Functional Sculpture: Camilo Pardo, Michael Chetcuti Collaborate on Aluminum Furniture Line

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Ford GT designer Camilo Pardo and industrial designer Michael Chetcuti have teamed up on another groundbreaking work of industrial sculpture. Their all-aluminum Mercury Lounge chair is the first in a planned line to include a coffee table and sofa.

As part of their groundbreaking artistic collaboration exploring fine design and twenty-first century metal fabrication technologies, the Detroit design duo of Camilo Pardo and Michael Chetcuti have moved into the world of fine furniture design.

Their first effort, a polished aluminum chair called the Mercury Lounge and weighing some 475 pounds, was unveiled this December at Camilo’s one-man show at Detroit’s CPOP Gallery. One of the few sculptural pieces featured in the show—most of the works are large paintings centered on Camilo’s passion for fast cars and beautiful women—the chair drew raves on the show’s opening night. Many gallery patrons even took a seat and posed for snapshots.

Both Chetcuti, an industrial designer and metal fabricator, and Camilo, a multi-talented artist who is perhaps best known as the lead designer on the Ford GT sports car released last year, have expressed a passion for fine furniture design in the Cranbrook-Saarinen tradition. By bringing Camilo’s sense of automotive line and proportion and Chetcuti’s fabrication expertise to that tradition, the pair believe they can build a line of furniture that will be both thoroughly modern and uniquely Detroit.

Camilo’s distinctive sectional design for the chair drew on automotive modeling principals once used by classic carmakers like Pinafarina. “Except now the sections are shaped using math data on a computer,” he said.

“The sections are a classic way of evaluating shape and form,” Camilo said. “It’s also a beautiful aesthetic if you decide to complete it that way. Sometimes you can appreciate the dynamics of a shape more when you divide it like that because it really expresses the changes of dimension. This is also a very functional kind of sculpture—the chair is very comfortable to sit on.”

Chetcuti’s automotive manufacturing background has taught him to think in terms of economy of materials. “In the automotive industry, materials are expensive—nothing can be wasted,” Chetcuti said. “For this furniture we envision a skeletal backbone of relatively lightweight aluminum, clean lines, and plenty of polish.”

That said, the chair at cpop was “extremely expensive to build, between labor and material costs alone,” Chetcuti said. The chair is comprised of 33 plates of 3/8” thick aluminum mounted on a central aluminum core. Designed and developed using computer assisted design (CAD), the plates were cut on a state-of-the-art CNC water-jet machine used in high-end automotive manufacturing, polished, then assembled by hand.

“We’re exploring other, more cost-effective materials for a possible limited production run,” said Chetcuti, who built the piece at his Livonia-based automotive manufacturing firm, Quality Metalcraft Inc.

For now, Chetcuti and Camilo plan to build several more pieces in aluminum, including a coffee table they will bring out at Camilo’s annual Designer’s Night party during January’s auto show. They are also developing plans for a multiple-piece architectural installation.

“For a public space, such as a hotel or hospital lobby, this furniture would be comfortable and certainly very durable—and would make a dramatic design statement,” Chetcuti said. “This is a work of industrial sculpture that serves a very practical purpose.”

The furniture line is just the latest Camilo/Chetcuti collaboration. The two created a suspended 30-foot sculpture from discarded Ford GT parts in 2003. Last year, their three-dimensional abstraction of the old Fisher Body logo, machined in solid billet aluminum, was hung in the lobby of the Coach Insignia restaurant atop General Motors’ headquarters in Detroit. The GT sculpture has a sale pending; the lone replica version of the Coach sculpture is in private collection.

Camilo and Chetcuti have several ideas for future projects, but are not quite ready, due to ongoing discussions, to announce plans for their most ambitious project to date. “It’s a massive aluminum sculpture for an outdoor installation, and there are a lot of engineering and logistical problems to overcome” Chetcuti said. “It just might involve the GT.”

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Dave Collins

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