Mid Century modern Italian design: The master supremacy of Italy's creations.


A talk with our senior purchasing manager about love, history and beauty of Italian Design.

 

In the course of my career I often find myself answering the same recurring question from my customers- how is it possible that Italians are so great in making amazing furniture? We all know Italian design and creativity is known worldwide but still most people can’t come to terms with this sort of supremacy. I often thought of a simple way to explain this very thin line between beauty and functionality which Italians are able to master at their best.

 The most simple product may be functional but not necessarily meet that aesthetic taste most people seek. Italian design is able to immediately come to terms with these two important factors and blend them effortlessly almost in a seamless way.  There is an explanation, after all, and it is found in the history of our country, Italy, a history which goes way back and prior to the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Like music and art, Italian design has centuries old deep historical and social roots. Italians have lived in a country where everything was already established, constructed and built over the ages and therefore our approach to construction and, more specifically, function was not a prisoner of bare-bone necessity.  Instead, it had latitude and an allowance to be driven by passion for a sense of aesthetic where “beauty” could be reached by going beyond the daily humdrum and routine.  Let’s just think for a moment: since centuries Italians have been educated in aesthetics. They lived in a country where roads were already there, and bridges, aqueducts, big buildings, theaters, museums. Our predecessors built all of those with the intention for us to use them, and thankfully most of them are still in use nowadays. In our history, the great Papacies were funding big public and private works and the wealthy families where hiring sculptors, painters, and artists to embellish their castles and their cities and public spaces. These artists not only exploited aesthetical boundaries but bound them with a sense of functionality that our predecessors, the Romans, already refined.  This is why we have this sense of beauty in our background because we live in it, daily. It’s like having a piano teacher father and an opera singer mother and end up making music the purpose of your life. It’s the country itself, Italy, to make Italians a country of builders and visionaries. Think about this country and its natural wonders, a country which lacks in oil or coal but has always been rich in marbles and travertine natural materials which are perfect for constructions. And think about its landscapes, which are the canvas for magnificent inspiration by the most acclaimed international artists of all times.  

It is with this backdrop that we can come to better understand the roots of the post war mid century Italian design.  A credenza was not just a box to hold dishes and similarly, a sofa was not just a few cushions and a wood frame on which to sit. They had to be more, they had to tell a story, they had to embellish and accentuate the surrounding environment or, at times, they just had to float and disappear into that environment but, above all, they had to be pieces of art standing on their own right. At the root of this focus on form was the fact that most post-war designers were architects by training or highly specialized artisans and craftsmen.  In some cases these designers were cross fertilizing design innovations across industries – be that the automobile industry, furnishings, appliances, graphics etc.   So the end result of this cross fertilization and emphasis on design was the advent of the ‘Made in Italy’ label reflecting a centuries old cultural emphasis on design and quality across multiple products. Unfortunately with the advent of globalization, mass production and the constant search for production efficiencies a lot of this has been lost over the years.  Even Italy and its culture is subject to these new realities, but for those of us who have an admiration for the creative spirit of those times,  the products of Buffa, Ponti, Borsani, Zanuso, Vignellis, are magnificent standard bearers of the true essence of ‘Made in Italy’.

Rita Mantellini

Senior purchasing manager Mid Century Italian furniture