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Fantastic Plastics

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While in Italy for a large press event regarding the 50th Salone Del Mobile, I took the opportunity to visit Kartell's headquarters in Noviglio, just outside of Milan. In a rambling campus of orange steel and glazed brick buildings designed by Ignazio Gardella and Anna Castelli Ferrieri, the company opened a corporate museum in 1999 to mark their 50th anniversary. Led by Claudio Luti since 1988, Kartell is best known for realizing a wide range of designs from an international roster of superstar designers. Less well known today is the company's history of innovation during the postwar years, and the role a select group of Italian designers and engineers would play in the 20th century's plastic revolution. What follows is a look at some of the company's outstanding vintage designs.

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  The Kartell museum is located in Noviglio, just outside Milan.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    The Kartell museum is located in Noviglio, just outside Milan.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  1950's K 101 Ski Rack by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi, a rubberized set of straps that easily clipped onto a car roof (as opposed to the bulky and unwieldy roof racks then on the market), was the first Kartell product. It proved to be a great success.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    1950's K 101 Ski Rack by Carlo Barassi and Roberto Menghi, a rubberized set of straps that easily clipped onto a car roof (as opposed to the bulky and unwieldy roof racks then on the market), was the first Kartell product. It proved to be a great success.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  Having produced an array of lab ware, in 1955 Kartell was among the first companies to introduce plastic products to the home environment. The KS 1067 dustpan by Gino Colombini was among their first.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    Having produced an array of lab ware, in 1955 Kartell was among the first companies to introduce plastic products to the home environment. The KS 1067 dustpan by Gino Colombini was among their first.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  The delicate looking KS 1475 carpet beater was made with polyethylene surrounding a metal core.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    The delicate looking KS 1475 carpet beater was made with polyethylene surrounding a metal core.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  Gino Colombini's KS 1068 dustpan with handle came in an array of progressive colors enjoyed tremendous success upon its 1957 release. It has subsequently been added to museum collections the world over, including MoMA.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    Gino Colombini's KS 1068 dustpan with handle came in an array of progressive colors enjoyed tremendous success upon its 1957 release. It has subsequently been added to museum collections the world over, including MoMA.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  A young Milanese architect named Joe Colombo realized the 4801 armchair in 1964. An anomaly in the catalog, the chair is made entirely from wood without the use of screws or glue.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    A young Milanese architect named Joe Colombo realized the 4801 armchair in 1964. An anomaly in the catalog, the chair is made entirely from wood without the use of screws or glue.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  Initially developed for Fiat dealerships, Musée D'Orsay architect Gae Aulenti's 1974 collection, including the 4894 table and 4794 armchair seen here, were produced in a moulded rigid polyurethane that had a new texture and matte finish.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    Initially developed for Fiat dealerships, Musée D'Orsay architect Gae Aulenti's 1974 collection, including the 4894 table and 4794 armchair seen here, were produced in a moulded rigid polyurethane that had a new texture and matte finish.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  By the early 1960s the company's design aesthetic had become more refined, and in a way prefigured the space age look that was to become popular by the decade's end. Euginio Gentili Tedeschi's 4062 suspension lamp from 1962 is almost a yard in diameter, and would have been impossible to produce (for cost and technical reasons) in any other material than plastic.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    By the early 1960s the company's design aesthetic had become more refined, and in a way prefigured the space age look that was to become popular by the decade's end. Euginio Gentili Tedeschi's 4062 suspension lamp from 1962 is almost a yard in diameter, and would have been impossible to produce (for cost and technical reasons) in any other material than plastic.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  Colombo's 4029 table lamp features indentations to house desktop items.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    Colombo's 4029 table lamp features indentations to house desktop items.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  Functional, friendly and colorful—to the point of appearing almost cartoonish—a stack of nesting 4906/07 tables by Giotto Stoppino and a bright blue 4850 stacking chair by Giorgina Castiglioni, Giorgio Gaviraghi, and Aldo Lanza, give the spirit of the company's direction by the late 1960s.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    Functional, friendly and colorful—to the point of appearing almost cartoonish—a stack of nesting 4906/07 tables by Giotto Stoppino and a bright blue 4850 stacking chair by Giorgina Castiglioni, Giorgio Gaviraghi, and Aldo Lanza, give the spirit of the company's direction by the late 1960s.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  Gerd Lange's space age 4064/65 suspension lamps prefigure today's popular FL/Y lamp by Kartell art director Ferruccio Laviani.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    Gerd Lange's space age 4064/65 suspension lamps prefigure today's popular FL/Y lamp by Kartell art director Ferruccio Laviani.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  The 4545 "centipede" bed by Antonio Locatelli and Pietro Salmoiraghi from 1972 was one of company's least successful offerings and only remained in production for a year.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    The 4545 "centipede" bed by Antonio Locatelli and Pietro Salmoiraghi from 1972 was one of company's least successful offerings and only remained in production for a year.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  The intensely postmodern 4814 lounge chair with two wheels was among Anna Castelli Ferrieri's last designs for the brand.  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    The intensely postmodern 4814 lounge chair with two wheels was among Anna Castelli Ferrieri's last designs for the brand.

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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  The museum's bathroom is kitted out with Castelli Ferrieri's 5021/64 Outline System, the 1978 modular wall organizer based on shaker pegs.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!  Photo by: Sam Grawe
    The museum's bathroom is kitted out with Castelli Ferrieri's 5021/64 Outline System, the 1978 modular wall organizer based on shaker pegs.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

    Photo by: Sam Grawe

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