The (Extra)Ordinary Italian Chair

A Brief History of the Anonymus Italian Chair

by Antonio Larosa

When you hear about a chair exhibition, the first thing that may come to mind may be images of the flashy, glamorous chairs seen in many high-end, glossy-paged design magazines.  Many of these pieces of furniture are intended to be beautiful to the eyes, however, often they are uncomfortable to sit in which renders many of them better-suited to be on display in museums rather than being of practical use in our living and work spaces.

Larosa Design the extra-ordinary-italian-chair
The exhibition designed and coordinated by Larosa Design.

The “anonymous chair” exhibition moves the spotlight to shine, if only for a brief moment, on the common, ordinary chairs, often the creation of an anonymous designer, the simple, seemingly “un-designed” products that we have been using all our lives. We recognize these “workhorse” chairs from our grade school classrooms, neighborhood cafes, bars, churches, and workplace break rooms, yet we often fail to acknowledge their simple, stylistic beauty as it often fades into the work-a-day settings where we use these objects. Like most things we take for granted, we are often pleasantly surprised when we take a step back and spend a moment to really look at their lines, their designs, their forms, and their functions – the design elements that we hope to encourage you to properly consider in this exhibition.  After viewing this exhibition, we hope to transform your impressions of these common chairs from being ordinary to being extraordinary.

sedia paesana
Paesana chair

A limited number of original chairs were selected for this exhibition.  The center stage of the exhibition could only be occupied by the classic “rustic chair”, better known in Italy as the “Paesana chair”. Close by, we explore several other classics, including the folding beach chair that was introduced during the economic boom in Italy during the 50’s and is still in popular use world-wide today.  Appropriately neighboring the center stage are some of the chairs we grew up with in our own homes, schools, businesses, and many of our churches.

 

modern take on the paesana chair
Paesana in aluminum

We conclude this brief though significant view of the history of the Italian ordinary chairs with a glimpse into the future of these beloved, practical pieces of furniture.  Looking forward, we show our continued respect and appreciation of these Italian classics by introducing you to several modern-day versions of these timeless favorites. For example, the exact shape and proportions that are the heart and soul of the Paesana chair are respectfully updated in “Kore”, a new, stronger, modern, aluminum edition destined to continue the world-renowned success story and workhorse status it inherited from its predecessor.

We believe the history of the common chair will be much like the history of Italy itself – full of rich, classic, important stories from the past and promising to fill future decades with many extraordinary memories. We hope that after you attend the Anonymous Chair Exhibition you share our passion for these fundamental founding members of the furniture realm.  And when you leave, may you take with you a new, or renewed, admiration and appreciation for the functionality, beauty, simple elegance, and continuing story of these furniture classics.

 

Green design is good, common sense is better

The World is a Big Refrigerator, Let’s Learn to Use the Leftovers

By Antonio Larosa

(Previously published by Krrb in 2010).

refrigerator
The World is Like a Big Refrigerator

Recently, I was invited to speak at a conference about sustainable design. I was planning to talk about designs that improve our quality of life, but instead, at the last minute, I decided to prepare something that would more effectively illustrate my philosophy that “green is good, but common sense is a lot better.” Of course, I respect LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other similar organizations, but I believe designers should do more than just belong to associations. They should use common sense when they design something.
My talk began with a vision I’ve had for years: the world as a big refrigerator, full of leftovers. One of my passions is cooking so I began with a cooking lesson. People stared at me like I was at the wrong conference. I explained that for me, the best part of cooking is opening my fridge and using the scraps. I tell this story because I believe that designers should think in a similar fashion. As designers, we should be able to take whatever is in this “fridge” and create designs using those existing scraps. We have plenty of material to use, but we lack a cohesive system to organize those pieces.

Larosa Design sustainability design leather scraps
Leather Scraps

While talking, I started giving some examples to build credibility to this theory. The first was a project I had undertaken with my college students. I convinced a large hotel company to come to us and asked for new furniture designs for one of their chains. Our proposal was to take the existing furniture and modify it rather than starting all over. We took the existing pieces and tweaked them to fit their new design scheme. Some of the wood used for the changes came from taking apart and rebuilding the existing furniture using the same material. We modified the furniture legs, transformed armoires so they could hold large, flat-paneled TVs, replaced existing hardware, cut where necessary and, in less than two days, were able to save about 140,000 pieces of furniture by reusing what was already there.
I then shared a collection of furniture I designed about 10 years ago for an Italian company. The idea sprouted from walking around factories that made leather bags and shoes. Rather than have the masses of scraps sent to landfills, I used these “leftovers” to make a new line of furniture accessories. The main design in the collection is a flower, and the flower is not purely decorative but suggests that you can recycle even the smallest piece of leather into a new design.

