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Deganello’s ‘Torso’ sofa.


TORSO (1982)

Chaise longue/sofa by Paolo Deganello (b. 1940)

Asymmetric left or right chaise longue with footrest and sofa with steel skeletal frame, padded with CFC-free polyurethane foam and polyester padding. Metal supports lacquered in grey and light blue; feet in black plastic material. Seat in leather and back upholstered in a specially-commissioned Jack Lenor Larsen material entitled “La Madre” (“The Mother”). Triangular tabletop in ochre lacquered wood. Cassina SpA (Italy).

By Keith Johnson.

BORN IN ESTE, Padua, in 1940, the Italian architect and designer Paolo Deganello studied architecture at Università degli Studi di Firenze from 1961 to 1966. Upon graduation, he joined Andrea Branzi, Gilberto Corretti, and Massimo Morozzi in the forming of the ultra-radical design group, Archizoom Associati, so named after the British architects known as Archigram and the vanguard journal Zoom. Archizoom was part of the 1960’s intellectual design movement in Italy, concerned with anti-design furniture, such as the “Safari” seating pod (in faux leopard-skin fabric) and the “San Remo” palm-frond lamp (both devised in 1968 for Poltronova).

Click on an image to enlarge it.

By 1972, the members of Archizoom Associati had disbanded, and Deganello began teaching design at Università degli Studi di Firenze and at the Architectural Association in London.  Within the same year, his work was included in the landmark, influential exhibition, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

OVER THE NEXT twenty years, Paolo Deganello investigated and challenged the requirements for “good, comfortable furniture,” albeit progressive in attenuation. These studies bore fruit in such pieces as “AEO” (Cassina SpA), “Squash” sofa (Driade SpA), “Artifici” sofa table and the “Torso” asymmetrical sofa/chaise series (Cassina SpA).  Though somewhat Postmodern in general appearance, the main particular thrust of Deganello’s objects was more anthropomorphic than decorative.

Towards this end, in 1987, he was invited to exhibit his “Documenta Chair” at documenta 8 in Kassel, in which the individual structural elements of the chair remained entirely visible in a manner that implied legs, arms and feet.  Instantly recognized for its own aesthetic stance – anarchic, daring shapes, patterns and materials contrasting with the accepted structures of the time.

Today, Paolo Deganello lectures at various universities worldwide, and augments his theoretical ideas via articles and treatises written for such specialized periodicals as Abitare, Domus, Blueprint and Artforum. A unique loner within the Milanese design firmament, Deganello is considered to be the maestro who set expressionistic radicalism on its way.

THE TORSOS HAVE always been a furniture series very near and dear to my heart. Despite its awkward-looking, asymmetrical format, each piece –whether a chaise longue, a chair, a sofa, even a bed – is extraordinarily comfortable and user-friendly. Places to toss one’s legs are inherently appropriate and perfectly positioned; the sofa backs offer unexpected repose in spite of their strange, irregular appearance; and small drink or book tables are solicitously positioned right where they need to be.  But most interesting of all is the effortless way in which this series of avant-garde seating objects apostatizes the tyranny of the rectangle that most sofa designs of the period capitulated to.  The Torsos work to sublimate those tendencies towards a higher, more expressionistic reality.

As to the issue of anthropomorphism, Deganello and the Italian manufacturer Cassina devised a most intriguing methodology for the upholstering of these objects with the acclaimed American textile designer, Jack Lenor Larsen.  A unique series of coloured geometric brocade fabrics were commissioned at the time from Larsen, who conceived and designed an upholstery collection entitled “La Collezione di Famiglia Tessuto” (“The Fabric Family Collection”).  Three implicit colourways (symbolic “personages”) were offered, each of which depicted their own irrefutable position within the archetypal Italian family:

La Nonna (Grandmother) was the boldest, most colourful and “loud” of the textiles, as one might expect the eldest, wisest Matriarch of the family to be.

La Madre (Mother) was colourful, but in a mid-range, subtler manner – her importance to the family is unquestionable, but she “still had a lot to learn!”

Finally, I Bambini (the babies), very subtle & quiet in comparison to the other two – for one reason only – that “children should be seen but not heard!”

Thirty years later, the Torsos still engage the eye as beguiling furniture elements within the new domestic landscape.

Manufacturer:    CASSINA SpA, Milano, Italia

Production:         1982 (designed circa 1980-82)

Keith Rennie Johnson is the President and Director of Urban Architecture, Inc., in Brooklyn, NY. The gallery features important twentieth century visual and avant-garde decorative art and for 20 years has been the leading US dealer for Memphis Milano and Museo Alchimia.

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