“The past”: an emerging dimension of design

“The past”: an emerging dimension of design

On the subject of “design trends” we have often found ourselves reflecting on the fact that, in the uncertain times in which we live, one of the few certainties is the recuperation of the past. For many years now at each edition of the international Salone del Mobile.Milano, we have seen the re-issue of historic masterpieces. Obviously as far as the purchaser is concerned, it’s not just a case of nostalgia and casting oneself back in time, but also of an eye to investment – the object that rises up from the past, having preserved its iconic and communicative power intact, is seen as “permanent” and therefore untrammelled by more transient fashions. Naturally, however, not all re-editions are the same, both in terms of the correctness of the philological study underpinning the redesign and in terms of legality in respect of the rights of heirs and legatees. Of the many proposals presented at the 2019 edition of the Salone del Mobile, we have selected 10 that encapsulate various general matters for discussion such as the geographical provenance of the most aspirational pieces (not just from Italy and Denmark, but also from Brazil and the USA), their chronological dating (there is an evident chronological closeness to today which makes even objects from the recent past, not just those from a more distant past “re-editable”) and the most sought-after types of pieces.

Martin Eisler, Costela lounge chair, 1952, re-issued by Tacchini
Italy’s increasing interest in Brazilian design has been borne out by the programme of editions (Zanini de Zanine and Giorgio Bonaguro) and re-editions (Martin Eisler) pursued by Tacchini at the Salone del Mobile. During the presentations, Martin Eisler’s masterpiece Costela lounge chair stood out as iconic of a strong, anti-decorative approach to design (note the ribbed structure that embraces the cushions), as was often the case in the very best Brazilian design.

Lounge chair with matte black painted frame and curved multilayer slats; separate seat and backrest cushions. Dimensions: W 74 x D 80 x H 83 cm. Also comes with pouffe: W 74 x D 56 x H 39 cm

Mario Bellini, Chiara floor (and table) lamp, 1969, Flos
Rather than a re-edition, this could be described as a reprisal of production: largely because Bellini oversaw the process (keeping a close eye on the table version in particular, which did not exist the first time round) and especially because Chiara had originally been designed for Flos. This is undoubtedly one of the great Milanese designer’s most important pieces. Chiara represents the successful transposition of a two-dimensional surface to a three-dimensional volume, and especially the metaphor of what looks like an empty space that actually contains a luminous core.

Sheet stainless steel in a glossy, matte bronze or shiny black finish. LED light bulb.

Gianfranco Frattini, Turner bookcase, 1963, re-issued by Poltrona Frau
The ten-year partnership between Gianfranco Frattini and Bernini spawned a series of masterpieces, produced from 1957 for almost a decade, in which typological invention was married with attention to detail. Model 823 of 1963, re-edited by Poltrona Frau under the name Turner, was part of a group of central, modular, swivelling furniture, which included solutions for bookcases, containers and bar furniture. The “skeleton” of the Turner model can be fitted with removable vertical dividers, allowing users to build their own personal bookcase: a precursor to “open work.”

Central swivelling bookcase (65 x 65 x H 123 cm) composed of a metal load-bearing structure enclosed by a central column covered with birch plywood panels, fitted with horizontal Canaletto walnut veneer shelves. These shelves have slots into which 21 vertical dividing elements can be inserted. The top is surmounted by a leather-covered disk, which also swivels.

Ignazio Gardella, Arenzano Three-Armed floor lamp, 1963, re-issued by Tato
The Arenzano lamp is a re-edition of the model with three LED bulbs, and is possibly the most famous piece to come out of the extraordinary collaboration between Ignazio Gardella and Azucena. The acclaimed Milanese firm closed recently, but not before some of the top projects could be retrieved by B&B Italia (Caccia Dominioni) and Tato (Gardella and Corrado Corradi dell’Acqua). The elegantly classical Arenzano is much more than just a lamp, rather a symbol of interior lifestyles during the golden age of Italian design.

Table lamp (58 x 53 x H 102 cm) or wall featuring a brass stem, marble base and three pearl glass bulbs.

