The Model 4801 Chair

Joe Colombo's eduring icon

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801
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Above: The ‘Model 4801’ chair designed by Joe Colombo and first produced by Kartell of Italy in 1965. Photo: Phillips 

I’ve been wanting to an article about Joe Colombo for some time but it would be impossible to cover the extent of the man’s work in one single post. Joe Colombo died young – on his 41st Birthday – in 1971 but the body of work he left behind during his relatively short career is staggering. So rather than touch on a few items and present a truncated biography of the man I’ve decided to focus on one item at a time, over the course of several articles. This time I’m shining a spotlight on a very interesting chair designed by Colombo and first produced by Kartell in 1965. The Model 4801, Curved Elements chair.

The design process in creating the ‘Model 4801’ chair. Click on image for full view.

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

Sketches by Joe Colombo of possible versions of a fastener-less chair. Photo: Vitra Design Museum

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

Getting closer. Design sketches by Joe Colombo for a fastener-less chair. Photo: Vitra Design Museum

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

A cardboard model of one of Joe Colombo’s early attempts at a fastener-less chair. Photo: Vitra Design Museum

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

Success. The first ‘Model 4801’ chair. Photo: Vitra Design Museum

 

Before we get to the chair a little bit about Joe Colombo himself. Born in 1930 he began his studies in the arts at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, the academy of fine arts in Milan where he studied painting. Then, in a shift, in 1954 he attended the Politecnico di Milano University to study architecture. However, Colombo did not leave art behind and by the mid 1950’s he was very active within the art community creating abstract Expressionist sculpture. In 1959 Joe Colombo found himself in the position of having to take over the family business, an enterprise that manufactured electrical appliances. It was here, influenced largely by his training as a sculptor, that he began experimenting with new production and material technologies. Fearless in his design approach he embraced new materials like plastic and soon reached international success in 1963 with the introduction of the ‘Eda’ chair (named after his wife), a monocoque form lounge chair made from plastic.

The sculptural ‘Model 4801’ chair. Click on image for full view.

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

The Model 4801 chair designed by Joe Colombo and introduced by Kartell of Italy in 1965. Photo: Pamono

But the Model 4801 we’re looking at today, surprisingly, is not made from fiberglass or plastic but is made from laminated beech ply – three curved pieces in fact. Colombo was always experimenting with his designs and challenged himself to come up with new and inventive approaches to manufacturing processes. The idea with the 4801 chair was to design a full lounge chair that could be assembled with no, screws, bolts, or fasteners of any kind with the three pieces simply slotting into each other. The weight of the sitter holds the chair firmly together. The idea worked and the chair was introduced by Kartell of Italy in 1965 and today it is considered one of the icon of Italian Modernism. In fact, Kartell reintroduced the ‘Model 4801’ chair a few years ago which included on made from clear plastic.

In natural Beech finish. Click on image for full view.

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

Graceful in profile and elementally elegant the ‘Model 4801’ chair in a natural beech finish. Photo: Lauritz

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

Graceful in profile and elementally elegant the ‘Model 4801’ chair in a natural beech finish. Photo: Lauritz

Joe Colombo's 'Model 4801' chair first produced by Kartell of Italy in 1965. Click on image for full view.

joe colombo italy kartell model 4801

Sculptural and elegant Joe Colombo’s ‘Model 4801’ chair first produced by Kartell of Italy in 1965. Photo: blog.freundevonfreunden.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFOx-li2Sgo

 

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