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Design Icons

The icons of Design have no time

They enter our homes, our offices and all human spaces leaving a sign in the life’s history of each person. Elegance, simplicity, irreverence, colour, minimal ... everything participates in the creation of an object that travels in memory.

CH07 Shell Chair - 1963

Hans J. Wegner
by Carl Hansen & Søn

The view of a 3-leg chair might surprise you, but the beauty and functionality of the CH07 Chair created by the Danish designer Hans Wegner in 1963 makes people smile, exactly like the shape of the chair.
A light chair with soft lines in which elegance and organic shapes intertwine, thus making its style famous and everlasting, a real icon of design.

It is also called "smiling chair" or "shell chair", and despite its three legs it is absolutely stable, thanks to the great skills of Wegner in architecture and cabinet making. In the past, Wegner said: "a chair must be beautiful from all sides and angles", and this is undoubtedly visible in the design of this great iconic object.

The materials used for its construction are of the highest quality: the back and the seat are made of laminated wood in pressed shapes, while the front legs - with soft and light lines - are made from a single piece of laminated wood. The seat and the back are upholstered with fabric or leather, sometimes even characterised by chromatic plays.

When it was conceived, its shape and particularity was not appreciated and its production was interrupted in the seventies; in 1998, when the times were ripe, the production of the chair restarted and won numerous design awards.

Its beauty is still produced in its original version by Carl Hansen & Søn in Denmark.

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Taccia Lamp - 1962

Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
by Flos

If the Taccia Lamp is not regarded as the design icon par excellence, what another object could ever be considered as such?

The Taccia Lamp was born from the brilliant idea of the Castiglioni brothers, in 1962. Although its neoclassical design with support reminds a Greek column, it was actually inspired by the design of stove pipes, for their characteristic of heat dispersion.

As the brothers admitted, the lamp was initially imagined in a wrong way. At that time, driven by the enthusiasm for new synthetic materials they decided to use transparent plastic to produce it, but the heat of incandescent bulbs deformed this material, that became like a flat sheet. Hence the idea of changing the material and to use the glass.

The inimitable Taccia was then born. The base is made of "naturally" anodized extruded aluminium or black painted, outlined by protrusions to improve the heat diffusion of the bulb; the upper part of the lamp consists of a swivelling deep glass diffuser, on which a concave, white enamelled, aluminium disc is placed. The bulb is hidden inside the metal base thus resulting in a mild, non-blinding light thanks to the clearness of the glass of the bell.

Beyond the initial difficulties, the story has a happy ending: in fact, as Castiglioni said: "The Taccia Lamp is the Mercedes of lamps, a symbol of success”.
And success has arrived and continues over time.

Lampada Taccia_Taccia_FADfucinearchitetturadesign_Studiodiarchitettura

The Nemo Armchair - 2010

Fabio Novembre
by Driade

Since its creation in 2010, the Nemo Armchair has become a worldwide recognised design icon. Its designer, Fabio Novembre, often attributes his works to the Greek culture, theatre, and statuary art.

This eclectic, enigmatic and in some ways disquieting armchair is not a simple seat, but a sculpture-armchair which combines and blends design, functionality, and contemporary art, almost with a theatrical feature. Everyone's attention and curiosity is captured by its impressive size, regardless of its position, in enclosed spaces of different types or in a garden.

The backrest recalls the features of a human face with classic features, an inexpressive mask with empty eyes, devoid of memory and expression, a face out of time. Its high and cosy backrest creates an embracing place to hide yourself. The polyethylene seat can be assembled on both a swivel and a fixed base and the colours range from white to red, from black to grey.

In 2020, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of its creation, the installation NEMO OMNI was presented during the event Milano Design City. To promote equality and inclusiveness, the armchair was proposed in five different Skin Tone colours; as the face also represents the beauty, it cannot be represented by a single colour.

A design icon capable to blend art, culture, community, expressions, and global messages of inclusiveness.

