The international design company B&B Italia began in 1973 when Piero Ambrogio Busnelli took over C&B Italia, the company he had co-founded with Cesare Cassina. The renamed B&B was thus more of an evolution than a completely new enterprise. Busnelli—who was born in 1926 in Meda, in the northern province of Lombardy—was a true visionary in post-war Italy. As a young designer he surrounded himself with other like-minded artists, and later took chances on up-and-coming talents, like Mario Bellini and Gaetano Pesce, who later followed Busnelli to B&B. From the beginning, the company wanted to set itself apart as a strong, modern Italian brand that was based on an industrial model, utilizing both high-tech production methods and high-tech materials—including plastics and polyurethane foams. It quickly established itself as one of the leading manufacturers of modern Italian design in the second half of the 20th century.
Busnelli located the headquarters in Novedrate in Como, near Milan. It was designed in 1972 by the architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, who had just finished jointly designing the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the influence is clear. The building’s brave industrial “inside out” aesthetic showcased Busnelli’s willingness to take risks, as well as predict future design stars.
In the mid-1970s, B&B Italia launched Mario Bellini’s Le Bambole sofa (1972). The structureless, yet plump couch pushed the boundaries of design and secured a place for B&B Italia at the forefront of the international design scene, and at the receiving end of many prestigious design prizes. The advertising campaign for Le Bambole provoked as many reactions as the design itself, featuring provocative images taken by photographer Oliviero Toscani of the bare-chested model Donna Jordan on top of Bellini's sofa, and was exhibited at Milan’s Salone del Mobile.
Since then, B&B Italia has collaborated with some of the world's most renowned designers and architects, including , Mario Bellini, Jeffrey Bernett, David Chipperfield, Antonio Citterio, Naoto Fukasawa, Zaha Hadid, Chris Howker, Vico Magistretti, Jean-Marie Massaud, Gaetano Pesce, Paolo Piva, Richard Sapper, Afra and Tobia Scarpa, Richard Schultz, Ettore Sottsass, Studio Kairos, Patricia Urquiola, Jakob Wahner, and Marcel Wanders, among others.
B&B Italia has won four Compasso d’Oro Awards. The first was for Studio Kairos’ Sisamo Wardrobe in 1974, and later Bellini’s Le Bambole in 1979, and Citterio’s Sity Sofa in 1987. In 1989 B&B Italia became the first design manufacturer to be awarded a Compasso d’Oro. The award was given to B&B Italia for "the constant work of integration carried out in order to combine the values of scientific and technological research with those necessary to the functionality and expressiveness of its products." Since the company’s inception in 1966, designers have created over 1000 designs and prototypes, many of which are still in production.
In 2011, Busnelli’s sons, Giorgio and Emanuele, bought the company back from the private equity firm Opera, who obtained a majority stake in 2002. The pair run the company since the death of their father in 2014. In 2016, B&B Italia celebrated its 50th anniversary by showcasing its latest range of limited-edition pieces at the Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan.
Images courtesy of B&B Italia