Forty years after its creation, Flexform’s Max sofa is revitalised

Photograph: Gabriele Basilico; Max sofas at the Triennale di Milano museum, 1983

In his Bauhaus Manifesto, Walter Gropius outlined his vision for a holistic form of artistic creation, a call to “desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity”. Central to this theory is a dissolution of the boundaries between utility and design, a belief in the potential to elevate the everyday object to the status of art. Both work of sculpture and piece of furniture, the Flexform Max sofa is a perfect encapsulation of this idea. Designed in 1983, it’s a paean to the beauty of our daily lives, a fluid, fluxive synthesis of form and aesthetics.

For Antonio Citterio, designer of the Max, this idea of unity was embedded in the sofa’s design, into its flowing seat and arching, winding backrest. Far from merely decorative, the sofa’s liquiform shape “creates a situation where people sit more face-to-face, which allows them to talk and look at each other”. This presented challenges, namely that it’s near-impossible to cover a curved back with a single piece of fabric. But it’s this difficulty that led to the Max’s elegant fabric-wrapped back, one of its most distinctive features: “It was someone in the factory, their design team,” notes Citterio, “that gave me this idea, and immediately I said, ‘Ok, but not just one colour…’ The idea was to highlight the technical solution, and from the technical solution we gained the decoration of the product.” It’s an art object made for socialising, made for joy, made for life. And, 40 years after its creation, the Max is getting a successor: the Flexform Supermax.

Echoing the fortuitous happenstance that resulted in the Max’s iconic design, the Supermax came “almost by chance”, Citterio tells me. “We have an incredible archive, and we started to revisit Gabriele Basilico’s fantastic picture of the Max.” The enduring contemporariness and originality of the sofa struck the Flexform team, who began to consider the “possibilities” an updated Max could present. It was a truly organic process, not the work of, as Citterio says, “emails or meetings”, but a serendipitous rediscovery.

The Supermax pays homage to its predecessor, retaining that classic curved back and kidney bean-shaped seat. But it also allows a greater variety of use, as at home in outdoor environments as it is inside. This emphasis on relaxation means that the sofa is built lower, to encourage a more casual atmosphere, as well as enlarged dimensions and more plush padding. Citterio and Flexform have also taken the opportunity to imagine different colour combinations, including a two-tone monochrome palette. In other words, they’ve instantly updated a sculptural design classic, built for the demands of 21st-century life.