In this new series, Matthew Sullivan (AQQ Design) highlights some designers that you should know, but might not. We'll be posting new Design Files twice a month.
Afra Scarpa: Born in Montebelluna, Italy, 1937
Tobia Scarpa: Born in Venice, Italy, 1935
The work of Afra and Tobia Scarpa, now in its seventh decade, has consistently displayed an ingenious particularity.
Though their output in each decade spoke relevantly to the main design discourses and roving zeitgeists, the work retained autonomy and what can only be described as a personal poetry. From their first collaborations as husband and wife in the middle 1950s until the present day, no other designers have spoken as completely and as articulately in single furniture offerings. Each piece, whether their Biagio table lamp for Flos, their Bastiano seating range for Knoll or their Centenary vases for L'eclaireur, simultaneously addresses history, industrial production, form, function, materials and contemporary cultures.
Above: The Bastiano sofa for Knoll (1960). Top image: The Soriana easy chair for Cassina (1969)
It is very uncommon for designer(s) to be concerned with so many parameters; it's usually function or contemporariness only. An ease and comfort with such a dense address can perhaps be attributed to Tobia's lineage. He is the son of Carlo Scarpa, a universally admired Venetian architect and designer, renowned for his lyrical modernism and uncanny ability to amiably insert modern structures alongside historic architecture. Tobia and Afra's furniture pulls from a similar source, conferring with predecessors while seeming utterly original.
The Soriana easy chair and ottomanThe Soriana easy chair and ottoman
Take their 1969 Soriana range for Cassina as an example. Here is a sofa, an ottoman and an easy chair, in function serving well Cassina's target client of the time (dilettantish, bohemian, bourgeoisie-hippie) but under scrutiny, quite surprising and strange. Looking down from a standing position (its initial appearance), the range has an almost cartoonish, slightly anthropomorphized feeling. Looking closer, long, thin, eccentric chrome rods are seen along the base, but their use, whether structural or decorative, can't be determined. Only from the back are the chrome pieces revealed as a bizarre bracing and upholstery system, cunningly interpreting the metal frame and loose-cushion seating system developed by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand circa 1928. (Should there be doubts that this is an intentional reference, note that Cassina reintroduced the LC pieces in 1965.)
The Soriana range is indicative of all of the Scarpas' output, in that it successfully puts pressure on every aspect of a piece of furniture. They are glorious aggregators. And they continue to work today, still pushing for poetic, incorporative and dexterous design.
The Giacomina sofa for Meritalia Lounge chairs for Cassina (1966) Left: The Artona chair for Maxalto (1975). Right: The Biagio lamp for Flos (1968) The Nictea pendant lamp for Flos (1961) Left: The Vanessa bed for Gavina (1960). Right: A chair for Maxalto (1975) The Libertà chair for Meritalia The Bastiano sofa for Knoll, photographed in a Gavina showroom designed by Tobia's father, Carlo Scarpa