Our 6 Icons of Italian Furniture Design

Design History


Italy has earned its reputation for having one of the richest heritages in world culture. The country is known for its contributions to food, fashion, and of course its great historical relevance (looking at you, Caesar). A sometimes overlooked heritage that runs deep in Italian culture, is Italian furniture design. Italian furniture design has influenced some of the finest companies and designers in the world, and has made an everlasting mark, changing the industry with the emergence of talent influenced by Italian Modernism

Dendwell presents to you the top 6 names within the world of Italian design. 

1. Ettore Sottsass

One of the most well-known Italian designers out there. Even if you don’t know the name, you know the mirror.

The Ultrafragola Mirror, first designed by Sottsass in 1970, featured in one of Alyssa Ramstetter’s 3D designs.

Sottsass was actually born in Austria in 1917, but spent his youth and adult years in Milan. His career began its ascent in 1959 when he started working for Olivetti as a design consultant. He started out designing office equipment, and it wasn't long before he revolutionized office design. His signature use of fluorescent colors, shining surfaces, and irregular shapes became signature examples of postmodernism in furniture design. 

In 1989, he founded The Memphis Group, with a group of designers and architects from around the globe. Many pieces designed from The Memphis Group are now known as collector's items.

2. Giò Ponti

Primarily an architect, Ponti is known for his modernist buildings, most notably the Denver Art Museum, which was completed in 1971. That said, Ponti was a man with a multitude of talents, leading a multifaceted career in design after graduating from Politecnico di Milano University with a degree in architecture. He founded the design magazine Domus, which aimed to renew an interest in whole architecture, including features on interiors, decorative arts, gardening and cooking.

Giò Ponti’s drawings for an “Ideal Small House” in Domus. Images via Archivio Giò Ponti

Ponti made his debut in 1923 at the world's very first Biennial Exhibition of the Decorative Arts, in Monza and in addition to his architecture, continued to work as an industrial designer, designing furniture, ceramics, lamps, and mirrors throughout his life. 

3. Marco Zanuso

Even if the name itself doesn’t ring a bell to you, you almost certainly know the aesthetic quality that is characteristic of Marco Zanuso. His furniture objects, with their stiletto legs, smooth and sloped curves, and use of velvet and luxe leather, are the embodiment of quintessential 1950s Italian Modernism.

The Lady Chair, designed by Zanuso for the 1951 Milan Triennale

Like many of the other legendary designers, Zanuso began his career in architecture and industrial design, before moving over to furniture design. Zanuso was a master of creating allure while maintaining comfort and loungability in his pieces, most notably his Lady Chair and Senior Chair designs. 

4. Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni

These two designers share a spot on our list, as they were brothers who worked closely together throughout their career. The Castiglioni brothers were the sons of a well-known sculptor, Giannino Castiglioni, and together would go on to win 14 Compasso D’Oro awards, the highest honor in Italian industrial design over the course of their careers. You likely have seen many of their works without realizing it, particularly their iconic lighting designs such as the Arco Lamp, the Snoopy Lamp, and the Cocoon Lamp suite.

Pier Giacomo Castiglioni showing the new cocoon lamps Viscontea and Taraxacum to Marcel Breuer, Milan 1962. Image by Franco Cotti via Flos.

The brilliance of Castiglioni designs is that everything is functional and not merely for aesthetic purposes. 

5. Joe Colombo

Joe Colombo was born in 1930 in Milan and first began his career as a painter before pivoting to product design, which would end up being the greatest passion in his professional life. Colombo's work was quite different from his peers within the industry, in that his designs were incredibly audacious with curved shapes and folds; a contrast to the ever-popular straight lines and hard angles of products at that time.

The Elda Chair, designed in 1963.

Colombo's career barely got to get its footing over a 10-year span, after he passed away from a heart attack on his 41st birthday. Even so, he paved the way with his futuristic designs, such as the Elda chair, and will forever be seen as a visionary. 

6. Franco Albini

Albini was a legendary Neo-Rationalist designer and architect, and will forever be known in the world of design by making his name synonymous with minimalism. In fact, he paved the way for minimalist design to such an extent, that most of the design within that style have been heavily inspired by his works ever since. 

Albini’s Veliero Bookcase. Image via Cassina.

Possibly the most notable of his works is the bookcase known as Veliero (which means “sailboat”). This piece was designed for his very own house in 1940 and is still produced and distributed by Cassina to this day. He had a great knack for making furniture almost look like it was off equilibrium while maintaining soundness and optimum functionality. 

Photo via Racquel Cayre


Dendwell was a rigorously curated marketplace and magazine for vintage decor. From 2020 - 2022, we dug into the trends, tastemakers, and how-to's of vintage object collection. This is our archive site, and is no longer being updated.