When Gufram owner Charley Vezza first saw the deflated, Dalíesque disco balls created by Dutch artist duo Rotganzen, he knew they would be a perfect addition to the nightclub-inspired collection he was plotting.

Dancing had been on his mind since he found an old catalogue of contract furniture for discotheques in the Gufram archives. Dating from the 1980s, it featured a series of striking modular upholstered pieces. When Vezza showed it to the designers at Milan-based studio Atelier Biagetti, he kickstarted one of his company’s most exciting collaborations to date and a celebration of a particularly innovative space and time for Italian design.

‘There has been a growing interest in the Radical design movement in the past five years, and what it means for us today,’ says Catharine Rossi. A design researcher with a strong focus on the nightclub phenomenon, she is co-curator of a new show at Vitra’s Design Museum. ‘There has also been a growing interest in club culture, an area in which these Radical designers were active: the only spaces they actually built were discos,’ she adds. Nightclubs gave them space ‘to experiment and imagine... outside of commercial and corporate constraints’.

‘Dance Floor’ rug, by GGSV. Parisian designers Gaëlle Gabillet and Stéphane Villard of GGSV bring a dance-floor aesthetic with curvilinear, tubular designs that come in three sizes, 318 x 290cm; 290 x 180cm; and 300 x 198cm. Photography: Toiletpaper by Maurizio Catteland and Pierpaolo Ferrari

Disco design is an important part of Gufram’s history: the first such clubs appeared in Italy in the mid-1960s, around the time the company was founded, and some of the most iconic venues were designed by the same creatives that gravitated around its HQ – then something of an ideas factory – in Barolo, northern Italy. These architects were part of the Radical design movement, developed between Florence, Turin and Milan in the 1960s and dedicated to aesthetic innovation and experimentation. Radical architects Giorgio Ceretti, Pietro Derossi and Riccardo Rosso, designed some of Italy’s swankiest disco spaces, including Piper in Turin and L’Altromondo Studios in Rimini, a legendary club still operating today. Both were furnished with colourful seats produced by Gufram. The brand’s avant-garde approach later led to collaborations with the likes of architects Studio 65 to produce iconic pieces such as the ‘Bocca’ lips-shaped sofa.

Since 2011, Vezza and his team have been working to preserve Gufram’s heritage, while introducing new designers to build on the brand’s cult status. Delving into the company’s past is not an easy task: ‘It’s like having an immense puzzle to build, piece by piece, as we don’t have a traditional archive that we can work with,’ explains Vezza. ‘I always say that Gufram wrote the history of design without knowing it, so there was never a strong attention to documentation.’

The new collection is a playful take on an illustrious history, pulled off with typical Gufram exuberance. Each collaboration developed organically: first came Rotganzen, whose signature disco balls (originally created for site-specific installations) feature on a series of lacquered cabinets. Then Vezza turned to Alberto Biagetti and Laura Baldessari of Atelier Biagetti to reinterpret 1980s seating. ‘I immediately thought of them for two reasons: their innovative work on upholstered furniture, and the fact that they come from Romagna, an Italian region famous for its iconic nightlife,’ says Vezza.

‘Dance Floor’ rug, by GGSV. Parisian designers Gaëlle Gabillet and Stéphane Villard of GGSV bring a dance-floor aesthetic with curvilinear, tubular designs that come in three sizes, 318 x 290cm; 290 x 180cm; and 300 x 198cm. Photography: Toiletpaper by Maurizio Catteland and Pierpaolo Ferrari

The pair drew inspiration from the area’s clubs, such as Baia Imperiale and Coccoricò, but also reinterpreted elements of Gufram’s back catalogue into five new modular sofa designs, including a tartan and pink neon number, a large velvet offering, a soft blob of shimmering lilac, as well as a cluster of iridescent pouffes, and a golden leather sofa that can repeat and extend to create either a twisting or semi-circular composition. It is the first time that Gufram, a specialist in polyurethane foam, has produced upholstered furniture. The collaboration was ‘a meeting of minds’, say Biagetti and Baldessari. ‘We feel very close to Gufram’s cultural codes and references; it’s a company which moves very fast when it comes to innovation and research.’

The last piece in Vezza’s discotheque had to be a suitably groovy floor to showcase the furniture. Gufram head of product Axel Iberti commissioned Gaëlle Gabillet and Stéphane Villard’s Paris design studio GGSV to create a series of graphic rugs after coming across one of their dazzling installations at the Centre Pompidou. The ‘Dance Floor’ rugs were developed to invite dancers to stand in the middle and ‘do the freak’, the designers explain. ‘There is something excessive and very joyful in disco: it’s very Gufram.’

‘A furniture company speaks through its products, and our collections express a maximalist radical spirit,’ concludes Vezza. ‘This same spirit drives us to still be radical in all the choices we make every day.’

As originally featured in the April 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*229)