Capelli Retrospective


In 1998 Catalano Design had just completed a large, meticulous, engineering focused project for an audio client and we were craving an outlet for more open-ended creative expression. We decided to work on our own in-house project. A call for entries to the International Furniture Design Competition Asahikawa caught our interest and we thought this would give us the ideal framework to explore creatively with wild abandon.

Inspired by looking at the intertwined fingers of folded hands, we designed a stool concept comprised of two identical molded plywood pieces that would interlock together, with the fingers forming the seat. After many rounds of sketching and concept development, we created a half-scale model. The prototype was eye-opening, as we'd thought that the stool would require a bracket near the bottom to hold the two pieces together. As it turned out, the more weight one put on the seat, the tighter the halves held together on their own, with no fasteners at all. We sent the model off to Asahikawa, Japan where the competition was taking place.

Early sketches of the Capelli Stool

Early sketches of the Capelli Stool

We were thrilled to receive word back that the judges selected our design as a finalist. They asked us to send a full scale, museum-quality prototype.

After much searching, we could not find a shop that would build a full scale stool for a reasonable sum and meet our deadline, so we decided to construct one ourselves.

The Capelli Stool won the silver prize in the International Furniture Competition. About a year later, we licensed the design to Herman Miller. They have been producing it ever since.

Looking back on our design process, it is interesting to note that at the time, it was common to avoid devoting resources to a high-quality prototype until completing the concept exploration phase and selecting a single design.

In contrast, if we repeated the project today, we would be able to create precise prototypes in the conceptual exploration phase, maybe even one for every concept. Due to the advances in additive manufacturing, affordable 3D printers have taken labor and cost down dramatically. The printers we use in our small design studio can match or exceed the quality of the large industrial machines of 1998.

For Capelli, the ability to rapidly iterate with 3D printing might have compressed our project timeline, and given us key insights into the design much earlier in the process, saving time otherwise spent pursuing avenues that were unnecessary (such as the bracket and fasteners).

Two identical halves and no fasteners: the simplicity of Capelli

Two identical halves and no fasteners: the simplicity of Capelli

We will provide a more in-depth look at how Industry 4.0 technology such as 3D printing has improved our workflow in our next post. When looking back at the Capelli project, it's amazing how much has changed about how we work. What hasn't changed is Catalano Design’s ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness, and can-do attitude. We continue enabling our clients to bring novel and unique design solutions to their products.

Capelli is available on HermanMiller's online store or by getting in touch with your local Herman Miller rep.

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Carol Catalano