Inside the Collection

The original Sacco beanbag – very cool design

Photograph of Beanbag chair, 'Sacco'
87/809 Beanbag chair, ‘Sacco’, designed by Piero Gatti / Cesare Paolini / Franco Teodoro, Italy, 1968, made by Zanotta SpA, Italy, 1986.

Beanbags are something I take for granted.  They can be found  in many homes,  in family rooms, teenage bedrooms  and even as pet beds.  They are available in most ‘bargain’ stores and are a symbol of casual (even grotty) student households. So it seems surprising to find that the beanbag is the product of a deliberate (and radical) design process.

The original ‘Sacco’ beanbag was designed in 1967-1968 by three young Italian architects,  Piero Gatti  [b 1940], Cesare Paolini [1937-1983] and Franco Teodoro [1939-2005], who established a studio in Turin, Italy in 1965, collaborating on architectural, graphic and industrial design products.  In an interview in 1988 Piero Gatti stated:

“Many of us were interested in designing objects which were as flexible as possible which could adapt to different situations …different physical structures. So we said think of a chair that will allow for these functions. We began to think about a material that would allow for this adaptability, both for the body and its positions: like snow, you throw yourself into it and make an imprint in the fresh snow, or a fluid like water”.

The team considered many options, structures filled with air and water were considered too hard and uncomfortable. The bag concept came from old peasant mattresses – a sack stuffed with chestnut leaves or other material which moulds itself to fit the body. From here the team got the idea of marbles or balls that would mould themselves to the body ie behave like a fluid. Initial ‘ball’ materials were too expensive or too heavy but eventually they found polystyrene, then a material used in the building trade for sound and heat proofing, and the first prototypes were produced. Gatti stated ‘After which we took some photos and told each other that no one would want this thing. So they stayed in the office.’

While considering comfort and practicality, the designers of the Sacco were also motivated to produce a  piece of radical ‘anti-design’ that suited the era’s politics and flew in the face of the 1920s modernist classics by architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe that were being reintroduced at the time.

However, surprisingly commercial success was only around the corner.  In 2008 for the 40th anniversary of the ‘Sacco’ Piero Gatti recalled in an interview for ‘Zanotta Happenings’, ‘First we had a contact in the U.S. following a publication in an American magazine (Long Furniture Daily), we also went to 3M and then department store Macy’s saw the magazine (the name of our prototype was ‘Moll you are’, that is ‘shaped by yourself’ ) and their proposal took us by complete surprise. They wanted to know if we could produce 10,000 pieces right away! This is when we met with Zanotta. He understood the force behind ‘Sacco’ and was able to immediately start working on the first functional prototypes.

The rest is history!

Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Technologies


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