(Above) D.153.1 armchair, reissued in leather by Molteni & C, £4,244
Italian high-end furniture company Molteni & C is a family owned brand, founded in 1934 and known for collaborating with innovative designers such as Patricia Urquiola, Rodolfo Dordoni and Arik Levy, amongst others.
One of its recent projects involved a remake of furniture and furnishings by renowned designer Gio Ponti, a collection the company now sells, with each piece feeling highly contemporary. It was the result of in-depth research, selection and an analysis of prototypes that was made possible thanks to the cooperation of Ponti’s heirs, who signed an exclusive agreement with Molteni & C. The collection includes furnishings that Ponti designed between 1935 (a chair for the ﬁrst Palazzo Montecatini) and the 1950s (a bookcase, chest of drawers, tea table, armchair, frames and a rug, items all present in the house on via Dezza in Milan, where Ponti lived with his family from 1957 onwards).
(Above) D.235.1 chair, £1,050
Ponti is perhaps the consummate Italian designer, a gifted polymath who created furniture and buildings, founded magazines and lived life to the full in a career that spanned some of the critical decades of modern design. His legacy still stands as some of the finest evocations of the mid-century period, while the magazine he founded in 1928, Domus, recently celebrated its 1,000th issue and remains an essential component of the global design discussion.
Born in 1891, Ponti served with distinction in World War I before taking up architectural studies and joining a Milanese studio in the early 1920s. The style of his formative years was shaped by the burgeoning Novecento Italiano movement, a stripped-back, neoclassical aesthetic that was embraced by Mussolini as the official style for his National Fascist Party.
Ponti’s approach was not so easily pigeonholed or co-opted, however. His buildings were anything but plain, bringing together elegant proportions and honest use of materials. His influence didn’t stop with the structure: Domus also gave him a platform from which to talk about design in all its forms. As an early ‘lifestyle’ publication, it highlighted the Modernist fascination with industrial production, as well as publishing features on homemaking and decorative arts.
(Above) D.655.1 chest of drawers, £10,266
This cross-pollination influenced Ponti’s own work. From the 1920s onwards, he explored the burgeoning field of industrial design, creating not just furniture but also glass, ceramics and lighting.
Post-war Italy needed investment, and Ponti brought a global outlook, with an understanding of how craft could dovetail with industry, mixing abstract forms with strict geometry and rich texture with machine-finished materials. Many of his pieces remain in production, in particular by Molteni & C.
(Above) D.754.1 rug, £3,954
Ponti’s other major legacy lies in architecture. From the outset, he was strongly influenced by his partnership with engineers, especially Pier Luigi Nervi, with whom he collaborated on his most famous building, the Pirelli Tower in Milan. Thirty-two storeys high, the blade-edged tower was commissioned in 1950 to house the headquarters of the eponymous tyre manufacturer. Ponti, Nervi, Antonio Fornaroli and Alberto Rosselli spent six years developing the design, which was the city’s first skyscraper, symbolically located on the site of the company’s original factory. It’s a timeless structure, a razor-edged riposte to the boxy orthodoxy of the International Style.
Ponti’s life was his career, from his writing and editing through to hand-painted murals and the dense, elaborate interiors he created for eccentric clients such as the collector Giobatta Meneguzzo, for whom he designed a treasure trove of a house, waiving his fee to ensure an entirely open brief.
His work features heavily in the new Molteni Museum in Giussano, a Jasper Morrison-designed exhibit that celebrates 80 years of this pivotal Italian manufacturer, including work by Jean Nouvel, Ron Arad and Norman Foster.
Ponti’s commitment to a total, all-encompassing aesthetic life resulted in a rich and varied oeuvre that transcends all labels, yet still defines ‘modern design’ 40 years after he died. Regardless of where you place a Ponti design, it will always become a talking point, if not the centrepiece of a room.