Joe Colombo (1930-1971) was an Italian designer, who created some prolific designs to secure his place in the history of great Italian designers. Some easily recognizable iconic designs by him are; the Boby Trolley and Universale – the first single-material chair.
Early Life Of Joe Colombo
Like it’s the case with many other designers, Colombo did not start off as a designer in his short-lived career. In his formative years, he indulged in fine art like painting and sculpture and even pursued the same at the Academia di Bella Arti in Milan. While there, he experimented with painting of abstracted images of fossilized organic forms and sketched alluring visions of a “nuclear city”.
Joe Colombo entered the design stage in 1953 with his creation of a ceiling for a Milan Jazz club including three open-air resting areas, a project that inspired him to enroll in Architecture at Milan Polytechnic. He went ahead to open a design studio in Milan to work on architectural commissions in 1962 and experimented with new materials – especially plastic. All his early designs bore one striking identity – the bold sculptural characteristics and curved forms, and mainly comprised of interiors of mountain lodges and ski hotels.
Colombo was a versatile designer and developed diverse designs including; the "Acrilia" lamp in 1962, a line of chairs done for Kartell, notably the “Universale 4860” chair, which was the pioneer product of the new technology – injection molding plastic. Another iconic chair by Colombo was the “Elda” done in 1963 and manufactured by Comfort in the 1960s.
The drive to modernize the existing furniture styles let to Colombo’s reinvention of new concepts that would be suited for a mobile late 1960s lifestyle. Storage was also an obsession he pursued to great heights, culminating to the design of the Combi-Centre container which had units for books, tools and drinks in a spiral arrangement. In 1964, he created the Man-Woman Container, an improved version of a 19th century trunk with rails, drawers, shelves and mirrors stashed in two cupboards: one for a man and the other for a woman. It is these experiments that gave birth to the 1970 Boby trolley, a mobile ABS unit made up of rotating shelves and drawers.
Colombo also played an enormous role in interior design. In 1967, he came up with the “Additional Living System” that comprised polyurethane cushion molds in six different sizes pinned together in different configurations as per homeowner’s choice. In the following two years, he expanded this self-assembly design to chairs with his design of the Tube chair made of four ready-made, semi-rigid, upholstered cylinders which could be joined into any shape the user desired.
Other design works by Colombo include the 1964 Ragno outdoor light installed on a spider-like form which also came as a seat, the reversible Two-in-One drinking glasses in 1966, and the Linea 72 service tray for Alitalia.
All Colombo’s innovations bore a certain self-indulgent edge, from the smoke glasses to the extensive work on furniture, all his work was filled with exuberant and energetic creativity during his tragically short lifetime. Joe Colombo met his untimely death through a fateful heart failure on his 41st birthday on 30 July 1971.