Poltrona nemo

Panton Chair - 1967

Verner Panton
by Vitra

The Panton chair was designed by Verner Panton with the idea of creating an object that perfectly adhered to the body lines. It was conceived between 1959-1960 but put into production by Vitra only in 1967.

The stylish iconic Panton chair was made out in one single piece, and due to its as unusual as surprising shape it easily became one of the cult objects of the twentieth century. In 1971, it even became the cause of scandal for a piece of a British magazine, when Amanda Lear showed her body leaned against the chair in a sensual way.

Several years have gone by from the design to the production, as at that time it was exceedingly difficult, if not almost impossible, to realise its cantilevered shape by defying the gravity laws. Thanks to the innovative material it was made of (polyester combined with fibreglass and polyurethane) and the availability of various types of colours, the Panton chair immediately became an amazing item, perfect for any furnishing context.

There was, however, another problem to overcome, its high production cost; in fact, towards the end of the 70s the production of the Panton was stopped. It took ten years more to have it back on the market, thanks to a new material, the polyurethane foam which has a cheaper cost; since then, it has become a real pop icon.

In 2017, to celebrate the half century from its conception, two limited editions were produced: the Panton Chrome and the Panton Glow. Thanks to a metallisation process, the Panton Chrome acquires a mirror finish, while the Glow is realised through a tricky process where five layers of paint, containing phosphorescent pigments, are laid; the layers, absorbing the sunlight, give out a wonderful light blue glow in the dark.

Bourgie Table Lamp – 2004

Ferruccio Laviani
by Kartell

The Bourgie Table Lamp is a timeless best seller that has entered in the Olympus of design thanks to its creator Ferruccio Laviani, who designed it for Kartell. Thanks to its ideational concept, this lamp brings different generations together.

Its name says it all!

The inspiration struck him while he was listening to the song "Bourgie, bourgie" by the Gladys Knight & The Pips, that teased the bourgeoisie in the 1970s; this is why he decided to design an object that undermined the idea of classic and formal in an ironic way.

So, he decided to choose the style of a seventeenth-century object as an example, and to turn it upside-down by using an innovative material, the polycarbonate which transformed the classic object into a pop icon. Its transparency and the contrast between shape and support give a contemporary look to the lamp, without affecting its traditional shape. The lamp is now produced in different colours, making it suitable for any environment.

Its two-dimensional base is characterised by curved and winding shapes, reminiscent of the Baroque style, which convey in the lampshade made with a pleated effect. Its attachment system allows to transform the lamp according to the occasions, thus becoming an office, desk, or a bedside lamp, even a floor one.

A timeless spectacular icon of cult design.

Lampada Bourgie

Carlton bookcase / room divider - 1981

Memphis Milano
by Knoll

Before describing how the Carlton bookcase is born, an excursus must be made about its creator, the designer Ettore Sottsass, and the Memphis Group. In 1981, Ettore Sottsass founded an Italian Group named Memphis, in cooperation with Hans Holleim, Andrea Branzi, Arata Isozaky, Michele de Lucchi and many other international architects; the Group remained in operation until 1987. Its aim was to react to the design imposed in the 70s, characterised - according to their vision - by a scarce personality and by barely bright and dull colours.

So, the members of the Group created a hundred furniture and other objects, with bright colours and the oddest shapes, taking their inspiration from the art deco, the pop art, and consequently from the mass culture of those years.

The Memphis Group thus became the spokesperson for a new idea of contemporary furniture, where the object acquires emotional and symbolic aspects.

The greatest design icon that arose from this vortex of ideas was the Carlton bookcase, Sottsass' masterpiece that perfectly reflected the characteristics described above. Given its sizes, this bookcase is also used as dividing wall and has an "anthropomorphic" shape in the collective imagination; in fact, it recalls the image of a man with raised arms and open legs, obviously characterised by bold and bright colours.

