in 1963 the Civil Rights Movement was at its height, reflected in Martin Luther Kings ‘I have a dream’ speech. The Vietnam War was gathering pace and the death of JFK, a much-loved president assassinated in Dallas in November added to the spirit of unrest and rebellion.
Whilst the big pharma companies invented Valium to wash away the pain, designers escaped into comfort; Eero Aarnio retreated to his Ball Chair and as Yrjo Kukkapuro finalized the prototype of his Karuselli Lounge Chair in Scandinavia, Sergio Rodrigues slumped into the slouchy rosewood and leather Poltrona Moleca in Brazil, and Joe Colombo headed for his wife’s loving arms in Italy, dedicating his lush, leather-clad pre-formed polyurethane-padded armchair surrounded by a lacquered moulded fibreglass shield to his beloved Elda.
You might remember the huge white bachelor-pad chair Haymitch retreats to in the Capitol’s penthouse in The Hunger Games. Moulded like the bud of a tulip around the back, the front acts like a petal dropping down while the bottom rotates on a base mounted, hidden, ball bearing swivel.
Designed to engulf a person, transporting them away in a space pod to another planet, Elda abandons the usual wooden frame for fibreglass-strengthened polyester in an armchair fit for Colombo’s imagined house of the future.
Using the boatbuilding material that shaped the Eameses’ most commercial chairs, and giving it the baseman glove comfort of their lounge chair from the fifties, Colombo came up with the perfect chair for space junkies to curl up in. One famous advertisement of the day showed him sitting in it sucking on his pipe
Colombo, the former abstract artist turned architect inherited an electric cable factory in 1958 with his brother Gianni and used it as a studio to experiment with design.
He loved jazz, skiing and fast cars and, believing he would die young. He produced an astounding oeuvre in a very short amount of time that has since inspired high-ticket designers including Marc Newson and Ross Lovegrove.
Before a heart attack at the age of forty-one he produced the first chair ever to be moulded out of one material, the Universale, the much-loved Boby Trolley storage unit, and the mobile Mini-Kitchen.
But they are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to Colombo’s award-winning innovations. He designed a watch with a case that flips up so you can see the face while driving and multipurpose modular living spaces with James Bond style gadgetry. ‘In the future, we’ll carry telephones around with us in our pockets’, he once told architect Gae Aulenti , how much could he have achieved if he had lived another thirty years?