The recent period of lockdown has prompted us all to think about domestic spaces, seeking hidden corners to outfit for remote working, exploiting any openings to the outside world, using spaces in different ways in the various moments of the day. We have felt the need for a more flexible, resilient home, a place of rapid transformation. A ‘nomadic’ home in the sense of a self-sufficient, equipped place that adapts to changing habits and necessities with special solutions that are easy to move and rearrange.
Many recent examples point to new typologies: such as Altaquota, designed by Lorenzo Damiani for Fontanot, a system of benches, shelves and consoles that starts with a multifunctional, space-saving ladder; Touch Down Unit by Studio Klass for Unifor, an independent domestic workstation that adapts to constant layout changes; or the Geta sideboard-bookcase by Baldessari & Baldessari for Bross, which adapts the appeal of its original storage function – the china cabinet – to the needs of home working.
As in other aspects of life, the recent pandemic has simply accelerated or underscored existing phenomena. Contemporary culture is in fact steeped in characteristics connected with nomadism, visible not only in the myriad of objects that permit activities in movement, but also in domestic settings. Starting towards the end of the 1990s, alongside major migratory flows caused by political changes and social emergencies, there have been movements of people increasingly willing to change city or nation for reasons of work or study, generating lifestyles in the spirit of “less is more”: less attachment to objects, more functional choices for furnishings, or homes to be lived in for a given period of time only.
But similar social changes and values have been attributed to the ‘nomad’ home prior to our historical present. The Italian reconstruction in the 1950s, followed by the rise of new generations in the 1960s with worldwide youth movements, led to the construction or adaptation of small lodgings for which special furnishings were developed to be mutable and transformable. The 1960s were also the time of the conquest of the moon – the voyage par excellence – ushering in the so-called Space Age, depicted with autonomous bubbles capable of containing entire housing units, as the source of inspiration for a new concept of living: provisional habitats with compact, modular objects for easy assembly and knockdown. From the end of the 1960s, conditions of transportability, provisional and multifunctional use became the new design premises – as can be seen in the prototypes of the famous exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” at MoMA NY in 1972.
In his apartment-manifesto in Milan, subject to transformation in its layout and multifunctional areas, Joe Colombo implemented many concepts connected with the nomadic house. One of them, still in production, is the Multichair (Sormani, 1970, now B-Line): a seat composed of two parts for different arrangements, offering multiple uses: from a conversation chair to a daybed for informal relaxation. Because a sofa is not just a place to site, but also an ample, comfortable ‘place’ to live, on which to sleep, eat or lounge (today also to work), welcoming guests into a living area that is transfigured from day to night.
This was the epoch of products like the famous Strips modular system by Cini Boeri (Arflex, 1968): “soft bundles on which to position yourself, in which to wrap yourself; washable, undo-able, remake-able, jointed,” in the architect’s words. The system, which also included a bed, made it possible to create islands for different uses and areas. The modular design of components was a theme in those years, responding to new needs of use and the possibility of utilizing objects in different spaces of the home. One paradigmatic case is the Componibili system by Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell (1967), which adds the characteristic of wheels to become lighter and easier to transport.
In 1970 the Anfibio appeared, designed by Alessandro Becchi for Giovannetti, a sofa that becomes a bed with just a few gestures, releasing the continuous roll of the back – the form is like a raft or an inflatable boat, underscoring the provisional, emergency character of the piece. A legacy picked up over the years by other ‘transformers’ like Trix, created by Piero Lissoni for Kartell (2006): a seat composed of three parts connected by a system of ties to make it an ottoman for two people, a bed, an armchair or a chaise longue.
Or Dynamic Life (Campeggi, 2011), the sofa by Matali Crasset, which transforms into a seat, a daybed or a deconstructed bed. “The sofa,” the French designer explains, who has often tackled the theme of domestic nomadism, “has become more and more bourgeois, a sort of fossil, a beached whale in the domestic universe that takes up space while offering little service in return. Hence the idea of demanding a bit more generosity and identification with modern living.”
Camping has also provided design suggestions and typological adaptations. For example, the Tripolina folding chair with a wooden structure and fabric cover was first made in the second half of the 1800s, as part of the outfitting of English troops. It has entered homes thanks to many interpretations, including the refined model by Franco Albini, introduced in the installation for Palazzo Bianco in Genoa (1950), and now reissued by Eligo Milano. Foldability combined with the possibility of storage to save space has long been an intriguing theme. Among the most paradigmatic objects, the Cumano table by Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni (Zanotta, 1978) is not just foldable, but also has an opening to hang it up, or even to stack it against the wall.
The semantics of camping can also be seen in the famous May Day lamp (designed by Konstantin Grcic for Flos, 2000), with a handle for transport, a hook for hanging where it is needed, and guides for wrapping the wire. And it extends to more recent projects like Tense, by the Swiss design duo Panter&Tourron, a series of furnishings created precisely for a nomadic lifestyle: the objects are light and demountable, like a tent, ready for transport from one home to another. This research project, updated and enhanced in recent months, will become a collection for Cappellini in 2021.