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Italian Furniture Design of the 1940’s & 1950’s

19th November 2018

Header image features the Roberto Cavalli Guam chair and the Cavalli Maclaine Armchair, both inspired by vintage Italian furniture design.

Asked to name the Golden Age of Italian Furniture and many design historians would eschew the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo periods in favour of the mid-20th century. Of course things change according to fashions and styles and the 1950’s especially is an incredibly well regarded period at this time – but it was not always so. The experiments in shape, form and even materials that are emblematic of the progressive Italian approach in the 1950’s had their epicenter around North Italy especially Milan and Turin.

The key designers at this time, often from an architectural background are Gio Ponti, Carlo Mollino, Ico & Luisa Parisi, Carlo di Carli and to a lesser extent Aldo Tura & Piero Fornasetti. At the same time manufacturers grew their operations and brands such as Zanotta, Cassina, & Cappellini flourished. Gio Ponti edited the famous style magazine Domus which even today is a well-respected barometer of achingly fashionable interior and architectural trends. Ponti & Mollino in particular were pushing the envelope in terms of shapes and structures and the use of organic shapes aided by technologies were executed in bent ply and metal. Ponti and Mollino received many important commissions but their style remained predominantly regional and the best examples are again, around Milan and Turin. The International reception of their work was very favorable, but it is arguable that it spread far beyond Italy – unlike, for instance Le Corbusier in France and Gropius in Germany.

A quirk of design history is that several talented Italian designers from this period moved to work in Brazil and had a profound impact on the design scene there.  Due to their rarity, items of Mollino furniture especially, command very high prices at auction and are often now only seen in museums. Ponti designed for multiple production and for many manufacturers and though desirable, does not achieve the same prices. Also, many manufacturers still produce these designs under license as the contemporary lines fit into the modern aesthetic.