A sofa for living

Luca Nichetto has designed the "Liv" sofa system for Rolf Benz. We visited the designer in his Stockholm studio and talked to him about universal beauty, nature as a designer, and the melding of German and Italian virtues.
Text by Fabian Peters, Photos by James Stokes | 1/11/2020

Fabian Peters: “Liv” is the name of the new sofa that you have designed for Rolf Benz and that will premiere at imm cologne 2020. Am I right in assuming that the name is of special relevance for you?

Luca Nichetto: Well, for one thing “Liv” is the Swedish word for "life". We find that very fitting because our sofa is supposed to invite you to really live with it. Added to which my daughter is called Liv.

Rolf Benz already has all sorts of upholstered furniture items in its program. And last year they were joined by Werner Aisslinger’sAddit”, a highly contemporary sofa system. What was the brief for “Liv”?

Luca Nichetto: Rolf Benz wanted no less than a sofa system that would work anywhere in the world and in just about any setting, too. So, it had to suit a wide range of different user habits. For example, in Scandinavia sofas are traditionally relatively high, while in Italy they tend to prefer them low and loungy. "Liv" was intended to unite these two ideas.

That sounds like a very tall task! Did you have some kind of initial idea as your starting point?

Luca Nichetto: We wanted to develop a modular system that combines German engineering with a touch of Italian design. What was very decisive for us when it came to the design was to fully visualize the core strengths of Rolf Benz. Apart from the incredible quality of Rolf Benz craftsmanship what fascinated us above all was the company’s ability to offer its customers practically any conceivable configuration of furniture. That’s something we may all know with regards to the automobile industry, but I had never experienced anything like it with a maker of upholstered furniture. I imagine it is unique worldwide.

Developing a sofa that is at home on all the continents and can be supplied in almost countless combinations seems to me to verge on being a “mission impossible”?

Luca Nichetto: Yes, it is a bit of a “mission impossible”! (laughs) But as a designer it is always my goal to create something that is liked by everybody everywhere in the world. And I think that is a good goal to have. After all, it encourages me to do my utmost in order to achieve my goal. I think designers need to have that belief in themselves – the belief that they can create beauty for everyone. Ultimately, the fundamental thing about my designs – and regardless of how many versions are available – is that they reflect my personality, my own experiences and my convictions.

“Liv” can basically be configured in any size. Do you think the sofa will still have something like a uniform aesthetic impact in all its versions?

Luca Nichetto: We wanted to achieve the overall feel of a light and elegant sofa. We wanted “Liv” to look as if it were almost floating without any trace of heaviness or bulkiness. I was less interested in the aesthetics and more in conveying a feeling. “Liv” is destined to exude the aura of comfort that you then notice when you sit down on it – and regardless of whether it is a seating arrangement in a villa in Miami or a two-seater in a micro-apartment in Hong Kong.

What role do colors and materiality play for you?

Luca Nichetto: Colors and materials are of central importance to my designs. It’s inconceivable for me to develop a design before first achieving clarity on these two key elements. For me color and material are never things you can swap arbitrarily.

Your designs are characterized by a remarkable sense for color nuances. How did you develop the colors for “Liv”?

Luca Nichetto: It might sound a bit hackneyed but nature is always the best designer. A close friend of mine, the photographer Massimo Gardone, takes wonderful shots of flowers. Years ago, we collaborated with the Scandinavian Color Institute to develop a color palette from his images that we have used ever since as a basis for our designs. For “Liv” we wanted the coloring to convey warmth, which is why dark red and ocher tones play an important role.

How important is the technical expertise and outstanding craftsmanship of Rolf Benz when it comes to your design?

Luca Nichetto: Those abilities are very much one of the key elements for our designs. There are certain details such as the metal feet and frame that we could only design the way we did because we knew that there is ample expertise at Rolf Benz to produce such parts to the greatest precision. For me these elements also reflect both the typical German awareness of quality that was to be equally visible in “Liv” and the designer’s Italian style.

You also designed other furniture items to complement the sofa.

Luca Nichetto: I always try to enrich a large piece of furniture like this sofa with smaller designs that lend the overall idea a slightly different spin. Together with the upholstered elements, we have designed two tables that use the same design language and materiality as the sofa. Our coffee table, for example, rests on a frame derived from the substructure of the sofa. In contrast, a small side table, which also has a metal frame, adds a somewhat playful note to the collection.

And there are also add-ons that can complement the sofa itself.

Luca Nichetto: Absolutely! You can extend "Liv" with shelves, that get their visual appeal from the inlay plates of natural stone or glass - the same materials we use for the table tops. The shelves can take the place of the side or backrest. So you have your books, your iPad or even your child's pacifier immediately at hand. In actual fact, when designing “Liv” we wanted to create a sofa system that can be tailored to almost every situation in life.