André Ricard, Tatu lamp, 1972, Santa&Cole
Two lamps appeared simultaneously towards the end of the 60s, both inspired by water pipes and looking rather like periscopes. These were Cini Boeri’s Model602 for Arteluce and the aptly-named Periscope by Danilo and Corrado Aroldi for Stilnovo. Immediately afterwards, in 1972, the Spanish designer André Ricard came up with a fairly similar shaped lamp, but based on the outline of the armadillo (“Tatu” in Spanish). Manufactured at the time by Metalarte, the Tatu lamp is made in three sections and is totally flexible.

Bedside or wall light (with special fixings) assembled by fitting plastic modules together. Dimmer incorporated into the base and LED lighting. Dimensions: L max 20.5 x H 25 cm, base 8 cm.

Børge Mogensen, Contour lounge chair, 1949, Carl Hansen&Son
It’s incredible to think that this piece was designed exactly 70 years ago! The organic shape of the form-pressed veneer backrest, offset by the solid base, transforms Contour into a sort of mysterious “domestic animal”, both tremendously comfortable and extraordinarily iconic. Børge Mogensen was far less well known than Hans J. Wegner or Poul Kjærholm, but earned his spurs in the world of grand design with this test of his cabinetmaking skills.

Lounge chair in solid wood and oiled multilayer, leather-surfaced seat. Dimensions: L 53.5 x D 63.5 x H 73 cm

Jens Risom, Magazin magazine table, 1949, Fredericia 1911
The spread of Danish design in the United States was largely due to Jens Risom (he arrived in 1939 and by 1942 was collaborating with Hans Knoll on setting up Knoll). This simple magazine rack/table appeared in his personal Jens Risom Design catalogue for the first time in 1949. The concept of simple functionality embodied by the piece, with its carefully crafted cut-outs, joints and overlays, was bound to appeal to the American public.

Model 6500, also known as Magazin, is available in natural or black lacquered oak. Dimensions: H 40.5 x D 47 x H 57.5 cm.

Paul McCobb, Planner shelving, 1950, re-issued by Fritz Hansen
The incredible simplicity of this piece (part of a vast collection) should give us pause to consider just how much contemporary design has changed: probably not one manufacturer today would have taken on the Planner shelving, which on the other hand, 69 years on, has preserved its ability to communicate intact. McCobb, a self-taught American designer, was famous for his attention to proportions and details – as is perfectly obvious!

Powder-coated steel with a black matte finish, shelves in natural oak. Available in three different heights: 84.4-123.2-165 x L 120.5 x D 37.

Salvador Dalì, Portlligat sunbed, 1962, BD
Designed for the garden of his home in Portlligat, this sunbed encapsulates the great Spaniard’s subversively creative side on one hand, but is also evidence of his powerful bond with the designer Jean-Michel Frank during his Parisian period. In the 90s, Oscar Tusquets decided to rehabilitate some of Dalì’s furnishing designs: pieces straddling the fine line between Surrealism (note the obvious anthropomorphic reference) and actual usefulness, but which undoubtedly introduce a new word into the standardised contemporary panorama. Re-presented several years ago, this sunbed acquires a new significance today, given the particular interest in the outdoors.

Sunbed in solid Iroko wood with polyamide wheels. Optional cushions. Dimensions: L 69 x D 180 x H max 92 cm (seat H 40 cm).

Gino Sarfatti, Sconce Model 237 – Chandelier Model 2109, 1959, re-issued by Astep
Put together thanks to Piero Gandini and Alessandro Sarfatti, The Flos with Sarfatti collection, marketed by Astep, enables today’s upcoming generations to discover the genius of Gino Sarfatti (1912-1985), one of the greatest lighting designers in the world. Of the products reissued in 2019, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, the “spheres” collection seems the obvious choice. Sarfatti was fascinated by the celestial bodies, and here he leverages the perfection of the opaline glass sphere, creating a collection that started with one single sphere and went on to feature 24.

Opaline blown glass globes are held in place by black or champagne-coloured metal rings. They come in two choices of diameter, 14 or 20 cm. From Model 237/1 (wall-mounted, with a single sphere), to Model 2109/24 (chandelier, with 24 spheres and a diameter of 134 centimetres).