The mid 1950s saw designers both in the U.S. and abroad approaching Mid Century furniture style from a variety of angles. Along with American designer’s offerings such as Charles and Ray Eames’ molded plastic shells and classic leather and rosewood lounge chair came a “second Renaissance” in Italian furniture. Milan had become a hotbed of creative activity, fueled in part by a design competition held every third year, the Milan Triennales, which featured outstanding examples of textiles, furniture, glass, ceramics and metalwork. Post-war Italian furniture was characterized by a wide use of materials, and the Italian designers’ stock in trade was a deliberately anti-functional appearance featuring asymmetry and floating, spindly elements.
Cassina, a company founded in 1927 by brothers Cesare and Umberto Cassina in Meda, a small city north of Milan famous in the design community for hand production of classic and stylized furniture, brought technical perfection to the works of modern designers such as Carlo di Carli, Gianfranco Frattini, Federico Munari, Gio Ponte and Ico Parisi.
Carlo di Carli (1910 – 1999), Italian architect and designer, graduated from Politecnico di Milano in 1934 and afterwards worked with Gio Ponti and Renato Angeli. 1940 began di Carli’s collaboration with the Milan Triennale, where his position on the Board allowed him to forge relationships between crafts, universities and the Trienalle. His largest body of work in architecture and design came after World War II through the 1970s, and in 1954 he won the Compasso d’Oro the first year of the prestigious Italian industrial design award. di Carli’s most significant architectural projects include a combination residential and office complex at 7 Via dei Giardini in Milan (1947 – 1954), the Sant’Erasmo theatre and the Church of Sant’Ildefonso (1955). In 1961 he became a professor at Politecnico di Milano and by 1965 had ascended to the position of Chairman of the Faculty of Architecture.
Armchair by Carlo di Carli, 1949
Gianfranco Frattini (1926 – 2004) was born in Padua. Like Carlo di Carli, Frattini graduated with an architecture degree from Politecnico di Milano, though almost 20 years later. Frattini then worked in the office of Gio Ponti, his teacher and mentor. Following that early work experience, Frattini opened his own practice in Milan. Unable to find suitable lighting and furniture for his architectural projects, Frattini became an industrial designer by default when he began to employ his own designs for these items. He collaborated with design companies Artemide, Knoll, Arteluce and Fantoni, and many others. While working with Cassina, Frattini produced over fifty designs. Cesare Cassina created several tools and pieces of machinery to bring Frattinni’s designs to realization. Frattini’s designs have become iconic–his Boalum lamp, co-designed with Livio Castiglioni– is part of the collection of the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and his glassware is featured in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Also a Board member of the Milan Trienalle, he forged relationships with master wood crafter Pieroluigi Ghianda. Among his many professional awards was the Compasso d’Oro.
Gianfranco Frattini armchair for Cassina , 1955
Boalum lamp for Artemide
Gio Ponti (1891 – 1979) was an architect, furniture designer, artist, publisher and industrial designer.. After serving in the rank of captain during World War I, Ponti attended the Politecnico de Milan, graduating in 1921. Shortly afterwards he began a partnership with Mino Fiocchi and Emilio Lancia. Projects during this time include a house on Via Randaccio in Milan, Bouilhet villa in Paris, and the Casa Rasini apartments in Milan. Around 1933 he moved on from Lancia and teamed with Antonio Fornaroli and Eugenio Soncini whose first major commission was the headquarters for Italian chemical firm Montecatini. Several other commissions followed, including offices for Fiat and the University of Padua. In 1956 construction began on the 32 story Pirelli Tower. Ponti later went on to work in partnership with Alberto Rosseli and Antonio Fornaroli, and international commissions ensued. Ponti’s industrial designs included stylish glass bottles for Venini a furnishings line, Domus Nova for Rinascente department stores, chair designs for Cassina, such as the Distex and Superleggera, which was stylish and so strong it could be lifted by one finger, and lighting for Artemide and Fontana Arte. Ponti founded Domus magazine, and after a six year hiatus to edit Stile magazine, returned to Domus, which he edited until his death. Ponti was also a member of the Faculty of Architecture at Politecnico di Milano for 35 years. In 1934 he was awarded title of Commander of the Royal Order of Vasa in Stockholm and also won the Accademia d’Italia Art Prize, as well as a gold medal from the Paris Academie de Architecture.
Superleggera chair for Cassina
Distex lounge chair
Ico Parisi (1916 – 1996) was one of the most important Italian furniture designers of the 1950s. Not wanting to be pigeonholed into a singular medium, Parisi considered himself a Renaissance artist who could create as a painter, photographer, architect filmmaker or industrial designer. While in his teens, Parisi trained in construction in Como, Italy where he lived with his father, an art teacher. In 1936 he formed the architectural group Alta Quota and Gruppo Como in Como, and after serving on the Russian front, Parisi and his wife Luisa Aiani a student of Gio Ponti, received a prestigious commission to design furniture for the Milan State Library, after which they started La Ruota, an interior design studio where they designed glasswork, ceramics and jewelry that became part of the Linea Italiana, as well as furniture for Cassina, Longhi and Cappellini. La Ruota was also the genesis of collaborations with artists such as Melotti, Fontant Munari and Somaini. Parisi’s biomorphic designs of curvaceous wood and metal shapes were acclaimed in Milan and elsewhere. Parisi and his wife designed furniture lines for M. Singer and Sons in New York, as well as Altamira and Mobili Italiana Moderne. The Model 813 Uovo, or “egg chair” for Cassina was hailed by Gio Ponti in a letter to Parisi : “My dear, your egg chair is a marvel. You are a master, and all that is left for me is to retire and live in Civate in oblivion”.
Parisi completed his studies in architecture under Alberto Sartoris at the Institute Atheneum in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1950, and in 1956 joined the Association for Industrial Design. The Parisi’s association with Cassina produced nominations in 1955 for the Compasso d’Oro for their Model 691 and 839 chairs, and a Gold Medal at Colori e Forme Nelle Casa d’Oggi in 1957. Parisi and his wife continued to work with Cassina through the 1980s.
Ico Parisi Egg Chair for Cassina, 1951
Coffee table with magazine rack by Ico Parisi