Despite its vaguely unstable shape (that is the perception that Sottsass wanted to transmit), the bookcase is very solid as it is made of assembled laminate panels and sliding drawers, resting on a thick, black, and white base.

Its geometric shape, eclecticism and uniqueness are so strong that this design icon is not seen as an element to be coordinated with the surrounding, but as a real monument that becomes the centre of everything.



Carlton bookcase

Tulip Table - 1955

Eero Saarinen
by Knoll

Many design objects have become part of our "cultural / aesthetic legacy", over the time. Among these, one of the most important icons of modern design was born in 1955: the Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen.

Its unique and innovative design is reminiscent of a tulip stem. Saarinen distances himself from the collective imagination of tables adorned with four legs, giving life to an object characterised by a single central leg that opens like a stem to support the corolla, that is the top of the table. The famous Tulip chairs will become part of the collection as well, always realised according to the same criteria.

Saarinen conceived this table to avoid the annoying "slum of legs" created by chairs, tables, and humans: this confusion represented to him an "ugly, confusing and unrestful world". The project, however, was the result of a great experimentation, born from the desire to design innovative and ingenious home furnishings for Knoll.

In addition to the shape, also the materials used were very innovative. At that time, plastic was not yet strong enough to support the weight of the top; therefore, he initially used the aluminium fibre to realise the base, and the fibreglass shaped as a shell, covered in black, white, or platinum. The top is still available today both round and oval, laminated, veneered, or made of marble.

Today, the patents for Saarinen's works are expired; so, how is it possible to recognise the originals? Thanks to the plate at the base bearing the Knoll Logo and Designer's signature, exactly to certify its authenticity.

Tavolo Tulip

606 Universal Shelving System – 1960

Dieter Rams
by De Padova

Some bookcases are so powerful from the communicative point of view to leave an indelible sign over time, as in the case of the iconic 606 Universal Shelving System, designed by the legendary Dieter Rams.

It was born in the 60s and re-edited by Maddalena De Padova in 1984; the 606 has maintained its high success ever since, thanks to its essential style and the multiple functionality of its convenient modular system.

Simple and geometric shapes create a shelving system adaptable to any environment thanks to its versatility: by using ceiling or floor mounted uprights it can become a double-sided bookcase, thus having a dividing function between different spaces, or it can be used in a more classic way by anchoring it on the wall, and playing with its various modular compositions.

Shelves are made of very thin aluminium sheets, folded at the ends to facilitate the coupling or the support. The material and its fine processing give it a minimal character, that can be embellished with drawers or a writing desk. In addition, the bookcase is available in three different aluminium finishes: satin anodised, matt black anodised or white painted.

As initially mentioned, Maddalena De Padova obtained the rights from Rams to produce a totally aluminium version of the bookcase in 1984, and this version is still among the most important and recognizable creations of the De Padova Company.

606 Universal Shelving System – 1960 Dieter Rams by De Padova

Togo Sofa - 1973

Michel Ducaroy
by Ligne Roset

Do you think that the polyurethane foam is unsuitable for creating an object with a high aesthetic value? Absolutely not! The designer Michel Ducaroy realised a unique and non-conformist design icon with this material: the Togo sofa.

A sofa without armrests which, thanks to the 5-density polyurethane material, acquires – in its complexity - a strong flexibility and an inimitable comfort. The fabric or leather cover of the seat is completely removable and characterised by a pleating process which, thanks to the polyester padding content, gives a pleasant and embracing softness.

This sensation is amplified by the shapes that can be given to the sofa; for this reason, it is often playfully associated to caterpillars or toothpaste tubes. The mix of materials and folds create an embracing and compact mass that is light, despite its size.

The Togo sofa was presented for the first time at the Salon des Arts ménagers at the Palais de la Défense in Paris, in 1973; it became so popular that Ducaroy and Ligne Roset had to immediately produce further additional pieces, including casual armchairs or the famous corner element, suitable to create sofas with extravagant dimensions and shapes.

