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Makers: Kartell

Posted by George Sims on

Vintage Kartell furniture

It is undoubtedly a bad thing that every plastic product that has ever been made is still in existence.

However, we like to take the positives from even the bleakest of scenarios.

Granted, our options are limited in this instance but there is one benefit we can see: it means there is still a lot of vintage Kartell furniture waiting for us out there. 

And that really is the headline when it comes to the history of Kartell. The company was, and perhaps still is, the name in plastic furniture.

We should also state that the organisation’s current output is actually quite green.

Just in case you were thinking of leaving in a rage at our avowing our support for a business with no moral compass.

About Kartell furniture

Where to Buy Kartell Furniture

The good news is that Kartell is still very active and, as a result, the furniture is easy to come by. 

The company has around 150 flagship stores, sells online and can be found in countless retailers around the world.

Vintage Kartell is not impossible to source but novices should approach the seconds market with a degree of caution. As a rule, plastics don’t tend to age as well as materials like wood. Plastic is also tricky to restore.

This shouldn’t deter you. Just take extra care (this counts double when buying whites and creams). 

Notwithstanding, you’ll find Kartell on all the usual suspects including Pamono, Vinterior, 1st Dibs and eBay.

We also continue to source vintage Kartell furniture so be sure to check with us before you commit.

Our returns policy is biased in your favour and we go to great lengths to highlight any defects so you can shop with confidence. 

Where is Kartell Furniture From?

Kartell was founded in Milan in 1949 by Giulio Castelli (as far as we know, this Castelli is in no way connected to the Castelli furniture brand made famous by Giancarlo Piretti).

Castelli started the company with the aim of producing “objects that had innovative characteristics, understood as an application of new production technologies, geared towards economy of materials and efficiency of process”.

While he wasn’t talking explicitly about making plastic furniture, you can see how his vision led the company down that path.

What did Kartell do? 

Kartell did not, however, start life as a furniture maker.

That journey took almost 15 years to complete.

Its first product was actually a roof-mounted ski rack for cars. From here, the company produced household goods and even lighting before landing on furniture in 1963.

Original Kartell furniture

Where was Kartell Furniture Made?

Kartell furniture has been made in the shadow of the company’s HQ in Noviglio, Lombardy, since 1967.

These facilities are likely to have featured some advanced production techniques since the beginning.

Some Kartell furniture was also made overseas and under licence. 

What is Kartell Furniture Made From?

We’ve laboured this point already, but just in case you missed it, the answer is a resounding ‘plastic’.

The company did produce one bent plywood chair, the 4801, in 1965.

It was designed by Joe Colombo and has since been reissued in—you guessed it—plastic.

How to Identify Kartell Furniture

There is more good news for buyers insofar as Kartell furniture is almost always stamped.

The even better news is that these markings tend to have been a part of the original production process and are thus permanent. 

Some Kartell furniture will even include a production date and the designer's name.

This makes establishing provenance and authenticity a doddle.

Kartell children's furniture

What is Kartell Most Famous For?

The Kartell reputation is probably founded on the release of the world’s first plastic seat. 

You might be surprised to learn that seat was actually a stackable kid’s chair.

Designed by Zanuso and Sapper, the K 4999 highchair (above), was made from plastic because it was easy-to-clean and also because it doubled as a toy.

The original advertising campaign featured toddlers using a stack as a slide.

Kartell also produced the world’s first adult-sized plastic chair (4867 Universale chair by Colombo). They're a lot of fun.

Kartell Componibili storage

What’s Kartell’s Most Famous Design?

As is often the case in these articles, it is very difficult to choose just one piece.

However, there are two clear frontrunners.

The first is the modular Componibili storage range designed by Anna Castelli Ferrieri (above). This is a bona fide classic.

It has recently enjoyed a resurgence thanks in part to a reissue made with recycled materials.

The second candidate is La Marie by French designer Phillipe Starck (below).

This was the world’s first polycarbonate chair—this basically means it was transparent. 

There is an argument to say Starck's similar Ghost chair enjoys greater renown but it came after La Marie so we’re not counting it.

La Marie Phillipe Starck Kartell

Is Kartell Furniture Valuable?

Not hugely.

The iconic designs will still set you back hundreds; a collector's item might push you into the thousands.

We think this is all good news, though. A lot of this stuff is intentionally playful and you shouldn’t have to break the bank for fun. 

And while you can’t do much by way of refinishing plastic, you can re-upholster and completely revamp these pieces for an on-trend interior.


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