crystal, along with opaque silver, gold and a 24-carat gold plate, allowing a precise calibration of the mood of, and by extension one’s emotional response to, the bathroom environment. Colour becomes the prism through which the theatre of the space is staged and experienced.
But beyond the convergence of competence underpinning the Kartell by Laufen project, whereby two companies join forces and skills to offer something truly new to the market, the Italo-Swiss collaboration has clear benefits in brand terms. For Laufen, whose expertise in ceramic production has made it an obvious choice for architects and planners when specifying quality products for quality projects, aligning themselves with a world-leading design brand like Kartell means an even greater design-conscious audience. Meanwhile, the Italian manufacturer, which has managed to establish itself as a truly global brand with a strong retail presence, recognises how collaborating with Laufen can help it develop a stronger presence within the contract sector. And then there’s the mutual benefit of access to each other’s distribution channels, for a truly impressive reach.
If Kartell by Laufen is founded on the idea of dialogue, guided by a shared aesthetic and technical vision, all the signs are that this is going to be a long and compelling conversation. Listen up.
Developed under the creative direction of respected architect duo Ludovica+Roberto Palomba, the Kartell by Laufen programme functions as a flexible system that defines the interior landscape of the bathroom