Carlo Mollino

Everything is permissible as long as it is fantastic

Carlo Mollino arabesco desk table turn singer sons
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Above: Desk originally designed by Carlo Mollino for the Orengo House, Turin, Italy, 1949. Photo: Zanotta

In the realm of Italian Modernism there is no other architect and designer quite like Carlo Mollino. His was a colorful life lived on his own terms and – seemingly – his own world. Born in Turin Mollino explored several diverse areas of interest such as art, design, architecture, the occult, skiing, and race cars. And while he spent the better part of his career working as an architect – with an impressive legacy – it is the intricate and entirely unique furniture designs that I would like to explore here. However, with so many design works to his name I would first (more to come) like to look at Mollino’s tables and desks in this article.

Carlo Mollino was once credited as saying, “Everything is permissible as long as it is fantastic.” a credo perhaps exemplified with the works shown here. Carlo Mollino died in 1973, working until the end.

One of Mollino’s best known designs, the ‘Arabesco’ table, 1950.

Nature proceeds by continuity, it joins and chains together the different organs that make up a body, or a tree… this line will be expressive, like the ones that reveal the flow of blood under the skin, the breathing that raises the chest, the energy that raises the limbs. -Carlo Mollino

Carlo Mollino arabesco desk table turn singer sons

The organic and whimsical ‘Arabesco’ tempered glass and bentwood table designed for Lisa Ponti and Luigi Licitra and first exhibited at the traveling exhibition ‘Italy at Work’, in the USA in 1950. Photo: 24 Ore Cultura

Mollino especially liked to explore studio and office furniture because it gave him the opportunity to experiment with the most imaginative variations and combine elements with different functions: top, drawers, display cases, trays or projecting shelves. By singling out these different functional elements the architect managed to devise a complex machine made up of braces and ties, capable of defying the laws of gravity thanks to the radical asymmetry of the arrangement. A wooden trestle structure might include pointed braces, for instance in the Orengo table or in the desks for the Lathes publishing house, or else it might be crumpled into a complex surface with tense curves supporting the wavy shape of the tempered glass top. Brass joints and ties are left in sight; like tendons they accentuate the biological metaphor of furniture as a living body. Mollino’s “cylindrical” desk was a unique piece designed for his own apartment and then produced in a smaller size.
-Copy: 24 Ore Cultura

Carlo Mollino arabesco desk table turn singer sons

Oak and glass desk designed for the Istituto di Cooperazione Sanitaria (ICS), Turin Italy, 1952. Photo: Christies

To design his tables and desks Mollino honed a pattern of static interpretation for his wooden furniture of unparalleled elegance and sophisticated perfection of construction. For the offices of a Turin insurance company he designed three types of tables and five desks, playing on the potential of trestle-like supports and joints, all based on a daring diagram of weights and force. For the table’s basic version he designed a load-bearing structure with sloping legs and diagonal braces on which to set the marble top. By way of a tribute to the engineering principle that states, “material only where it’s required”, Mollino created one of his most spectacular pieces for the offices of the Lalles publishing, a long table with a tempered glass top for the exhibition room. A skeleton-like structure in shaped plywood recalls the basic design of a rib cage with crossed vertebrae to support the top.
-Copy: 24 Ore Cultura

Carlo Mollino arabesco desk table turn singer sons

Intricately constructed oak and glass desk designed for the Casa Orengo in 1949. This desk set an auction price record for a piece of modern furniture in 2005 when it sold at Christies for nearly 4 million dollars. Photo: Christies

Carlo Mollino arabesco desk table turn singer sons

Carlo Mollino: a devilish character. When he opens his mouth Gillette razor blades, scimitars, shards of glass, enchanted gardens, and monstrous gardens and monstrous flowers with colors never seen before come flying out. He insists he was born in Turin, but there are those who whisper he’s a Saracen all the way down to the roots of his hair.

-Noi laureandi I ‘Veglia di architetti, 1931.

Left: Carlo Mollino (1905 – 1973) in Turin, 1940. 


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