Born again: rediscovering midcentury design icons
From Bauhaus tables and traditional Mexican chairs, to sustainable takes on iconic sofas, we chart the most exciting design reissues happening right now
Modern design is more actual than ever. Whether it’s classic Paul McCobb furniture, midcentury Italian pieces and modernist table settings, there is something alluring about revisiting the most exciting design chapters of the 20th century to uncover the stories of classic products and their creators. Furniture companies designers’ archives, working to ressurect and adapt modernist design icons and long-forgotten beauties for the 21st-century. Here is our edit of the most riveting reissues and the tales behind them.
Butaque Chair by Clara Porset
Celebrating the Mexican vernacular, Luteca has reissued the work of Cuban-born designer Clara Porset. Living and working in Mexico since the 1930s, Porset worked closely with Luis Barragán and created some of the most iconic Mexican furniture of the 20th century. ‘Clara Porset persists in the search for her own design, a design that reflects the cultural and social conditions of Mexico with the intention of turning it into a national design,’ said Mexican curator Ana Elena Mallet. Her best known piece was her reinterpretation of the classic Latin American Butaque (which she designed in the 1940s), a traditional chair merging Spanish colonial forms and pre-Colombian ritualistic seats. Luteca collaborated with the National Autonomous University of Mexico to recreate Porset’s original design.
Pavilion and Exposior Collections by Paul McCobb
CB2 has acquired some pieces by American designer Paul McCobb, with collections of indoor and outdoor furniture as well as lighting now available through the American furniture company. McCobb’s 1952 Pavilion collection of outdoors chairs and tables features delicate iron frames, class elements and upholstered seats (in Sunbrella fabrics), while the Exposior lighting range, designed in 1951, is defined by timeless compositions and details in brass, wood and travertine. FORM Portfolios, the company preserving Paul McCobb’s legacy, worked closely on the collection. Managing director Mark Masiello described the partnership as ‘an authentic extension of Paul McCobb’s vision, also honoring his legacy by creating a collection that is attainable for those who appreciate and seek good design.’
Camaleonda Sofa by Mario Bellini
It may be 50 years since Mario Bellini designed the ‘Camaleonda’, yet this modular sofa looks utterly contemporary, and now B&B Italia is reissuing it with a sustainable spin. Keeping the aesthetic of the 1970 original, the company redeveloped the sofa from the inside. Made of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified beech wood and recyclable materials, the inner structure is easy to take apart at the end of the sofa’s life, while the feet are made of recycled wood. Ever reconfigurable, the sofa is, of all Bellini’s pieces, ‘perhaps the one that better represents a sense of freedom’, he says.
Tables by Marcel Breuer
Very Good & Proper and Isokon Plus have reissued two tables by Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer. The paths of the two companies merged last year when VG&P founder Ed Carpenter acquired the iconic brand whose archive includes designs by Marcel Breuer, Ernest Race and Barber Osgerby. ‘We shared the same ethos,’ observes Carpenter, who has since been working closely with Isokon Plus director Mark Smith and his team. The two companies’ values align neatly: both believe in creating sustainable furniture, create high-quality, long-lasting products and support an ethical use of materials. ‘One of the great things about joining forces with Mark and Isokon were the archives,’ says Carpenter. Earlier this year, Carpenter and Smith came across some blueprints for a pair of pedestal tables, originally designed by Marcel Breuer in 1937. One was made at the Bauhaus, the other was never produced. The duo devised a way to bring the designs back to life using a more energy efficient and environmentally conscious process but still keeping the original features intact. The tables’ designs were largely experimental, but their new editions leverage the same technologies as nine decades ago, when they were initially conceived. ‘There is an intrinsic value to the modernist community,’ says Smith. ‘An honesty to the materials that we both love.’
Duc-Duc Sofa by Mario Bellini
Mario Bellini first designed the ‘Duc’ sofa in 1976, a piece that reflected the free design spirit that was emerging at the time. That same year, Bellini drafted a modular furniture range called ‘The Book of Furniture’ for Cassina, an investigation into the language of living and its archetypes. Bellini had worked closely with the Italian design brand’s R&D department on experiments that resulted in the sofa’s first iteration, leveraging sophisticated technologies and materials to achieve its simple form. The new ‘Duc-Duc’ remains faithful to Bellini’s original design, with updated measurements and details redeveloped for added comfort. The project was led by Cassina LAB, a new research arm of the company, in collaboration with Poli.Design at Milan’s Politecnico. The result features a rigid panelled frame encased in polyurethane foam and wrapped in a 100 per cent recycled fibre made of PET recovered from the sea.
