In 1954 I was nine years old, and I turned 18 in 1963, when I began to study at the school of architecture. What I can say about design and the evolution of the domestic scenario and of living in that period I have read later, in books and magazines. I believe it might be more interesting to dig through the memories of a teenager from a well-off middle class family, who found himself in an ideal point of observation to describe, from a personal perspective, the phenomenon of modernization of his way of living and the appearance on the domestic scene, in everyday life, of small and large objects we now catalogue in the variegated panorama of Italian design.
My uncle Camillo, a great lover of the mountains, a skier and unstoppable organizer of family trips, showed up at dawn one winter morning in the 1950s with a strange article strapped to the roof of his gray Fiat Millecento. Two canvas ribbons with rubber pads and ties on the roof of the car. It could carry skis and poles for four skiers. The only trick was to point the tips of the skis downward, otherwise at a speed of 80 km/h, on the Milan-Lecco, everything would pull up, like an airplane trying to take off. Only many years later did I learn that this was one of the first Kartell products, made with Pirelli Nastricord, and designed by Roberto Menghi and Eng. Carlo (Carlone) Barassi, a friend of Giulio Castelli and later also a founding partner of Arflex; a company to which he brought the Pirelli know-how regarding the first foams used for padding. An interesting phenomenon of technological transfer, ahead of its time.
Then uncle Camillo, who liked things well done, also had a white Giulietta sports car... I can still remember the smell of the mixture of fake leather and plastic.
Olivetti Lettera 22
At home and at school, we wrote by hand with a Pelikan fountain pen (green and black Bakelite) or an Aurora 88 (black with a gold cap). Typewriters were used in offices; but in high school the fashion of “theme papers” came along, which had to be laid out with photographs, drawings and texts. So at Christmas in 1959 the Olivetti Lettera 22 arrived, the first typewriter for use in the home, of compact size and price, especially friendly in its forms and color. With this typewriter, design entered the house like a phenomenon of complete communication. Graphics, the logo of the little bird, the paper cutter designed by Nizzoli by stylizing the logo, the aqua green color, the soft case with soft handles, like a handbag. Everything was thought out with intelligence and an aesthetic that prompted an instant affective relationship in me.
Eko VL480 Black
Gibson and Fender were the legendary brands in the 1960s for lovers of the electric guitar. American products, with very high price tags for a teenager like me, who after tiresome and helpful classical guitar lessons had discovered folk music and rock. Looking for an instrument I could afford, I ran into the Italian path to rock guitar. Eko, a very new company from Recanati, produced original and efficient instruments, with innovative design. I bought a relatively “mean” black and white model with two pick-up bridges and a whammy bar. I felt like I was on the cutting edge of modernity. After half a century I gave it to the son of a friend of mine who played guitar professionally. He was fascinated by the design, and maybe unaware of the fact that he was getting a relic Made in Italy.
In 1960 my father, a doctor, bought a new Italian tape recorder. It was called the G255, with the nickname “Gelosino.” He used it to record case histories and conversations with patients, to help with reports and diagnosis. Compact, in a small case, with a transparent polycarbonate lid and four big mistake-proof cylindrical buttons in yellow-red-green-black for the four fundamental functions: Rec, Rev 1-2, Audio. The decidedly non-tech appearance (we’d say look, today), with its rounded, very compact case, put it in that still rather rare family of objects in which design was evident for the first time as a friendly, modernizing influence. Back then it was called a “magnetofono” and it helped me to discover the magic of listening back to my own voice for the first time, which sounded awful. Later, for higher performance, they gave us a Grundig tape recorder, German, fat, cumbersome, far from beautiful, but of course very efficient and impossible to transport. We recorded songs played on the guitar, trying to imitate American folk and rock singers, with poor results. But for me the image and memory of the tape recorder coincide with the Gelosino.
A parallelepiped in green (mine was), with an opening that let you insert a 45 rpm record, and three buttons: “On”, “Espelli” (Eject) and “Volume,” and a flat chromium-plated metal strip that turned out to be a handle. Among all the design objects that somehow brought about a little revolution in my youth, the “Irradiette” by Irradio has a special place indeed. The small, brilliant portable record player for singles changed our lives. First of all because it “ate” records and then, of course, “spit” them out. Then because it worked with batteries, in any position, even upside down and in motion. Music on vinyl, from the early 1950s on, had been stuck in one place… only radios were portable. The Irradiette let you take your music with you, on foot, in a car, on a bike, to the beach, to meadows, homes, day or night. Light, with the vanishing handle and the controls built flush into the elementary body, it fit in a backpack. The sound was a bit rough around the edges, but who cared? Today, when music gets grabbed online and stored in your pocket or the palm of your hand, it seems laughable. But in 1964 it was amazing.
One year prior to enrolling in architecture school (1962), with the good intention of getting accustomed to the theme, I plowed into the remarkable tome of the “Testament” of Frank Lloyd Wright and got a subscription to Domus. I still have the entire year of issues that made me discover interiors with platforms for functions on multiple levels, and the design of lamps. I remember seeing an article on a studio apartment for a bachelor designed by Joe Colombo. Nothing resembled or fit with my experience of domestic interiors. Wall-to-wall carpeting and midnight blue walls, steps that took the place of chairs, cushions in place of a sofa, shell-like chairs in shiny white plastic, but above all lamps like insects, slender things with shades like orange pots that rotated, with exposed wires. Forms of light that opened towards a new nomadic morphology of the lamp. For the desk, I convinced my mother, who paid attention to design innovations, to go see Signor Ostuni in a basement behind Corso di Porta Romana – I think it was the headquarters of Oluce – where I bought my first consciously purchased Italian design object.
Brionvega Cubo TS522
Marco Zanuso was a friend and patient of my father the cardiologist, who called him “il divino Marco.” Maybe because of this acquaintance, Dad was one of the first to buy the Radio Cubo TS522 by Brionvega. It was red. Its outfitting was a reminder of electrocardiographs and electrotechnical tools. Maybe this resemblance to familiar working tools had attracted my father, who appreciated only Ronson lighters, the “Static” table clock by Sapper and the soap-bar shaped electric razor by Remington, among design objects. The jointed cube form and the separation between the speakers, the electronics and the controls, produced a revolutionary semantic leap with respect to classic monoblock portable radios. When it was closed, it narrated nothing of its function, just its pure form and color.
As a puritan, antimodernist choice (and a bit snobby), at home we had no television. This ideological paternal decision had subtle ends. It forced us, for example, to visit our grandparents, who had a TV, when there was something interesting to watch (game shows, sports shows on Sunday, the Sanremo Festival, “Canzonissima” and “Un due tre” with Tognazzi and Vianello). I believe this choice not only encouraged ritual encounters with relatives, but was also dictated by the ugliness and enormous size of television sets, which could easily upset the delicate balance of the bourgeois decor so carefully prepared by my mother. When the Algol portable television by the “divino Marco” hit the market, TV was admitted to our home. In its form and size the Algol did not clash with my father’s principles, and in any case if we wanted to see the “big picture” we still had to go over to our grandparents’ place.