Ducaroy also developed other ideas, including a sofa bed with a flexible mattress structure which, despite its particularity, had not the same success as the original.

The Togo Sofa is still a contemporaneity emblem; a timeless icon dreamt up to spend lazy moments in the greatest comfort, embraced by the softness.

togo sofa

Barcelona Chair - 1929

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
by Knoll

If we think of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, we immediately think of “Casa Farnsworth”, of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and - certainly - of the pavilion, realised for the Universal Exposition of Barcelona in 1929. On that occasion, one of the worldwide design icons was born: the Barcelona Chair.

Mies' idea sprang up from the wish to revisit in an industrial key the “sella curulis”, the Etruscan upholstered chair used in ancient Rome, reserved to magistrates and Roman aristocracy. His idea was to accommodate the Royalty of Spain to the best, during the Exposition. Mies said that he conceived this chair "for the rest of the King".

The Barcelona Chair was initially designed according to the technologies of the time, using therefore a metal part made of bolted pieces with elegant and delicate curved feet; the frame was then replaced by stainless steel in 1950. To recall the ancient Rome, he initially thought to use wild boar skin for the upholstery, then replaced by bovine leather divided into 40 hand-sewn squares, whose corners are quilted with buttons.

The smoothness and slenderness of the structure, together with the hefty handcrafted upholstery give an elegant, important, and impressive effect to the Barcelona Chair.

The production of the Barcelona Chair has never been interrupted, even during the Second World War. Mies sold the marketing and production rights to his friend Florence Knoll (Knoll brand) in 1953, during his period at the Illinois Institute of Technology (always designed by Mies).

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Lampada Atollo - 1977

Vico Magistretti
by Oluce

Winner of the Compasso d'Oro two years only after its conception, "Atollo" is one of the most iconic lamps of the world scene, characterised by a timeless design.

Designed by the architect, town planner and designer Vico Magistretti, this lamp has completely revolutionised the classic idea of table lamp, thanks to the use of three distinct shapes: a cylinder, a cone, and a hemisphere - three neat geometric solids.

The play on subtractions rather than on additions resulted in an essential and geometric design, whose well balanced shapes give it a unique and refined decorative style. The lamp was commissioned by the company "Oluce", and was initially designed in two material variations: one in lacquered aluminium and one in opaline glass; both suitable for a welcoming and delicate light diffusion. There are currently six lamp models: three for the metal type and as many for the glass type.

A versatile lamp, adaptable to all environments: from living rooms to bedrooms, from studios to entrances.
le icone del design - lampada atollo

Poltrona Proust - 1978

Alessandro Mendini
fabric version by Cappellini
plastic version for outdoors by Magis

The result of this great work by Alessandro Mendini, an Italian worldwide famous architect, artist and designer, originates from a strong and incisive statement: “everything has already been invented and what remains to be done is just a reinterpretation of pre-existing objects, adding decorative or structural elements that modify the dynamics of the original."

The idea was born during a voyage in Veneto, when Mendini came across an eighteenth-century style armchair which gave him the artistic illumination, and in 1978, the first example was created.

As well as the reference to its history, the greatest feature of this armchair is the use of polychrome dots, which invade the entire armchair from the fabrics to the wooden structure, thus giving it a sensation of fluffiness. The production was limited to few pieces, all rigorously created by artisan hands and controlled by Mendini, in all their curves and shapes

Currently, Mendini's granddaughter is in charge of painting by hand the individual armchairs while "Cappellini" is in charge for large retailers production since 1993. They have produced it by implementing a change to the upholstery fabrics only without changing the wooden structure. "Magis" has instead created an outdoor version in plastic material.

Since then, the history of this armchair has been studded with so many successes that it entered in the MoMA collection.
6 - Poltrona Proust

Coffee Table - 1944

Isamu Noguchi
by Vitra

Who is Isamu Noguchi?