Menhir tables by Giotto Stoppino
Since 1870, Italian furniture company Acerbis has played a pioneering role in the development of the Italian furniture industry. has played a quietly pivotal role in Italian design, collaborating with a number of high-profile artists and designers. It was one of the first Italian companies to work with Japanese designers, adding metallic inserts and new materials to the wood of northern Italy’s Val Seriana. Acerbis was recently relaunched following acquisition by the MDF Italia group, and with a new creative direction by industrial designer Francesco Meda and Milan-based Spanish architect David Lopez Quincoces. The pair have been operating a quiet revolution of the company, bringing back to life iconig mid century designs by the likes of Nanda Vigo, Gianfranco Frattini and Giotto Stoppino whose Menhir tables (pictured above) were created together with company founder Lodovico Acerbis and feature a totemic composition of colorful marble modules.
Arkade Chair by Nanna Ditzel
Danish furniture brand Brdr Krüger revisited a previously chair design by Nanna Ditzel. The ‘Arkade’ chair was originally designed in 1983 during a decade-long collaboration between the company and the late Danish designer. Ditzel’s commitment to traditional craftsmanship, new materials and novel techniques made her a perfect match with the furniture brand, originally founded as a woodturning workshop in 1886 and devoted to reinterpreting midcentury Danish design for a contemporary audience. Ditzel’s fondness for soft shapes and circular forms are expressed through her signature postmodern, elegant geometries in works like her ‘Hanging Egg’ chair design, and the combination of materials and techniques in the ‘Arkade’ chair (woodturning, steam-bent wood, metal and upholstery) articulate the designer’s love for decoration and colour. The chair is available in Kvadrat’s ‘Hallingdal’ fabric, originally designed by Ditzel in 1965, but the material can be modified with dfferent finishes to allow for customisation.
Kyoto Table by Gianfranco Frattini
Gianfranco Frattini was a key figure in the development of modern Italian design who believe in the postwar reconstruction of the country, moving seamlessly between scales, from jewellery to buildings. Active during a pivotal shift in Italian furniture manufacturing, from the painstakingly handmade to the factory-made, he collaborated with the industrial entrepreneurs of the time. But it is his relationship with craftsman Pierluigi Ghianda that resulted in some of the most memorable designs of his career, such as the Kyoto table, which has now been given a new lease of life by Poltrona Frau. The table was first produced in 1974, following a trip to Japan and the discovery of century-old techniques that, Frattini and Ghianda observed, was very similar to the ones used in Northern Italy. ‘It was made of structural joints that adapt to the material: a pure expression of rationalism at the highest level’, says Frattini’s daughter, architect Emanuela Frattini Magnusson. The table has an interlocking structure with a grid surface composed of 1,681 squares. Wooden elements dovetail into each other to create a self-supporting composition, while the legs slot into the table top, and are moveable to change the table’s configuration. Along the edge of the table, smaller, darker-wooden inserts create what could look like a decorative motif, but, Frattini Magnusson says, they are a functional trick, placed to strengthen the sides. ‘There is no decoration; the structure becomes the object’.
The Taste of Shape tableware by Le Corbusier
Cassina and Ginori 1735 have joined forces to present The Taste of Shape, a dinner service by Le Corbusier. The ultimate modernist table setting, it was originally created for London’s Prunier restaurant in 1961, and inspired by a tapestry created by the architect ten years prior. As the legend goes, Le Corbusier himself used these plates, which in his view successfully merged quality and taste. The stylized motifs have been hand-applied on shiny enamelled white porcelain, faithfully recreating the architect’s original pieces.
Diabolo by Achille Castiglioni
Achille Castiglioni last lighting design for Flos is back. Working closely with the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, the Italian lighting brand has been recreating some of the Italian designer’s most iconic lights and this year, the Diabolo lamp makes a comeback for the first time after a decade. Originally designed by Casiglioni for Flos in 1998, the totemic double cone design will now be reissued in three sophisticated new shades; white, beaver brown and cherry red. The height-adjustable pendant lamp takes its name from a traditional Chinese toy, whose shapes it discreetly references through Castiglioni’s minimal design touch. §