The history of Abet Laminati, perhaps better than many others, narrates the virtuous relationship between the cultures of design and materials in Italy.

A history that immediately takes us back to the avant-gardes of the late 1970s – with the projects by Ettore Sottsass and Memphis that made the reputation of the plastic laminates produced by the Bra-based company – but actually dates back to 1957, when the firm was already involved in an intense dialogue with the world of design.

We talked about this strategy of corporate evolution, which still today links technological and cultural innovation, with Paola Navone, who after working for years with Abet Laminati is now its art director, and with Alessandro Peisino, director of marketing and communication of the company.

Paola Navone, you have witnessed the excellence of a great case history, that of Abet Laminati. How did you start to collaborate with the brand that has made history in the field of plastic laminates?
Paola Navone: The story began many years ago, with my first invoice… the collaboration started with a study grant offered to me by Abet Laminati as soon as I took my architecture degree. It was an immediate love story, and today I am still involved in the growth of this fantastic company.
Abet Laminati has always been involved in experimentation, driven by an absolutely brilliant person, Guido Jannon, who was the brand’s communication consultant. Jannon took part in the creation of Abet with Enrico Garbarino and Fabio Minini, respectively the president and the CEO of the company, who in 1957 decided to produce plastic laminates, converting the tannin factory owned by Garbarino, a supplier for the leather industry in the Cuneo area.
The farsighted ambition of these three men led Abet Laminati to immediately invest resources in research on innovative products and high quality, helping laminate to take on its own image and identity, separated from that of fake wood or fake stone, as in the past.
To do this, and to declare its intellectual independence’, from the outset the company relied on collaboration with designers and architects oriented towards technical and linguistic experimentation, like Gio Ponti, Joe Colombo, Vico Magistretti, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, all the way to the great period of Ettore Sottsass and Memphis, when laminates reached high levels of popularity, which then continued with Karim Rashid, Giulio Iacchetti and Konstantin Grcic, just to name a few.

In terms of products, what was the innovation that allowed Abet laminate to become something different and specific with respect to the things already existing on the market?
Paola Navone: The first major intuition was to make a large collection of solid colors, that would give an autonomous and ‘artificial’ identity to something that was not a natural material and did not want to pretend to be natural. This happened in the 1960s, well before the advent of the avant-gardes. Then along came Alchimia and Memphis and all the rest, pacing development with new inventions.
My initial role was to be a bridge between the company and the world of creativity, offering support for product developed in collaboration with designers. Over time I focused more closely on production, which today includes an immense range of materials and products, where those connected to the world of decor and design represent only a small part.

Technological innovation has brought major transformations to the world of materials and surfaces for architecture and design. What are the specificities and potential of laminates today?
Alessandro Peisino: Undoubtedly the big transformation of the last 20 years has been the passage from screen printing to digital printing, which makes it possible to transfer any image onto laminate, any design or graphics, giving rise to an incredible variety of creative solutions and proposals. Today it is possible to personalize a product, responding to the graphic requirements of designers and the demands of clients.
Paola Navone: The passage to digital, which Abet Laminati understood before all the others, has been a real revolution. It has led to incredible streamlining of the production cycle, with resulting cost reductions, but above all it has introduced the concept of personalization: since the investments previously required to launch a new collection are no longer necessary, today it is possible to make large or small orders, upon request. However, this means changing the mentality of those who promote and sell laminates, since at this point we are no longer talking about a finished product or a color chart, but about a concept. The big revolution, on which we can wager but on which we also need to work, lies precisely in this major leap of scale.

What are the products and lines offered by Abet today?
Alessandro Peisino: Our products can be subdivided into indoor and outdoor materials. The 2015-2018 Collection is the catalogue that gathers our wide-ranging collection of HPL laminates, divided up by decorations and finishes to make interpretation easy for those who specify our products.
Then we have Polaris, presented at the theater of the Triennale last April. Other important products for interior design include, for example, our layered HPL, the laminate best suited to the creation of freestanding furnishing systems.
We also have Doorsprint, a collection of decorative surfaces to enhance doors; Foldline®, the postformable decorative CPL laminate; and, finally, there is pRaL® (also in the outdoor version), an artificial material made by combining a natural mineral and an acrylic polymer.
MEG (Material Exterior Grade) is an outdoor laminate, ideal for the creation of ventilated facades. The facade of the Incheon Triennial in Korea or the Groninger Museum in Holland, for example, are works made with MEG and designed by Mendini.

