The Short Happy Life of Joe Colombo

Modern life and the future in the vision of an enlightened designer

This year, 2011, is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy.

But in the very same year there’s not only one anniversary to take notice of: Forty years ago, Joe Colombo – one of the top Italian industrial designers of all times – died of heart attack, aged only 41.

This coincidence (1971-2011) brings to light an age when Italian design – along with the Finnish one – represented the aesthetics of a whole cultural phenomenon, which I personally would like to call Modernism.

Born in Milan, 1930, Cesare ‘Joe’ Colombo had a vision of the future dominated by an almost childish dream of re-building people’s living spaces and everyday life. Childish, I said, therefore incredibly serious (who said that children’s games are easy?), while paying attention to the smallest details. In his vision, simple objects like tables, armchairs and even ashtrays, clothes and shoes had to become something more. More appealing to the view, but also more practical, like a late Sixties science-fiction film (2001: A Space Odyssey was Colombo’s favourite film – you can easily perceive what interiors, volumes and general aspects that he wanted to highlight in his own work).

His contribution to the most important Italian furniture design houses was (and still is) immense. During the 60s, his revolutionary ideas and concepts were realized in an industrial quantity by the likes of Kartell, Zanotta, Oluce, Boffi, Arflex and Alessi, to name but a few.

Joe Colombo loved being photographed, often comfortably seated on one of his creations, with a grin and his pipe, a proper living-trademark of his own style. A white Elda armchair with its soft black or brown leather padding would have been fine for that, as he lived his design, like every user – he imagined – was supposed to do.

Contemporary life, from the early Eighties till now, demonstrates how mass cultural philosophy changed from the ‘design for living’ concept of the late Fifties to early Seventies to the ‘living for design’ ethos that explains – so far – how the more recent culture of brands replaced the whole concept of ‘life improvement through design’.

According to Colombo, design was the way to morally and physically make human life more enjoyable, in an age – the Sixties – when the term ‘future’ was about to be dominated by modular furniture and compact, all-purpose spaces that could have been taken from popular TV series like Star Trek or UFO, Joe Colombo had the intuition to turn ‘space age’ shapes, concepts and materials into normal life objects, with a fairly optimistic view of what the years to come should have looked like. The future is in your hands, the future is now.

But such a revolutionary man did not survive to his creations and had no time to see that the Seventies – aesthetically speaking – were about to be pretty much the way he imagined them. A good visual proof is the 1971-1976 seasons of European and American TV series, wherein interior design, furniture and accessories echoed Colombo’s vision.

What remains of Joe Colombo’s concept of the future? In an age – the twenty-first century – with a strong emphasis upon dull square/cubical shapes (probably suggested by the lack of creativity of designers and users); there is still a need for more rounded, compact environments. They now call it ‘vintage’ or ‘retro’ furniture, just to dismiss that very idea and bury it into an indefinite past, but – as we know – it couldn’t be more modern than that.

It’s neither vintage, nor retro. It’s not past at all.

It’s the future.

By Max Galli

Max Galli

Max Galli was born in Rome in 1969, the son of a photographer and a housewife. Illustrator, graphic designer and writer, he embraced the culture and the aesthetics of the Sixties more than two decades ago. Max published three novels, an anthology of short stories and four comic books, and contributed to several magazines ( “Storie”, “Vintage”, “Blue” and “Misty Lane”). During the years he realized loads of cartoons, pin ups, record and cd covers and posters for Italian and European bands. He lived in London from 1998 to 2003, joining in the London Mod scene, from which he took inspiration for his work. His comic books “The Beatnix” and “The Adventures of Molly Jones” reached international success, especially in United Kingdom and USA.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Design Objects Tags:, ,
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The Spork: A Practical Dining Tool

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Haydn Toils

…and Useful Anti-Personnel Device says: Reinhardt Haydn


I was standing in the bathroom when the door came in. I’d just spent the last three hours nailing together the salient points of the spork review when Raoul kicked his way into my room an insisted that we had to get out of the travel lodge immediately. The peyote fever was upon him and the only thing was to go with it.


As we made our way through the unnaturally quiet streets of pre-dawn Sandwell, I tried to take stock of the manner in which a simple assignment to review a hitherto innocent eating implement could have resulted in a trashed hotel room, the withdrawal of my Countdown card and a night manager on his way to a secure unit after being caught ‘in the parlour’ with the hotel’s rented water cooler.


