The ICON | Camaleonda Sofa

  • WORDS Stephen Crafti
  • We learn more about the iconic Camaleonda sofa by Mario Bellini – reissued in 2020 by B&B Italia – and why it’s even more popular the second time around.

    Baby boomers will fondly recall the way people entertained in the early 1970s. Milling around a cocktail bar or happily ensconced in a modular lounge, the conversations had to compete with the sound of music blaring out of the stereo. Timing is everything in the design world, and it couldn’t have been timelier when Mario Bellini released his Camaleonda Sofa for B&B Italia in 1972. As mentioned by Mario Bellini, “Of all the objects I have designed, Camaleonda is perhaps the best in terms of its freedom. There is an infinite number of configurations.”

    Produced in partnership with Space Furniture

    Mario Bellini’s raison d’etre for this design partially stems from his dissatisfaction with other lounges on the market at that time. Considerably more restrained, these lounges perhaps fitted into another time and didn’t respond to the younger generation’s desire for both generous seating and more adventurous clothing. At the same time, there was a push towards the future, with man’s recent landing on the moon in 1969. So, what better way than to launch Bellini’s Camaleonda Sofa? The sofa reflects two Italian words combined, one being ‘camaleonte’ translated to chameleon, an animal capable of adapting to its environment, and ‘onda’ meaning wave.

    Rather than being a static piece of furniture, the Camaleonda Sofa can be easily transformed by undoing tie rods from rings attached to each module (900 by 900 millimetres) with headrests and armrests easily reconfigured to suit a space, whether an apartment or in the living room of a sprawling home. Originally presented as two armchairs framing two chairs between, the design was an instant hit when it featured in the exhibition ‘Italy and the New Domestic Landscape’. Held at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in 1972, architecture ‘morphed’ into furniture and those attending enjoyed a ‘happening’ experience, walking through the exhibits, many of which were sci-fi directed (think plastic and celestial in form).

    The Camaleonda Sofa | Photograph courtesy of Space Furniture

    Camaleonda Sofa Vintage Poster | Courtesy of B&B Italia Archive

    The Camaleonda Sofa | Photograph courtesy of Space Furniture

    Mario Bellini’s Camaleonda Sofa, with its soft and encompassing polyurethane padding, became a feature in many living rooms throughout the 1970s, ceasing production in 1979 in anticipation of the new angular designs heralded by the Memphis movement. But, with renewed interest in the 1970s gaining momentum since the early noughties, it was reintroduced to a new audience looking at this period in a slightly different light, with Mario Bellini working closely with B&B Italia’s Research & Development team. The cloud-like modules, now with additional modules and in a broader range of fabrics from leather to sumptuous velvets, create a new ‘contemporary landscape’ in our homes.

    The Camaleonda Sofa was recently purchased by stylist Simone Haag for an Arts & Crafts-style house in Hawthorn. The period house, renovated by architect David Neil, director of Neil Architecture, includes a new open plan kitchen, dining and living area. Simone Haag chose three different fabrics for the Camaleonda Sofa, in subtle shades of burgundy, including wine and a plum tone, offering different textures, as well as hues. “I love the way this sofa can easily change a space, whether you colour block the modules (Simone has gone with six modules) or creating a more random effect.” And to complement this colour scheme, there are navy accessories in the form of upholstery for a window seat, as well as a pale blue coffee table. “The Camaleonda Sofa was a classic when it was first released, but it’s as popular nearly 50 years later,” Simone adds.

    The Camaleonda Sofa | Photograph courtesy of Space Furniture

    The Camaleonda Sofa | Photograph courtesy of Space Furniture

    Sketch of the Camaleonda Sofa | Courtesy of B&B Italia Archive

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