Decoding Design

Mercedes-Benz: now a luxury furniture brand, too?

Posting in Architecture

Mercedes-Benz is a company known for its stylish, high-end cars. In Milan this week, it unveils its first furniture line--for homes, not the interiors of vehicles--inspired by automotive design research.

The Mercedes-Benz brand is widely known as symbol of high-end elegance. The auto company, a division of the Daimler Group, has tried extending in a variety of directions, from helicopters to watches, all bearing the familiar three-point-star logo and, perhaps more important, the subtle, sexy lines of Mercedes cars. Beginning April 17, Mercedes-Benz will also be a brand associated with furniture. Not the types of seats found in vehicles, though; instead, the types of chairs found in homes.

A couple of years ago, the company announced it would launch a label, Mercedes-Benz Style, which would allow its design team to collaborate with outside manufacturers of aircraft, boats, and, eventually home accessories. This week, at the Milan Furniture Fair, the company will unveil its first chairs, tables, and other functional objects. The Milan Furniture Fair, or Salone Internazionale del Mobile, is an internationally respected design trade show; this year, its 51st edition, takes place from April 17-22.

"The various pieces of furniture reflect the progressive, dynamic design idiom of our current show cars and concept vehicles, offering an exclusive, emotional experience outside our vehicles as well," Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Mercedes-Benz, said in a statement.

On view in Milan this week will be items such as a chaise longue, chairs, a set of drawers, a bed, a home theater system, and a dining table, among other designs. One can imagine these streamlined objects in a fancy loft or glass house with floor to ceiling windows: the type of home that has the sleek feel of...a high-end car dealership.

The pieces were developed in collaboration with designers from Formitalia, an Italian luxury manufacturer. Formitalia will produce all of the items, which will be sold at furniture stores, showrooms and interior design stores starting in October.

In the press materials for the Mercedes-Benz Style furniture, the language used reflects a sense of automotive chic. Words suggest parts of a car, from wheels to shaded windows.

"The four legs extend from the central aluminum beam like elegantly sculptured spokes," reads the description of a dining table (sketch below). "The optical lightness of this construction culminates in a grey-shaded transparent glass plate. The table is available in two frame variants: one in matt graphite black and another in a light satin finish."

Many of the designs feature shiny aluminum, which brings to mind the classic silvery gray of generations of Mercedes-Benz car exteriors. Materials used, such as a choice of leather or "anthracite-coloured fabric with a natural pattern" for the chaise longue, suggest the design elements of car interiors.

In a 2010 promotional interview published on the Daimler Web site, Mercedes-Benz design head Wagener explained how the car company's creative team would collaborate on non-automotive projects created under the Mercedes-Benz Style label.

"Design creates connections across disciplines and sectors. Styling something is a creative process which comes to life as a result of new impulses," Wagener said. "Our work under the 'Mercedes-Benz Style' label will also represent an inspiration for our automotive design work–-and of course vice-versa."

Whether the streamlined new furnishings are popular after their debut in Milan may not matter. The Mercedes-Benz team will likely learn from the experience of working with the design challenges of a field other than cars. It's a boundary-pushing, boundary-blurring strategy that, beyond gaining press and possible new audiences, might derive value not by sales figures, but by informing the company's future product design in fresh ways.

Images: Daimler.

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure