Italy is not only home to the biggest international design fair, Salone del Mobile, but also to some of the most influential and talented designers in the world. Italian architects and designers helped to shape and create the contemporary design scene through their innovations. Italian design has already become synonymous with refined style and good taste. Italian designers perfectly understand that having a sense of style doesn’t necessary mean to play it safe. In fact, they create bold and unique designs that can become iconic and enduring. So let’s meet 3 of the greatest Italian design masters.
Giovanni "Gio" Ponti (1891 – 1979)
Gio Ponti can be rightfully considered the father of Italian design. His influence on Italian architecture and interior design hasn’t been surpassed by any other. He found a way to express the creativity, personality and culture of Italian people into his buildings, furniture and decorative objects. His works are extremely sensual, playful, ironic, colorful, well crafted and expressive.
SORRENTO Carpet by Amini
Gio Ponti graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan in 1921. There’s little Ponti couldn’t do in his life. Trained as an architect, he made a name for himself creating ceramics, glassware, furniture and buildings. As an architect, his greatest success and the peak of his career was Pirelli Tower, the second highest skyscraper to be built in Milan after Breda tower. When the skyscraper was finished, Ponti was so satisfied with his own work that he told his daughter that “she was so beautiful that I’d love to marry her” (he always spoke of his creations in the feminine). Gio Ponti also founded the important Italian design magazine Domus, where he worked for many years. Gio Ponti was a man of many talents, he was a writer, a university professor and a cultural advocate. In his life he worked for over 120 different prestigious companies.
D.154.2 Armchair by Molteni
After many years as a highly successful and talented architect, Gio Ponti took interest in designing furnishings. During his career, he created an impressive number of decorative objects, lighting and furnishings. Some of his designs he created alone, some in collaboration with other designers and artists. For example, he worked with one of the most influential and important artists of his time, Piero Fornasetti. In the late 1940s and 1950s he created some of his most famous interior design pieces. His chairs, designed during that period became extremely popular for their joyful style and modern sensuality. One of Ponti’s most famous designs was the legendary Superleggera chair (Superlight chair). It was a marvelous symbol of modern design and traditional craftsmanship created for Cassina. Gio Ponti’s other works with Italian furniture manufacturers include Continuum rattan chair designed for Bonacina in 1963, Dezza armchair created for Poltrona Frau in 1966 and many other furniture pieces he designed for some of the most famous Italian furniture companies.
Gaetana "Gae" Aulenti (1927 – 2012)
Gae Aulenti, the lady of modern design, was also graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan in 1953 as one of only two female students in her class. In such a male-dominated society and field, she managed to express her natural talent and became one of the most influential and famous architects and designers of the postwar Italy. As well as Gio Ponti she had a lot of talents. She was an art director of FontanaArte, the historical company founded by Gio Ponti and Luigi Fontana, wrote for Casabella, a famous Italian architectural and product design magazine, and created the project for Piazzale Cadorna in Milan. She was also famous for several important museum projects, including the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the Contemporary Art Gallery at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and many others.
PIPISTRELLO Table lamp by Martinelli Luce
Gae Aulenti received numerous prestigious awards during her career, among them: the special prize for the Culture of the Italian Republic, the Legion d'Honneur by the French Republic, conferred by Francois Mitterand, the "Premium Imperiale" of the Japan Art Association for architecture and many other prices for her work and achievements. Her name and legacy are honored in the very heart of Milan with Piazza Gae Aulenti, which was inaugurated after her death in 2012. In the field of product design, it’s impossible not to mention her Pipistrello lamp, inspired by Art Nouveau and produced by Martinelli Luce in 1965. Fifty years later it’s still considered an iconic lamp that is also exhibited at the MoMa in New York. The lamp’s conical base and the diffusor reminds us of the unfolding wings of a bat.
Cesare "Joe" Colombo (1930 – 1971)
Joe Colombo is another Italian designer who left his mark in the history of international product design by creating furniture and lighting that became true icons of Italian avant-garde movement. Joe Colombo came to design relatively late, having spent most of his twenties pursuing sculpture and painting. He studied at the Brera Fine Arts Academy in Milan and later at the Polytechnic University.
TUBE Chair by Flexform
In the 1950s he joined the Movimento Nucleare, the avant-garde art movement founded by two Italian artists, Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo. In the period signed by the international anxiety surrounding the nuclear bomb danger, this group of artists was aimed to create something new and innovative, breaking the static rules of traditional painting. The work he produced during that time expressed his fantastic and futuristic visions, clearly influencing his future furniture designs. In the late 1950s Joe Colombo and his brother inherited their father’s ribbon factory. Joe abandoned painting and started using the family factory as a laboratory for his experiments with innovative for that period plastic materials: fiberglass, ABS and polyethylene. He concentrated mostly on industrial design, believing that good interior design should be available to everyone. In that period, he developed an interest in modularity and particularly in the concept of living systems. Some of his most interesting creations were futuristic modular living systems, which were represented by big plastic boxes containing seemingly everything that one single person could need: a bed, kitchen, bathroom and closet.
ELDA Armchair by Longhi
Joe Colombo collaborated with some of the most famous Italian design manufacturers such as Boffi, Kartell, Stilnovo, Alessi, Zanotta, Oluce and many others. His furniture designs were characterized by round and bold forms, he used modern technologies to create new almost futuristic design solutions. Colombo’s career was tragically interrupted in 1971 when he died of heart attack at the age of 41. During his short but prolific career Joe Colombo created some iconic designs of the 1960s. His Elda Armchair created in 1963 is considered to be the first armchair made of molded plastic (fiberglass). In 1967 he created his famous modular furniture collection which was composed of different-size curved pieces that could be assembled together in various configurations to form chairs, sofas and entire living areas. This modular series also included his famous Tube lounge chair.