A noted and often innovative manufacturer of a wide range of stylish products, the Kartell company was founded by chemical engineer Giulio Castelli in 1949. Based at Binasco near Milan, the company's rise to prominence in the 1950s coincided with the growing international recognition of Italian design as a leading force in the decades following the end of the Second World War. The company's commitment to research, innovation, aesthetics, and quality did much to change attitudes to everyday domestic products made in plastic, leading to many medals for its designs at the Milan Triennali. In 1954 the company established a European pool for the exchange of technology and marketing analysis in order to promote plastics more widely, its research achievements over many years being recognized by the award of a Compasso d'Oro in 1979. Organized into two divisions of Habitat (furniture for the house, office, and contracts, established in 1963) and Labware (hardware for laboratories) in the early 2000s the company exports 75 per cent of its turnover in 60 countries.
One of the company's earliest products was a ski rack for automobiles designed by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi, perhaps an indicator of the style‐conscious affluent market orientation of many of its consumer products. Gino Columbini headed the company's technical office and designed a variety of domestic products in the 1950s, winning a number of Compasso d'Oro awards. These included awards in 1955 for the KS 1146 bucket and lid, the 1065 tub in 1957 and the 1171 dish drainer in 1960. Another leading designer for the company—and its artistic director for many years—was Anna Castelli‐Ferrieri, trained architect, Italian correspondent of the London‐based Architectural Review, founding member of the Italian Association for Industrial Design (ADI), and, in the 1980s, teacher of industrial design at the Domus Academy and Milan Polytechnic. Although she had married Giulio Castelli in 1943 it was two decades before she played a significant role in designing domestic goods for Kartell. Kartell participated in the Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1972, contributing three avant‐garde domestic environments by Gae Aulenti, Ettore Sottsass, and Marco Zanuso. In the same year Centrokappa, a research and study centre closely affiliated to the Kartell group, was established under Valerio Castelli both to coordinate the Kartell corporate image and also promote Italian design internationally. It also organized a number of exhibitions of plastic furniture and Italian design, winning a Compasso d'Oro in 1979.
Notable designers for Kartell have included many leading Italian designers in the second half of the 20th century, including Sergio Asti, Gae Aulenti (the Jumbo table of 1965), Achille and Pier Castiglione (lighting), Joe Colombo (whose designs included the ABS stacking chair no. 4860), and Richard Sapper, who collaborated with Zanuso on a range of colourful polyethylene children's chairs, which won a Compasso d'Oro in 1964. In 1988 Claudio Luti, formerly of Versace, became president of the company. In the 1980s Philippe Starck designed a number of products for the company, including the tubular steel and plastic Dr Glob chair of 1988, and in the 1990s Antonio Citterio's designs included the Battista and Filippo trolleys and the Mobil, storage system, all designs in plastic and metal. The Kartell Museum was founded in 1999 and has archived and exhibited the company's history.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.