Gio Ponti - Design Day Sale London Monday, April 27, 2015 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Office of a law firm, Milan, 1953
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Literature

    'Across the seas collaborations for the new Singer collection', Interiors, December 1951, p. 127 for a similar example
    'Studio legale a Milano', Domus, no. 286, September 1953, illustrated p. 34

  • Catalogue Essay

    Over the course of the 1950s Gio Ponti created a universe consisting of architecture at one scale and design at another. At the points of juncture between the two scales new spatial experiences, unprecedented functional concepts and novel structural and formal propositions arose that proved to be momentous both for Italian and international design. When inventing these ensembles, Ponti’s abiding sense of materials, colour, and form was powerfully affected by his mastery of ceramics and painting, which for their part also conditioned the character of the spaces in question, whether they aimed at providing new possibilities for work or leisure or for the novel exigencies of domesticity that resulted from the postwar economic boom.

    In the set of furniture offered here, designed for a Milanese law office with a screen-like, partly L shaped plan, Ponti is at the height of his powers. This is evident from the coordination of time-honored craft techniques and standardised elements, the orchestration of light and shadow, and the subtle interaction of glass planes and wooden supports. These strategies enable the spatial integration of diverse design motifs while lending each individual piece a strong sense of tectonic expression. This approach was part of a wider tendency in which Ponti participated that redefined the parameters of the modern Italian work environment, both in terms of the clarity of statement of the individual design elements and their contribution to the overall décor.

    The space is tripartite in its functional distribution, with a narrow angled corridor guaranteeing that clients who enter do not see those who are exiting and vice versa. This strategy represents a subtle re-use of a pre-existing area that was originally bipartite: the new solution keeps the entrance and egress areas as separate and as distant as possible within the relatively restricted limits of the plan, ensuring that they read as integral aspects of the partly hidden circulation pattern. In accordance with this division of labor of the space, the waiting room is separated from the legal office proper and the secretarial area, and the exit, as already indicated, becomes invisible in relation to the entrance and waiting area.

    The office furniture, made up of a series of eight identical upholstered chairs with partly opened backs and angled braces along with two desks, all of which are in oak, is characterized by a unique combination of spare efficiency and formal elegance. These qualities are enhanced by the addition of mobile, suspended and rolling elements. The entire ensemble, as well as each of the pieces that comprise it, helps maintain the sense of programmatic discretion. The evenness of the light as well as the corresponding strength of the shadows are guaranteed by the electric lighting system that combines with the daylight of the tall back window, which has a sash opening at waist level, in the legal office proper. This area is defined visually and spatially by transparent planes articulated by the solid door and framing support beams. In its Rationalist emphasis on planarity and functionalist transparency, the handling of the plate glass surface as a sort of internal partition seems to evoke earlier Italian modernist models such as the iconic Parker shop in Milan by Edoardo Persico and Marcello Nizzoli of 1938 and Franco Albini’s transparent lucite radio 1938-1940 (here it is relevant to recall that Albini worked closely with Ponti).

    The chairs, imbued with a dynamic, asymmetrical profile, match the asymmetrical, partly suspended form of the desks, emphasizing in this way a quality of jointedness and puzzle-like fabrication. These chairs are an inspired variant of the prototype that Ponti first invented in 1950 for the Uffici Vembi Burroughs in Genoa, here transposed and slightly altered for the Milanese legal milieu. The principal difference between the chairs in Milan and those in Genoa is a more acute angle in the lower brace, creating a distinct shadow line. One should also compare the chair variants in the Lucano apartment in Milan of 1951, which have similar brass sabots. The desks have cassetti scorrevoli, rolling drawers keyed to the dimensions of the legal fascicoli or heavy paper or cardboard holders for the separate legal cases. The legal cases are thus literally 'encased' both in their containers and in the drawers that can be opened to reveal them with suddenness and discretion, and which can be tucked away just as unobtrusively and with equal rapidity.

    In the office area, point supports consisting of one single desk leg hold up the desks that seem at first to be directly cantilevered from the wall, while in the waiting area a suspended shelf adds a comparable sense of flotation. This aesthetic of suspension makes the entire studio seem like a modernist experiment as much as an established, trustworthy law office where secrets are well-kept, cases argued over in hushed tones and ultimately carefully considered to the greatest benefit of all involved. The openness that is signalled by the jointed glass panels dividing the two areas allows for a discrete inspection of the office from without while ensuring soundproofing.

    The furniture designs, together with the coordinated architectural solution combine to form a synthesis that is one of the most memorable in Ponti’s entire output in the early 1950s. Here as elsewhere his strategy is aimed at the provision of highly efficient yet also aesthetically sophisticated work spaces appropriate for the new social needs of the economic ‘miracle’ in the Italian postwar era.

    Dr. Daniel Sherer
    Assistant Professor of Architecture (Adjunct) at Columbia University GSAPP
    Lecturer in Architectural History Yale University

  • Artist Biography

    Gio Ponti

    Italian • 1891 - 1979

    Among the most prolific talents to grace twentieth-century design, Gio Ponti defied categorization. Though trained as an architect, he made major contributions to the decorative arts, designing in such disparate materials as ceramics, glass, wood and metal. A gale force of interdisciplinary creativity, Ponti embraced new materials like plastic and aluminum but employed traditional materials such as marble and wood in original, unconventional ways.

    In the industrial realm, he designed buildings, cars, machinery and appliances — notably, the La Cornuta espresso machine for La Pavoni — and founded the ADI (Industrial Designer Association). Among the most special works by Gio Ponti are those that he made in collaboration with master craftsmen such as the cabinetmaker Giordano Chiesa, the illustrator Piero Fornasetti and the enamellist Paolo de Poli.

    View More Works



Desk, from an office of a law firm, Milan

Oak, oak-veneered wood, glass, brass.
78.5 x 180.1 x 75 cm (30 7/8 x 70 7/8 x 29 1/2 in.)
Manufactured by Figli di Amedeo Cassina, Meda, Italy. Together with a certificate of authenticity from the Gio Ponti Archives.

£15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for £47,500

Contact Specialist
Meaghan Roddy
Head of Sale
New York
+44 20 7318 4027

Design Day Sale

London Day Sale 28 April 2015 2pm