Back to the Future

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By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell
The legacy of mid-century designer Joe Colombo is underscored with a reissue of his plywood 4801 chair, now appearing for the first time in plastic from Italian furniture company Kartell.
Back to the Future - Photo 1 of 3 - Ignazia Favata, an architect at Studio Joe Colombo in Milan, says, "His designs have not aged in 30 years—they seem to have slipped the bonds of time." Proof resides in the permanent collections of MoMA, the V&A, and the Centre Pompidou, all of which own a plywood edition of the 4801.

Ignazia Favata, an architect at Studio Joe Colombo in Milan, says, "His designs have not aged in 30 years—they seem to have slipped the bonds of time." Proof resides in the permanent collections of MoMA, the V&A, and the Centre Pompidou, all of which own a plywood edition of the 4801.

Back to the Future - Photo 2 of 3 - The design has been reproduced in black, white, and crystal-clear plastic in the same proportions as Colombo’s original, a process that Kartell treated with reverence, according to CEO Claudio Luti: "We have been reluctant to approach re-editions because they may not be respectful of the original. This new chair is just the right balance between celebrating the past and making it topical in today’s world."

The design has been reproduced in black, white, and crystal-clear plastic in the same proportions as Colombo’s original, a process that Kartell treated with reverence, according to CEO Claudio Luti: "We have been reluctant to approach re-editions because they may not be respectful of the original. This new chair is just the right balance between celebrating the past and making it topical in today’s world."

Though Italian designer Joe Colombo is well represented in the molded-polymer annals of the Kartell archive, his 4801 chair, released in 1965 and produced until 1979, was the only object ever manufactured by the company in something other than plastic. The 4801’s characteristic curves—sinuous, fluid, and belying a hidden complexity—were composed from three pieces of bent plywood, lacquered to a sleek finish, and fitted together without any metal parts or glue. In the 47 years since, advances in industrial molding technology have allowed Kartell engineers to fabricate the seat in three hues of the company’s signature material, PMMA plastic.

Back to the Future - Photo 3 of 3 -

Joe Colombo; Photo courtesy of Kartell