Cover B&B Italia's Camaleonda appeals with its seamless modular system Image: Courtesy of B&B Italia

First designed by Italian architect Mario Bellini in the 1970s, the B&B Italia Camaleonda sofa remains iconic to this day. We explore the inspiration behind this cult favourite

Curvy and undeniably chic—it’s none other than B&B Italia’s iconic Camaleonda sofa. The modular sofa has been making its rounds on Instagram; its playful form and striking earring-like detailing can be spotted in the interiors (and social media feeds) of the likes of Marc Jacobs, artist Daniel Arsham, as well as tastemakers Athena Calderone and Aimee Song.

Model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen even created an unintentional viral frenzy when she sat on the Camaleonda in an Instagram post to promote her loungewear line; the sofa instantly stole the spotlight and captured the attention of viewers.   

See also: 8 Stylish Modular Sofas for the Ultimate Flexibility in Your Living Room

It’s easy to see why the statement piece is having a moment. Formed out of generous polyurethane padding and perched on tapered legs, the sofa exudes a sense of cosy comfort. With the pandemic ushering everyone indoors, the inviting character beckons one to sink into it for long hours. 

Plush and plump, the Camaleonda also appeals with its dynamic modular form. With a system composed of carabiners, cables, and rings, various modules can be reconfigured with ease. The versatility is a highlight factor—particularly more so in this current couch potato period brought on by the pandemic. The flexible seating system is exceptionally useful in this particular era where living rooms are constantly transformed into multifunctional spaces for work and leisure. 

Designed by renowned Italian architect and designer Mario Bellini, the Camaleonda first debuted in the 1970s. It was designed for modern Italian furniture manufacturer B&B Italia. Bellini had a wealth of experience by then; he held an impressive oeuvre designing for a wide range of fields including electronics, automobiles, jewellery, amidst other product designs. Inspired by the chameleon’s transformative characteristics, he partially named the sofa after the reptile. 

“Camaleonda is a name that I invented in 1970 by mixing two words: the first is the name of an extraordinary animal, the chameleon (camaleonte in Italian), that can adapt to the environment around it, and the word ‘onda’, wave, that indicates the curve of the sea and the desert,” Bellini noted. “Both these words describe the shape and function of this sofa.”

The popularity of the sofa peaked when it made an appearance at the Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibition in 1972. Held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Bellini’s Camaleonda was a trailblazer alongside other notable works by Italian designers such as Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, and Gaetano Pesce. Easy on the eye with its round contours and expressive personality, the sofa was an instant hit. 

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Camaleonda stopped production in 1979, and for a while, the originals were only available through vintage re-sellers. In 2020, B&B Italia reissued the Camaleonda for the first time. For its contemporary relaunch, Bellini and his team retained plenty of the original elements: the standard 90-by-90-centimeter seat modules bear the trademark capitonné design and were created using the original cutting pattern. 

The designer instead sought to update the sofa through its materials. The new edition features removable covers created from sustainable materials like recycled PET, as well as spherical feet crafted by beechwood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The polyurethane padding has also received a refresh, designed to elevate the comfort level with input by the B&B Italia's Research & Development (R&D) Centre.

See also: 6 Stylish Italian Sofas To Elevate Your Living Room

The pandemic has certainly highlighted the need for flexible design solutions, and the Camaleonda’s unlimited modularity is undoubtedly playing a significant role in its resurgence in popularity.

The sofa might be one of Bellini’s most prominent pieces, but it isn’t his only notable creation. Here, we pick out other noteworthy pieces from the visionary Italian designer. 

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Cassina Cab Chair

Designed in 1977, the Cab chair was created by Bellini for Italian furniture manufacturer Cassina. One of Bellini’s most iconic pieces, the chair was the first seating furnishing at the time to feature a free-standing cowhide leather structure. The steel frame is dressed in sixteen pieces of saddle leather that’s stitched together and hand-fitted with artisanal craftsmanship. 

Recognised as one of the most acclaimed chair designs of the twentieth century, the chair remains as one of Cassina’s best-sellers to this day. A version of it is on display at MoMA, as part of the Bellini’s 25-piece permanent collection at the museum.

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Flos Chiara Lamp

With a sculptural form and a timeless aesthetic, Bellini originally designed the Chiara lamp in 1969 for contemporary lighting company Flos. Created from a single sheet of polished stainless steel, the structure consists of an origami-like top with a sturdy cylinder body. The classic lamp is lined with black anthracite edges for a decorative touch that allows the lighting piece to stand out.

In 2020, the floor lamp was updated to modernise its lighting source with LED bulbs. The re-edition also saw the launch of smaller table models with a variety of other finishes. 

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B&B Italia Le Bambole

In 1979, Le Bambole was awarded the prestigious Compasso d'Oro accolade—the most recognized award in the field of industrial design. As the Camaleonda evidenced, Bellini constantly drew inspiration from nature and objects all around him. The idea behind the Le Bambole seating collection came from shopping bags. Inspired by the formless material that gained shape when squashed on the ground, the designer embarked on a shared research journey with B&B Italia’s R&D team.

Created with differential density padded foam pieces, the seats were formulated with a thicker base for support. The upper edges feature softer and plumper foam, allowing the overstuffed seat to comfortably cocoon its sitter. For additional support, a tubular metal insert was integrated into the foam.

With the absence of a load-bearing structure, Le Bambole allows one to sink into it comfortably for hours. The collection is available as an armchair, ottoman, or single- and multiple-seating units. Another iconic design by Bellini, the armchair design is part of the collection at MoMA.