Zanotta (company)

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Founded1954 (1954)
FounderAurelio Zanotta
Area served

Zanotta is an Italian furniture company particularly known for the iconic pieces of Italian design it produced in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. These include the "Sacco" bean bag chair and "Blow", the first mass-produced inflatable chair. The company was founded in 1954 and has its main plant in Nova Milanese. In 1983 Zanotta established its experimental division, Zabro, headed by Alessandro Mendini. Since the death of its founder, Aurelio Zanotta, in 1991, it has been run by members of his family. Zanotta's products were awarded the Compasso d'Oro in 1967, 1979, and 1987.


The company was founded in 1954 by the young entrepreneur Aurelio Zanotta with its manufacturing plant in Nova Milanese where it remains to the present day. Originally called Zanotta Poltrona, at first it specialised in fairly traditional upholstered furniture. However, by the early 1960s, the company had established a reputation for modern design and began commissioning avant-garde works by designers such as Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Gae Aulenti, Ettore Sottsass, and Alessandro Mendini.[1][2]

In 1965 Zanotta was one of the first furniture companies to use expanded polyurethane foam and frameless construction in its designs, most notably the "Throw Away" series of sofas and armchairs designed by Willie Landels.[a] One of Zanotta's most enduring successes was its 1968 "Sacco" bean bag chair, designed by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro. It was originally to have used polyurethane foam off-cuts for the filling but eventually settled on polystyrene beads. From the 1970s Zanotta achieved further success by re-issuing earlier designs which in their day had been considered too avant-garde for mass production. These included the "Larianna" tubular steel chair designed by Giuseppe Terragni in 1936 and the "Mezzadro" stool designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni in the late 1950s.[4][5]

Zanotta established Zabro, its experimental division, in 1983 headed by Alessandro Mendini and Alessandro Guerriero.[b] Amongst the pieces Zabro produced were Mendini's "Dorifora" chair in 1984 and the furniture series "Animali Domestici" (Domestic Animals) designed by Andrea Branzi [it] in 1986.[2]. The company launched Zanotta Edizioni in 1989, "a special collection exploring the boundaries between art and design." The pieces were produced in limited editions and combined industrial manufacture with hand-painted decoration.[4]

In 1989, Aurelio Zanotta and several of his designers including Achille Castiglioni, Gae Aulenti, Andrea Branzi, and Ettore Sottsass attended the International Design Conference in Aspen.[7] The conference theme that year was The Italian Manifesto.[2] In his talk at the conference Zanotta described the emergence of the mid-20-century revolution in Italian design and the early years of his own business:

Those were years of great vitality, there was an explosion of constructive energy, a profound desire to sweep away the past and create a new world. The phenomenon of Italian design grew out of this widely felt urge to renew everything.[8]

After Aurelio Zanotta's death in 1991, the company remained in his family. Since 2002 it has been run by Zanotta's three children, Eleonora, Francesca, and Martino. The Italian furniture company Tecno purchased 80% of Zanotta's shares in 2017. However, the two companies maintain separate production, design and management structures.[4][9]

Notable designs[edit]

Notable designs produced by Zanotta include:

