Design companies are obsessed with the past. Each year a selection of chairs, tables, lamps and stools is dragged out of the archives, dusted off and relaunched for a new generation of customers. For the past 25 years, this has given us a flood of modern furniture from the 1940s and 1950s, with the sort of clean, upright forms that provided the backdrop to every scene in “Mad Men”. Now that trend is changing. Familiarity has bred contempt: as Alexis Barr, who teaches at the New York School of Interior Design, puts it, “It’s really hard at this point to get excited about anything by Charles and Ray Eames or Hans Wegner.”
The past is still providing inspiration, but the decade has changed. Few people will have heard of Luigi Caccia Dominioni, but his Toro armchair, designed in 1973 and now released again by B&B Italia, represents the looser, chunkier aesthetic that has come back into vogue. It was conceived at a time of social uncertainty, shortly after the Paris riots of 1968, as were the cushy designs of Pierre Paulin, a Frenchman whose Bonnie chairs and sofas from 1975 have been relaunched by Ligne Roset. According to Sarah Lichtman, a historian at Parsons School of Design in New York, in the 1970s furniture-makers were keen to acknowledge our increasingly casual lifestyles with zany ideas and wildly disparate styles and colours. “American catchphrases in the 1970s included ‘If it feels good, do it’ and the ‘Me Decade’,” says Barr. These chairs embody that spirit of self-expression and experimentation.
The work of contemporary designers like Paolo Ferrari and Pierre Yovanovitch does too. Ferrari’s Ultra Low Roll Back armchair, with its rounded velvet forms, has a louche, 1970s glamour. Yovanovitch, whose work has often drawn on the unadorned designs of mid-20th-century modern furniture, has recently taken another direction. Like his bear armchairs from 2017, which were inspired by the Goldilocks fairy tale and featured soft, ear-like forms on the headrest and bulbous wooden feet, his Assymetries armchair is big and enveloping. Consider it the 2019 take on the Toro armchair.
Extra Low Rolled Back Lounge Studio Paolo Ferrari/Colony, from £4,165
With room for two, and a back and armrests that double as seating, this low-slung armchair is an extremely social creature. It can even be used as a daybed, given its shockingly wide proportions. “There’s a laid-back playfulness to the piece that simply makes you smile,” says Paolo Ferrari, a designer from Toronto who found inspiration in the unexpected forms and warm, earthy colours of the 1970s, a decade he finds both “gritty and seductive”.
Toro Luigi Caccia Dominioni/B&B Italia, from £12,000
Fit for a king – or a country club on the outskirts of Milan, for which it was designed in 1973 – the Toro armchair by Luigi Caccia Dominioni embodies a moody 1970s aesthetic that is now being revived. Its fluid lines and sleigh legs echo those of Paulin’s chair. It can move and rotate with ease, which makes it more flexible than its size suggests. “It encourages a casual posture,” says Sarah Lichtman, that is evocative of its time. With last year’s acquisition of Azucena, a furniture brand that Caccia Dominioni co-founded in 1947, B&B Italia is urging collectors to reconsider him.
Bonnie Pierre Paulin/Ligne Roset, from £2,140
Pierre Paulin, a French designer who died in 2009, never got his due. For years he was considered little more than a Pop-era novelty, known mostly for lounge seats with sybaritic names such as Mushroom and Butterfly. But that perception is changing, thanks to the efforts of his family and Ligne Roset, which reissued his Bonnie armchair and sofa last year. First produced in limited numbers in 1975, the piece is pure Paulin, all fluid curves, with no trace of its inner mechanics. “This would stop you in your tracks if you saw it in a contemporary interior,” says Alexis Barr.
Asymmetries armchair Pierre Yovanovitch, price on request
Yovanovitch, a French interior designer, was experimenting with organic shapes without, he says, “intending to necessarily create the model of a chair”. Those efforts produced this happy accident, a chair whose upholstery covers all trace of the wooden structure inside and hides its metal feet, enveloping the occupant in cushy comfort without being cloying about it.