With a slight smile, a noticeable glint in his eye and an elongated pipe perched happily in his mouth, images of Italian designer Joe Colombo make him appear easygoing and satisfied. An adventurous innovator of the 1960s, it’s easy to see how a similar joy seeps into his bright, quintessentially futuristic creations.
Colombo’s artistic journey began in his late teens during his studies at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in 1949. His interest in abstract painting and similar hobbies eventually propelled him into the evolving world of product design, which he entered in the 1960s and remained in until his untimely death in 1971.
It was in the realm of industrial design that Colombo found his fame, the fame that rests on his time-defying designs. Colombo’s work is era-shattering. It folds time into itself. His versatile chairs and venerated micro living systems are dated as mid-century, yet extend into a future that hasn’t happened. Somehow his collections are both a relic of the space age and a foretelling of a future. Playing up power orange, striking yellow, deep reds and geometric minimalism, Colombo’s punchy styles make an impression. From his compelling legacy, a few items top our list of Colombo favorites.
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From 1969 comes Colombo’s modular Tube Chair, which is comprised of four hollowed cylinders upholstered with fabric or leather. Bound together with hooks, the seat is adjustable to the user’s preference. A favorite of architects, designers and critics alike, original Tube Chairs are a part of many museum collections, including the Met, at which it goes on exhibition every few years.
Created in 1963, Colombo’s Minikitchen is a wonder. Holding two burners, a cutting board, a refrigerator, outlets for appliances and storage, the compact creation is a study in minimalist efficiency. Transforming the staples of a kitchen into a single unit shifts the user’s experience with space and redefines the interior. Also a permanent part of MoMA’s collection, the Minikitchen was part of the 1972 exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Lanscape, which brought Colombo considerable postmortem fame.
Launched in 1970, a year before Colombo’s death, the Boby Trolley is a compact wheeled storage unit. With surprisingly ample storage space, the Trolley features shelves, drawers and surfaces, which make it ideal for serving its original purpose as an architect or designer’s supply cart. Now a mainstay of the modern interior, the Boby Trolley houses plants, bathroom necessities and writing supplies.
The Trolley is more than a celebrated part of mid-century design, more than a standing item in MoMA’s permanent collection—it is also a meaningful fixture in DRS and Associates’ Creative Director and Co-Founder Natalie Schlocker’s own life. Natalie encountered Colombo’s work while an art student at California State University Northridge, pining after a Trolley to store her own array of supplies. While a young art student’s budget couldn’t support a new Colombo Trolley, she had the fortune of stumbling upon a yellowing cart at a local garage sale. A cherished find, the aged Trolley remained in her home until recently, when she exchanged the relic for a new, fresh, white version.