As a lover of mid-century design, I've long been familiar with the work of designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Hans Wegner, and Eero Sarinen. But I confess that it was only recently—thanks, Pinterest!—that I became acquainted with the works of another mid-century great, the Italian designer Gio Ponti.
Like a lot of furniture designers of that era, Gio Ponti was also an architect. In addition to that he worked as a professor and an editor, most notably at the Italian design magazine Domus. Through his writing and his lectures, he influenced an entire generation of Italian designers, including Ettore Sottsass, who would go on to found the wild, postmodern Memphis movement that defined design in the '80s. Alice Rawsthornn, writing for the New York Times, summed up the breadth of Ponti's talents and the extraordinary scope of his career:
As a designer, Gio Ponti worked for 120 companies. As an architect, he built in 13 countries. As a magazine editor, he produced 560 issues and wrote at least one article for each one. As an academic, he lectured in 24 countries. He also found time to dictate some 2,500 letters and draw 2,000 illustrated letters, as well as for painting and poetry.
Ponti began his career as a designer of household objects by working with 18th-century Italian ceramics manufacturer Richard Ginori, which gave him an appreciation for beautiful colors, fine craftsmanship and luxurious materials. In the latter part of his career, his designs became much more minimal, but they still retained a certain touch of the luxurious. In that, I think, lies the appeal of his work: the combination of simple shapes and old-world elegance.
The Superleggera (or 'superlight') chair was perhaps Ponti's most famous creation. He based it on the classic Chiavari chair, and added an ergonomically tilted back and tapered legs. A few innovations—triangular cross sections for the supporting members, a system of slotted connections—resulted in a chair that was incredibly light, so light that an ad for the chair famously showed it being lifted by a child with one finger. It was also incredibly strong. To test his creation, Ponti threw one out of the window of a fourth floor apartment. It landed in the street, where it bounced like a ball without breaking.
Even now, after numerous decades, these pieces are still fresh and modern, especially being that designers and interiors are again beginning to embrace luxurious materials, albeit in minimalist forms. Ponti's designs feel particularly right for the interiors of today, and, if the past is any indication, will continue to grace beautiful years for years to come.