Design luminary Emilio Ambasz, in 1988, wrote that the history of Italian design “could not be written without referring to [Zanotta’s} contribution.” Aurelio Zanotta founded Zanotta in Nova Milanese in 1954. In the early years, the company manufactured mostly sofas and armchairs that never made it into the history books. In the 1960s, however, Zanotta began working with the most conceptually driven designers of the days—the Castiglioni brothers, Joe Colombo, and Ettore Sottsass, for example—and by the end of the decade, Zanotta has produced some of the world’s most iconic works of postmodern and radical design.
Among Zanotta’s notable designs from this game-changing era are the plastic-covered Throw-Away Armchair by Willie Landels (1965); the interlocking Karelia Lounge by Liisi Beckmann (1966); the inflatable Blow Chair by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D'Urbino, Paolo Lomazzi, and Carla Scolari (1967); the prefabricated portable living space Guscio Hut by Roberto Menghi (1968); the beanbag-like Sacco Lounge by Paolini, Gatti, and Teodoro (1968); and the poster child for the radical design movement, the Quaderna Console by Superstudio (1971).
In the 1970s, Zanotta began to mine design history for important, boundary-breaking works that were no longer in production. The first project in this vein was the Castiglioni’s Mezzadro Stool, which had been designed in 1957—inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s concept of “ready-mades—but was never made in large quantities. Spurred on by the success of this re-edition, Zanotta followed with more, for example Italian rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni’s Follia Chair (1934); Italian designer Marco Zanuso’s Maggiolina Lounge Chair (1947); and Swiss architect Max Bill’s Sgabillo Stool (1952). Zanotta would go to re-edition super rare designs by Italian designer Carlo Mollino, as well.
In the ’80s, Aurelio Zanotta founded Zabro (Zanotta Brothers) with Alessandro Mendini and Studio Alchimia. This experimental workshop aimed to conserve Italian craft heritage while exploring new design languages. This led to the creation of unclassifiable hybrid objects like Mendini’s Zabro Table/Chair (1984), which transforms from a kind of throne into a dining table. Zanotta next launched Zanotta Edizioni in 1989 to answer to a more selective, collector market. Among these limited editions are Bruno Munari’s Singer Chair Object (1945), Mendini’s Colomobio Chest of Drawers (1985/88), and Joe Tilson’s Alchera Chest (1992).
Today, Zanotta continues to produce many of its designs classics alongside new contemporary designs. The company has over 200 pieces inside the permanent collections of the most prestigious museums, like the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the Victoria & Albert in London, the Triennale Design Museum in Milan, and the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein.
* All images courtesy of Zanotta