I’d arrived at the travel lodge the previous morning, with an expense account of £500, a rented Hyundai and a brief to road test the spork for those pigs at Catering Gestalt. The first thing you’ve got to know about the spork is that it’s no use for a bugle spoon. You’re likely to rip your nostrils to bits, bucko. On the other hand, it is ideal for over officious bellboys who get snotty about hefting a goat carcass up to your room. I had a feeling the goat would come in handy later, and overcame the bellboys reticence by offering to sort out his adenoidal dialect issues with sporky.


Raoul arrived a couple of hours later – he’d had some hassle with his old lady who was hassling him for maintenance. She wasn’t taken in by the photos of him dressed as The Mighty Thor outside the CPA headquarters, and was giving him hell. She insisted he take little Raoul with him for the day and he’d had to stop off at his sisters to dump the kid. Road testing cutlery in the West Midlands was no place for a kid.


After an uneventful half-hour in the hotel bar, we drove to a Harvester on some god-forsaken ring road. After some heaviness about the goat, we left it in the boot and found a table. Hoping to gloss over that ugly scene, I asked the waitress if it was OK if I used my spork rather than the cutlery provided. She looked at me like I’d asked her for sex, which I might have done, but so far as I can remember, it stuck pretty steadfastly to the spork issue.


Ignoring that bitch, I got straight into running the spork around the salad bowl. It picked up diced carrot and bits of spring onion fine, but tended to get caught up in the sauerkraut. It’s also hard to get a whole beetroot on it. Where it really came into it’s own was with the potato salad – it’s dual, spoon/fork characteristics making it ideal for both stabbing and scooping. Far superior to the flatter, less spoon-like, foon.


I got myself some soup – cream of mushroom, although it looked more like chicken and mushroom. The spork worked out OK at low speed, but as I warmed up it tended to spray the hot liquid around the place. This brought the waitress back – she started yelling something about getting the manager, so I agreed. I had some questions for him. Anyway, she comes back about ten minutes later with this little Armenian guy, who she said was the manager. He wasn’t interested in my questions about the consistency of his soup in relation to spork usage, preferring to yell something that sounded like ‘why-o-way, why-o-way, why-o-way’ at Raoul, who was working his way along the cold cuts.


This was all getting too much, so I gave him a couple of digs with the spork, grabbed Raoul and headed for the Hyundai. We passed the feds on the way out. I saluted and they didn’t suspect a thing.


Our next stop was an Oriental restaurant called the Wing-Ya, or similar. After some initial confusion about the establishments take-away only status, we settled down to our egg fried rice, oriental duck, crispy noodles, been shoots and water chestnuts. The spork is ideal for eating Chinese – although you’re best taking on the prawn crackers by hand.


After we went back to the hotel, Raoul decided to head out for a massage, as the heavy scene with his wife and the business in the Harvester had brought on one of his tension headaches.


Reinhardt Haydn

The love child of an American diplomat and a waitress from Denton, Texas, Reinhardt was educated in Switzerland and Austria before returning to the US with his valet and acolyte, Raoul. A noted journalist, critic and countercultural powerhouse, Haydn has contributed to scores of magazines and written several books including The Inevitable Plastic Explosion (Winner of the Weintraub Literary Shield, 2004) and the popular Wyclef Jean Mysteries series. He has homes in Colorado and Geneva.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Gossip Kitsch Objects Tags:, ,
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Study of Bauhaus

A brief study of Bauhaus design. Images taken from across the web to showcase the facets of Bauhaus design.


Boo Eyeplug acts as webmaster/designer for the Eyeplug site. Not the most social of creatures and with several personality issues, and rather exotic, eccentric tastes for obscure ‘cultish’ stuff which makes his ramblings seem even more sweetly abstract and often annoying.

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June 16, 2015 By : Category : Icons Modern Objects Tags:, ,
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Futuristic Japanese Cars

Cool designs and bizarre concept cars take the stage at Japan’s motor show, including Honda’s ‘organic’ car skin and a rotating Nissan that talks you out of a bad mood.


Boo Eyeplug acts as webmaster/designer for the Eyeplug site. Not the most social of creatures and with several personality issues, and rather exotic, eccentric tastes for obscure ‘cultish’ stuff which makes his ramblings seem even more sweetly abstract and often annoying.

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June 5, 2015 By : Category : Icons Objects Space-Age Tags:, ,
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