• Itineraries

Designing convertibility: sparingness, lightness and minimum floor space


The concept of transformability, namely certain objects' aptitude to assume forms through occasionally hidden kinematic mechanisms, is a leitmotif in Magistretti's design projects. Maralunga (1973, Cassina), the best-seller which offers the option of choosing the position of the headrest thanks to the insertion of a "bicycle chain" mechanism, or Veranda (1983, Cassina; Project profile by Vico Magistretti; "Easy options" in Sunday Times Magazine, 1983) that, like a flying carpet laid out in the relax position folds back into 4 after use, are good examples of the idea of the object's capacity to assume a different spatial configuration depending on the functional need to be met. If, in the above-mentioned sofas, the mechanics of motion are the focus of the designer's interest, the same applies to the curious Sending 1 table produced by Atelier Borsani (later Tecno) in 1951 ("Tavolo ampliabile" in Domus, 1953), a walnut dining table fitted with "folding wings" that, when opened, modified the initial shape of the table top from round to oval. The same concept is applied to lighting engineering systems that use self-adjusting membranes to modulate the light intensity, as is the case in the Eclisse lamp (1967, Artemide) and in Tikal (2005, Fontana Arte). They are geometries in motion that determine a variable configuration of the object in space: in Eclisse, a semi-spherical shell rotates to determine a broader or smaller flow of light, while in Tikal, the top moving element shifts to release the stream of light.

Flexibility of use

The capacity to adapt to different environments is a specific vocation that arises from the expressive language impressed on the object at the time of its conception. Versatility as a stylistic hallmark can especially be found in some of the pieces designed by Magistretti for the De Padova collection, which is the brand that is responsible for having largely contributed to renovating and transforming the taste of home living, and which would find in Magistretti the ideal counterpart to consolidate this editorial line. The Shigeto series (1989), with cabinets and bookcases on wheels (De Padova catalogue, 1990), consists of furnishings for the home but that can also nonchalantly double for a home-office environment with the same aesthetics based on the principles of simplicity, sobriety and elegance, as would also be the case with the popular Silver chair (1989). The same occurs with the Babe console-table (1998), the shape of which could be adapted to different needs and spaces and also, albeit differently, with the Finn table (1999), a juxtaposition of elements that connotes the final object by evoking its function according to its configuration. Closely in line with the idea of transformability is also Chaise (1996), an armchair-chaise longue to relax on that, once it is folded, becomes a small-sized armchair suitable for home and office.


This is a design method with well-known historic precedents that well adapts to the need of transportability, low-cost, stackability and lightness. The application to homes of the criteria used in Spartan, typically colonial furniture, manageable and small-sized, to fold and carry away or to open when needed, produced objects that were born out of the winning combination of practicality and a style with the connotations of sobriety and elegance that evoked the English style, as in the foldable armchairs Africa (2000) or Kenia (1995), the reinterpretation of the Tripolina chair, designed for Campeggi, or Ospite (1996, Campeggi), the iconic fold-away bed that, through the use of a few thin elements, once folded is only 13 cm thick. In the Broomstick collection designed for Alias in 1979, featuring a chair, a table a small armchair, a coat rack and a bookcase, the idea and functional need arises from the necessity to design furniture that is foldable, demountable and easily transportable and whose form draws inspiration from a simple broomstick ("Magistretti on a magic broomstick" in The Sunday Times, 1980; Broomstick catalogue, Alias). These pieces of furniture are made up of same-section wooden elements expressing the same founding idea based on the principle of the economy of design: the same "economy" that had motivated the Piccy foldable armchair in 1946, presented at the RIMA exhibition at the Triennale (Piccy, project profile by Vico Magistretti; Correspondence between Vico Magistretti and the company Fumagalli; "Ancora mobili di un'esposizione" in Domus, 1946). The theme of self-assembly is also originally applied to the bookcase typology, which also issued from a reflection dating back to 1946 with the RIMA wall bookcase. By contrast, Nuvola Rossa (1977, Cassina), although again based on the principle of reducing the components, recalls a step ladder only in the compact position (when closed) while it reveals the inspiration by an Indian teepee tent in its final form ("Cosa c'è dietro l'angolo del design?" in Corriere della Sera, 1977).

Rosa Chiesa and Ali Filippini