Larosa Design green design Scraps-become-something-new
Leather scraps begin to take shape

This goes to show that the simple concept of looking around and reusing whatever we have—our leftovers—is working to some extent. However, what isn’t working is the system itself. Every city and county should work to create smaller, local “refrigerators” and fill them up with scraps from construction sites, manufacturing facilities and other remains from the detritus of modern life that can be repurposed to make new designs. Instead of throwing away these remnants these should feed into a shared store.
But it’s not just the design world we need to convince. We should encourage every level of government to think along these lines and then perhaps this theory of living in a large refrigerator will no longer be just a theory. Just like the two examples I gave, we can design products using solely recycled materials.

Larosa Design sustainable design New scraps
Something old is new again.

As a small child I remember my grandmother would save every glass jar and cardboard box and reuse these materials for everything. I was struck by this and learned that what she was doing wasn’t about being “green” or being a part of a fancy association but rather doing what designers and governments should be doing every day: using common sense!

Designers against the iPodization of society

By Antonio Larosa.

(Article previously published by Contract magazine in 2007).

I realized early in life long before I went to design school the importance that design has in people’s lives. Designing original greeting cards for friends in middle school was my way to lift other kids’ spirits. Designing places to sit, eat, and sleep away from cold and muddy campgrounds as a scout was a fun challenge to keep us campers happy. Designing a new puppet theater for a town that had been completely destroyed by an earthquake helped to cheer up the town’s children. All these actions had something in common other than simply making people happy: They were increasing interpersonal communication. Somehow, I had the feeling that one day I was going to be in the “making-people-cheerful-with-my-ideas” business, but I did not know yet that the profession was called “design.”

A few years ago on a business trip to New York, I took a taxi to the airport and other than to ask my destination and tell me the fare, the driver did not say one word to me. At the airport many people seated at the gates stared blank-faced at the giant flat-screen television, while others were absorbed watching movies on their portable DVD players. Many were talking on cell phones; some worked on laptops or busied themselves with PDAs. And others were occupied tuning out everyone with their iPods.

Oh well, I thought, I have a five-hour flight and someone on the plane will want to have a conversation about life, work, or current affairs. Unfortunately, I was dead wrong. Some designer had the brilliant idea to equip every seat on the plane with an individual TV offering a selection of 30 channels. There was no need for conversation during the flight either. As I checked into my hotel, I realized that I had spent nearly the entire day being around thousands of people, yet the only human interaction I had was a few words spoken to a half-attentive person. I became seriously concerned about the future of our society. People are so focused on global warming, recycling, and terrorism, but they do not realize there is another fundamental human need being threatened here. We are losing basic interpersonal communication skills. People are so busy gabbing on their cells, texting, or popping into Web chat rooms that we are losing the ability or desire to say a few words to the person standing next to us. Many are fine with talking to strangers over the Internet, yet the thought of speaking to someone in person turns them mute.

ipodization

I wondered what caused people to not want to interact any longer. Initially, I blamed this trend on the high-tech gadgets that keep us so screen-focused. Then, I realized that even before the hand-held electronic era, personal interactions were already being derailed by bad designs of public spaces and furniture. Some designers create gadgets to help us avoid talking to each other. Others design buildings and cities that keep us from interacting by eliminating or minimizing public spaces. Even the interiors of cars and planes now maximize our own personal comforts, thus helping us to avoid interacting with other human beings.

I realized that designers can be blamed for the lack of relationships between people and for the lack of communication in society in general. Designers are failing to do what design is all about: We should strive to make people happy and comfortable in their environments, yes. But we also must take care that if the level of comfort is reached only by isolating people from one another, the interaction element that is so essential to keeping us human is suffering. And it’s a shame.

Perhaps my theory is flawed, but I am certain that designers can make the world a better place. I definitely believe designers can help reverse the “my space” trend by designing better public spaces and furniture that foster relationships instead isolation. Good design can encourage people to want to interact. I hope more designers are going to follow this direction.

Think of the buildings designed by Rem Koolhaas or Frank Gehry: They have a power over people. Like giant magnets, these structures attract people to come closer, investigate, and talk about what they see. Once I was standing by Gehry’s Experience Music Project building in Seattle, and a stranger next to me smiled and said, “I don’t know what it’s all about, but this stuff [the building] it’s almost better than rock ‘n’ roll.” There we were, two strangers striking up a conversation over a building. I thought it was wonderful, and I started hoping that one day good design might just bring people back together again just like rock ‘n’ roll did 60 years ago.

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