  • "Lariana" chair (1936) originally designed by Giuseppe Terragni for the Casa del Fascio. The chair, made from tubular stainless steel with a wooden back and seat, was reissued by Zanotta in 1971 and remained in production until 1995.[10][2][c]
  • "Mezzadro" stool (1957) designed by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. It was one of three prototypes for stools using found objects which were developed by the Castiglioni brothers in the late 1950s. The "Mezzadro" uses a sheet metal seat cast from that of a 1935 Italian tractor which is balanced on stainless-steel bow and a wooden crosspiece. Zanotta began manufacturing it in 1971 and gave it the name "Mezzadro" which means "sharecropper", an allusion to the agricultural associations of its seat. Examples are held in the Museum of Modern Art and the Vitra Design Museum.[11][12]
  • "Throw Away" armchair and sofa (1965) designed by Willie Landels in expanded polyurethane foam using a completely frameless structure. Aurelio Zanotta first encountered Landels's pieces while on a trip to London in 1965 and immediately put the chair into production. Sofa versions were produced from 1966 and would later appear in the sets for Space: 1999. Initially, the pieces had washable vinyl covers in bright colors: red, yellow, green, light and dark blue. Later versions were also produced with fabric or leather covers.[1][4][13]
  • "Karelia" easy chair (1966) designed by Liisi Beckmann in undulating forms of expanded polyurethane foam. It was reissued by Zanotta in 2007 and exhibited at Milan's Triennale Design Museum in 2016.[14][15]
  • "Guscio" sleeping hut (1966) designed by Roberto Menghi [it] in prefabricated fiberglass panels with a larch wood floor. The dome-shaped huts can sleep 2–4 people and can be assembled and disassembled at will. "Guscio" won a Compasso d'Oro in 1967.[16][17]
  • "Blow" inflatable armchair in PVC (1967) designed by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D'Urbino, Carla Scolari, and Paolo Lomazzi. It was the first mass-produced inflatable chair. Examples are held in the Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.[18][19]
  • "Sacco" chair (1968) designed by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini, and Franco Teodoro. Covered in leather or cloth and filled with polystyrene beads, it was the progenitor of the bean bag chair and is still in production today. Even before the design had been completely finalized, the American department store chain Macy's placed an order for 10,000 chairs. Examples of "Sacco" are held in numerous museums including the Design Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.[1][20][21]
  • "Gaetano" table (1973) designed by Gae Aulenti. Its plate glass top rests on two removable trestles of lacquered aluminum alloy. It was shown at the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum in the 1980 exhibition Italian Furniture Design: Culture and Technology in Italian Furniture 1950-1980. "Gaetano" was one of the numerous pieces of furniture which Aulenti designed for Zanotta between 1963 and 1986.[22][23]
  • "Sciangai" coat rack (1973) designed by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D'Urbino, and Paolo Lomazzi. The collapsible rack is inspired by the Italian game Sciangai, a form of pick-up sticks. It won a Compasso d'Oro in 1979 and was exhibited at the Milan Triennial in 2012.[24][25]
  • "Cetonia" chest of drawers (1984) designed by Alessandro Mendini. One of a series of pieces produced by Zanotta's Zabro division, it is made of lacquered wood with hand-painted decoration. An example is in the permanent collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.[26]
  • "Papilio" coffee table (1985) designed by Alessandro Mendini. It consists of two or three levels of plate glass in undulating shapes resting on spindle legs of burnished steel. An example is held in the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin.[27][28]
  • "Tonietta" chair (1985) designed by Enzo Mari in die-cast aluminum and leather. It won a Compasso d'Oro in 1987, and an example is held in the Museum of Modern Art.[29][30]
  • "Animali Domestici" furniture series (1985–1986) designed by Andrea Branzi [it] and consisting of tables, chairs, and benches produced by Zanotta's Zabro division in limited editions. The pieces combined lacquered wood with tree branches and rough wooden slats and sticks. One of the chairs is held in the Vitra Design Museum.[31]
  • "Soft" chaise longue (1999) designed by Werner Aisslinger, one of the first examples of mass-produced furniture using TechnoGel as visible upholstery. Examples are held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and France's Centre national des arts plastiques.[32][33][34]
  • "Veryround Chair" lounge chair (2006) designed by Louise Campbell. Itself circular in shape, the chair is constructed from 260 identical circular modules in different sizes all made from laser-cut steel. It has no legs and no identifiable seat or back. An example is held by the Museum of Modern Art and was shown in the museum's 2013 exhibition Applied Design.[35][36][37]



  1. ^ Willie Landels (born 1928) is an Italian-born painter and designer. He was also the editor of Harpers & Queen magazine from the late 1960s to 1989.[3]
  2. ^ Alessandro Guerriero (born 1943) is an Italian architect and designer. He is the founder of the radical Italian design group Studio Alchimia.[6]
  3. ^ For a detailed description of Terragni's chairs and their design rationale see: Rifkind, David (June 2006). "Furnishing the Fascist interior: Giuseppe Terragni, Mario Radice and the Casa del Fascio". arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 157-170