We must ask this question to fully understand the value of the Coffee Table. Besides being an architect and designer, Noguchi was - above all - a sculptor.

Coffee Table was born as a real sculpture in which the table, structured in rosewood and glass, uses the bio morphism to create function and art. The table was created as a "sculpture for use" and "design for production", usable both in work and residential environments.

In addition to the use of quality materials, its main feature is the structure. The solid walnut base consists of two identical inverted parts, positioned on a single rotation bar: this ensures the stability of the glass base positioned above, and gives a touch of fluidity and elegance, at the same time.
tavoli icone del design

Tulip - 1956

Eero Saarinen
by Knoll International

As clearly expressed by its name, this seat is inspired by the homonymous flower. It consists of a central pedestal that recalls the stem of a flower and that also constitute the backrest; a whole whose aim is the fluidity and a welcoming feeling.

It is no coincidence that Saarinen created this seat inspired by soft and delicate forms, instead of the austere and geometric German style of the time.

In addition to its shape, its main peculiar characteristic is the continuity between the swivel base and the seat; the swivel base is made out of reinforced aluminium while the seat is made out of pressed fiberglass. Since their colours are similar, it seems that the seat consists of just one element.

The seat is characterised by a removable filled cushion in various colours, with removable lining.

This chair has become one of the greatest icons of the world design, and has been awarded both by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and with the Federal Award for Industrial Design.
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UP Series - 1969

Gaetano Pesce
by B&B Italia

Seven different seat modules in various sizes and colours, one of the greatest expressions of the global Radical Design. The anatomical features of the UP5 + UP6 Series, designed by Gaetano Pesce, are unequivocal: they represent a womb, reminiscent of prehistoric fertility statues with the addition of a sphere tied to the armchair body, that acts as a pouffe - "the woman with a ball at her feet".

In detail, it is characterised by a two large breasts located in the upper part of the backrest, while the lower part recalls the thighs; the effect is that when you sit down, you feel embraced and protected, as when you were a child sitting on your mother’s lap.

The armchair was born both as a praise to the woman (visible in its forms), and as a criticism of the hard life that women suffer in many parts of the world (represented by the spherical pouffe, the ball at her feet).
The armchairs are made of polyurethane material and covered in stretch fabric. This has allowed that they were vacuum packed since 1973, thus reducing the packaging size by about 90%.
poltrone icone del design

Arco - 1962

Achille e Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
by Flos

The greatest innovations arise from simple things. The "Arco" lamp by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni is inspired to the old streetlight lamps, that allow a suspended lighting point. The aim was to create a lighting point from above without being obliged to resort to a traditional ceiling light (as a chandelier).

The appropriate word is "essentiality", like the major works by Castiglioni.

The lamp consists of a vertical parallelepiped base in Carrara marble (65 kg), with a strategic hole that easily allows the movement of the entire lamp, by inserting a cylindrical element (like a broomstick).
The arch is mounted in the rear part of the marble and consists of four extruded steel elements. The bulb is positioned to a height of 2 MT to allow a relaxing broad-spectrum illumination. The light point is positioned inside a dome shaped shade, consisting of two pieces: a perforated spherical cap, which prevents the lamp holder from overheating, and an aluminium ring which is used to adjust the position and height of the shade, according to the arc adjustment .
icone del design

Lounge Chair &Ottoman - 1956

Charles & Ray Eames
by Vitra

In 1956, the couple of American designers Charles and Ray Eames created what will become one of the style icons, the "Lounge Chair" for hotels, exclusive clubs and business areas.

A swivel aluminium base contains a veneered multilayer shell, made up of cushions covered in real leather. A comfortable seat that also emphasises its function thanks to the presence of the Ottoman, which gives it relaxation and comfort.

The expressive power of the Lounge Chair & Ottoman is so powerful that it has been permanently exhibited at the MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
sedie icone del design

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