La Dolce Colorato

June 6, 2008

-By By Katie Weeks. Photography by Tino Gerbaldo


Photo by Tino Gerbaldo

Visitors to the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Milan’s annual design explosion each spring, can enter the fairgrounds assured that even during a slow year, an abundance of visual delights awaits within the pavilions. The 2008 exposition proved no exception, and perhaps one of the biggest pieces of eye candy belonged to Abet Laminati.

Abet’s space, dubbed Kasa Digitalia, surely had attendees talking, thanks to a color- and graphics-saturated design from Karim Rashid. The 200-sq.-ft., two-room installation was a true interpretation of its name, comprised of floor-to-ceiling laminates with social spaces like a kitchen area and living room clustered on one side and a more quiet space on the other.

Having admired Abet’s offerings for years, Rashid pitched the concept to the manufacturer about a year before the 2008 show. “The thing we don’t realize about plastic laminate is that it’s such a democratic material. It’s incredibly inexpensive, and it’s super high performance. It’s a material, in a way, that has become so banal that we’ve forgotten the qualities of it,” Rashid says. He felt it was time to recognize its time-tested qualities alongside the manufacturing capabilities now afforded by technological advances. “I wanted to show the industry that we really can enjoy the idea of laminate,” he explains.

Spatially, “it was all based completely on the typical size of a plastic laminate sheet. From there, I thought I would run patterns along the floor, up the wall, across the ceiling and back down to create some sort of sheet decoration,” says Rashid. For the foundation and furnishings alike, he employed 16 different laminate patterns—some of which he’s explored in his work for more than 10 years—in a multitude of colors. And, by skewing the walls as they rose from the floor, Rashid literally broke out of the box, rejecting the traditional square trade show shape to create a hexagonal exhibit that added extra visual intrigue.

Crafting an entire space in one material may sound simple, but it was, in fact, quite complex. The intricate patterning combined with furniture that mixed both hard and soft lines required a very high level of precision and craftsmanship in its execution. The laminate had to flex in certain places and the edges and patterns needed to line up perfectly. “It’s funny,” Rashid says. “Laying down a sheet with glue and trimming the edge sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how bad the results can be.”

Other challenges included planning and installing complex LED backlighting on the rear wall so the patterns would light and change, and an on-site scramble to adjust the entire design to fit the final space, which turned out not to match the original space drawings from which Rashid and his team had first worked. With the obstacles overcome, however, fairgoers weren’t the only ones delighting in the design. “We think that Kasa Digitalia has been absolutely the most important event in the history of Abet Laminati,” says Alessandro Peisino, the company’s marketing communications director. “With the reaction of 32,000 visitors, a great interest from the press, and the most-used adjective being ‘impressive,’ it was, in one word, a success.” And as for Rashid? He would have been happy to make himself at home there. In fact, he says, “I wish I could have just lived in the house the whole time I was there. I find it much more interesting, exciting, and functional than the hotels I’m staying in.”