Polaris is one of Abet Laminati’s leading products, which seems like a normal laminate but is actually something else. What makes this material so special?
Alessandro Peisino: Polaris is a revolutionary product. It is an extra-matte surface with a warm, soft touch, highly resistant to scratching and heat. It does not show fingerprints, is anti-bacterial and performs very well in contact with foods. It is a material of the latest generation, of great importance on the market for surfaces.

At the end of November you presented Abet Digital. Could you tell us something about this project?
Alessandro Peisino: Starting from Digital Print, we thought of a new concept that would revolutionize the digital printing approach, to encourage interaction with the public. The project has to do with a 360° rebranding, with its own logo. At Architect@Work we offered a sample of Abet Digital, which we hope will grow rapidly in the near future.

What are the present directions and themes of Abet’s research?
Alessandro Peisino: The incessant stylistic and decorative research is joined by a focus on improvement of technical and structural performance of the materials. In particular, the studies on the MEG outdoor laminate aim at giving it greater strength to stand up to atmospheric agents. Any technological progress has to be approached in terms of sustainability and safety of products. All the future challenges will be met with a focus on safeguarding the environment.

Paola, as a designer, what are the qualities of Abet laminate that interest you most today?
Paola Navone: The technical qualities, first of all: laminate offers performance features other materials do not have. It can be resistant to chemicals, bacteria, fingerprints. It can be used in composite materials. And then there are the expressive qualities: thanks to digital technology, Abet laminate can be a simple white page on which any designer can freely create things. For the first time, industry offers total freedom, which was unthinkable just a short time ago.

What projects do you have in store for the Salone del Mobile 2017?
Paola Navone: We are working on a project that addresses the new generations. The idea is to propose an exercise of opening to the possibilities digital technology now offers in the world of laminates, in a clean break with the traditional approach to this material. In other words, we want to do what Abet Laminati has always done, from the outset: investigate new paths of experimentation that connect technical evolution and cultural evolution.

Text by Maddalena Padovani

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Gadagames, a piece designed by Paola Navone for Alchimia, 1980 (courtesy Quittenbaum Art Auctions, Munich).
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A view of the Abet Laminati Museum, located at the headquarters in Bra, Cuneo.
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A piece from the Cappellini Panda Collection, a project by Paola Navone (in the photo) for Cappellini, presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2015.
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Portrait of Paola Navone
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Bacterio, Abet Laminati decorativ designed by Ettore Sottsass with whom the company worked for more than 40 years.
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Spugnato, Abet Laminati decorativ designed by Ettore Sottsass with whom the company worked for more than 40 years.
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Portrait of Ettore Sottsass
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The new Polaris laminate, presented during Design Week in Milan in April 2016 at the Teatro dell’Arte of the Triennale in an event organized by Paola Navone.
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The new Polaris laminate, presented during Design Week in Milan in April 2016 at the Teatro dell’Arte of the Triennale in an event organized by Paola Navone.
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The new Polaris laminate, presented during Design Week in Milan in April 2016 at the Teatro dell’Arte of the Triennale in an event organized by Paola Navone.
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The Digital Nature laminates by Karim Rashid.
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The Digital Nature laminates by Karim Rashid.
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The Digital Nature laminates by Karim Rashid.
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The Digital Nature laminates by Karim Rashid.
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During the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016, the Digital Nature laminates by Karim Rashid were shown in an installation at Palazzo Michiel created by Abet Laminati with De Rosso, based on a design by Rashid.
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Portrait of Karim Rashid.
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Project by Paola Navone for the De Rosso stand at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, made with Abet laminates.
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MEG, Material Exterior Grade, the outdoor laminate used for the Abet Laminati Museum in Bra.
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The Dolcevita Exhibition, with exhibit design by Paola Navone for Italy Country Partner at Ambiente Messe Frankfurt 2016. The entire installation was done with Abet laminates, also used for the panels that reproduce photographs of historic Italian films (photo Studio Otto).