  1. ^ a b c Schmitt, Peter-Philipp (2 February 2015). "Leicht gemacht". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in German)
  2. ^ a b c d Woodham, Jonathan (2016). A Dictionary of Modern Design, 2nd Edition, pp. 217; 466–467. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192518534
  3. ^ Christiansen, Rupert (2 June 2013). "Willie Landels: an artist's zig-zag life". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Vitra Design Museum. Zanotta, Nova Milanese, Italy. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  5. ^ Greenhalgh, Paul (1990). Modernism in Design, pp. 198–199. Reaktion Books. ISBN 0948462116
  6. ^ Campbell, Gordon (2006). The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, Vol. 1, p. 9. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195189485
  7. ^ Golinelli, Giacomo (5 May 2007). "Art, profit and radical design: who is Zanotta?". PianoPrimo. Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  8. ^ Zanotta, Aurelio (1989). "The Two Faces of Industry", talk delivered at the International Design Conference in Aspen, republished on Retrieved 21 October 2018 (Adobe Flash required).
  9. ^ Mancini, Giovanna (22 February 2017). "Tecno rileva l'80% di Zanotta e rilancia sul settore «progetto»". Il Sole 24 Ore. Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  10. ^ Chiozzotto, Riccardo (19 February 2016). "Terragni: le avanguardie europee e la sedia Lariana". MomaStyle. Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  11. ^ MoMA. "Mezzadro Seat". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  12. ^ Vitra Design Museum. "Untitled/Mezzadro, ca. 1957". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  13. ^ Geppert, Alexander C.T. (2018). Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century, p. 211. Springer. ISBN 1349953393
  14. ^ s.n. (May 2007). "In the Modern World". Dwell, p. 64.
  15. ^ Lusiardi, Federica (7 April 2016). "21st Milan Triennale Exhibition “Design after design”". Inexhibit. Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  16. ^ Rinaldi, Alessandra (2014). Evoluzione delle materie plastiche nel design per l'edilizia 1945-1990, p. 121. FrancoAngeli. ISBN 8891707597 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  17. ^ Associazione per il Disegno Industriale. "IX edizione Premio Compasso d'Oro". Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  18. ^ MoMA. "Blow Inflatable Armchair". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  19. ^ Victoria and Albert Museum. "Blow", Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  20. ^ MoMA. "Sacco Chair". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  21. ^ Sudjic, Deyan (2009). Design Museum: Fifty Chairs that Changed the World. p. 68. Hachette. ISBN 1840915862
  22. ^ North Carolina State University. Design Library Image Collection: Gaetano Table. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  23. ^ Sortino, Massimo (1980). Italian Furniture Design: Culture and Technology in Italian Furniture 1950-1980 (exhibition catalog), p. 152. Istituto Nazionale per il Commercio Estero
  24. ^ Associazione per il Disegno Industriale. "XI edizione Premio Compasso d'Oro". Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  25. ^ La Triennale di Milano. "Exhibition: De Pas, D'Urbino e Lomazzi – Il gioco e le regole, 17 April – 17 June 2012". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  26. ^ Indianapolis Museum of Art. "Cetonia chest from the Collezione Nuova Alchimia, Zabro". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  27. ^ Novak, Miroslav Michal (2006). Complexus Mundi: Emergent Patterns in Nature, p. 177. World Scientific. ISBN 981256666X
  28. ^ Kilb, Andreas (20 November 2014). "In der Kleiderkammer des Weltgeistes". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in German).
  29. ^ Associazione per il Disegno Industriale. "XIV edizione Premio Compasso d'Oro". Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in Italian).
  30. ^ MoMA. "Tonietta Chair". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  31. ^ Vitra Design Museum. "Animali Domestici, 1985". Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  32. ^ Cadji, Miriam (19 July 2001). "Gelling Together". Design Week. Retrieved 21 October 2018.
  33. ^ Metropolitan Museum of Art (2002). "Departmental Accessions". Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 132, p. 21. Retrieved 21 October 2018 (subscription required).
  34. ^ Centre national des arts plastiques. "Werner Aisslinger: Soft, 1999". Retrieved 21 October 2018 ‹See Tfd›(in French).
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  36. ^ Terstiege, Gerrit (2012). The Making of Design: From the First Model to the Final Product, pp.45–48. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3034609388
  37. ^ MoMA. "Veryround Chair". Retrieved 21 October 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Casciani, Stefano (1988). Furniture as architecture: Design and Zanotta products (originally published in Italian as Mobili come architetture: Il disegno della produzione Zanotta). Arcadia. OCLC 21279538
  • Finessi, Beppe (2015). Design: 101 storie Zanotta (in Italian and English). Silvana. OCLC 908022829
  • Poletti, Raffaella (2004). Zanotta: Design for Passion (originally published in Italian as Zanotta: Design per passione). Electa. OCLC 708737343

External links[edit]

  • Official website
  • Zanotta on the Museo del Design Toscano database has extensive lists of awards won by the company and museums which hold its pieces as well as a bibliography ‹See Tfd›(in Italian)
  • Media related to Zanotta at Wikimedia Commons