Italian furniture manufacturing company Poltronova was founded just north of Florence by Sergio Cammilli in 1957. Cammili had a background in art, and many believe it was the founder’s remarkable openness to bold creative expression that led the company to become one of the most daring in 20th-century Italian design.
Soon after launching, Cammilli was introduced to young designer Ettore Sottsass, who was at the time designing ceramics for Bitossi, also located in the region around Florence. By 1958, Sottsass was hired to be Poltronova’s artistic director.
In the early years, Poltronova concentrated on producing stylish, modernist furniture, often made in wood and sharing many features in common with midcentury designs from Scandinavia. Both Cammilli and Sottsass, however, had ambitions to do something more experimental.
In 1966, Cammilli and Sottsass visited the Superarchitettura exhibition, presented at Galleria Jolly 2 in Pistoia. This era-defining project was organized by Superstudio and Archizoom—two counterculture student groups from the University of Florence’s Faculty of Architect; it’s now seen to be a landmark moment in the development of Radical Design movement. Cammilli and Sottsass immediately changed the direction of the Poltronova, began working with young, iconoclastic designers, and helped to usher in the postmodern era in design.
Notably, Archizoom designed the company’s new factory in the 1960s and programed events at the headquarters, which included a poetry reading and meditation workshop led by poet Allen Ginsberg.
Poltronova produced a number of iconic designs, such as Mario Cerruli’s Mobili Nella Valle Series (1966); Archizoom’s Superonda Sofa (1967) and Mies Lounge (1969); Superstudio’s Guerpe Lamp (1967); Ettore Sottsass’s Ultrafragola (1970); and De Pas D’Urbino & Lomazzi’s Joe Chair (1970), to name a few. Other major designers who have designed for Poltronova include Gae Aulenti, Angelo Mangiarotti, Giovanni Michelucci, Paolo Portoghesi, and Massimo Vignelli. Many Poltronova works were included in MoMA’s landmark 1972 exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape.
After Cammilli and Sottsass left Poltronova in the 1970s, the company’s management changed hands a number of times, and the focus switched to producing more commercial collections. By the mid-1980s, Poltronova was struggling to survive. Thankfully Roberta Meloni, trained architect, stepped in to advocate for the preservation of the Poltronova archive. She acquired a managing interest in the 1990s, and in the new millennium she was named CEO. Today Poltronova’s legacy has been secured through Meloni’s company Centro Studi Poltronova, a multifaceted organization that manages archives, promotes study and public exhibitions, and produces iconic Poltronova designs on a made-to-order basis.
You can find our interview with Ms. Meloni here.
* All images courtesy of Centro Studi Poltronova