Vico Magistretti was considered one of the masters of modern Italian design. Born in Milan in 1920, Magistretti studied at schools in Italy and Switzerland before graduating from the Milan Polytechnic in 1945.
Magistretti’s father was an architect, and the younger Magistretti shared his talent. He partnered with another architect, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, in the late 1940’s. Shortly thereafter, Magistretti designed a round church for Milan’s QT8 community, a neighborhood designed by arc
hitects and planners who were given complete artistic freedom over their creations. Later, he collaborated with Rogers to design several working-class neighborhoods which were ahead of their time.
In the 1950’s, Magistretti began to design quality pieces of furniture for mass production. His first big hit was the Carimate chair. The design started as a commission to design furniture for the Carimate Golf Club near Milan. Casare Cassina approached Magistretti with an offer to mass produce the chair, and the rest is history.
The Carimate chair took off and became a familiar sight in bistros throughout Europe. Its sturdy simplicity was a mixture of sophistication and quaint country style. It was also reminiscent of Scandanavian style, all tied together with a vivid red wooden frame. The Carimate chair retained its popularity well into the 1960’s, and is still a sought-after design to this day.
In 1960, Magistretti began to work more closely with Cesare Cassina. In 1964-65, Magistretti designed Cassina’s home in Carimate. The pair went on to form a partnership that was unusual in its freedom, but perfect in its execution. Their 30 year collaboration produced such classics as the three-seater adjustable Maralunga sofa, the plastic Selene chair, and the Eclisse lamp, which could be rotated in order to provide direct or diffused illumination. Together, Magistretti and Cassina brought Italian style to the whole world – and the world wanted more.
Magistretti found enormous success with his lamp and furniture designs, but his love of architecture called to him. In the late 1960’s, he teamed up with long-time friend Luigi Dominioni to design the Milano-San Felice neighborhood. This working-class community was so brilliantly constructed that its style was copied all over Italy. None of the copies managed to capture Magistretti’s spirit like the original, though. He also gifted Milan with many incredible buildings.
Magistretti loved to teach almost as much as he loved to design and build. He was very fond of European cities. In fact, he served as a professor at Copenhagen’s Royal College of Arts for twenty years. Eventually, he was nominated as a royal designer. Though he was a world traveler, he always cleaved to his Milanese heritage when it came time to design furniture.
Vico Magistretti died in Milan on September 19th, 2006. He was 85 years old. Friends and family remember him as a witty, yet humble man who often joked that he filled his home with his own designs because he could get them for free. Many of his projects can be viewed as part of the permanent design collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.