Joe Colombo

Joe Colombo
Product + Furniture Designer (1930-1971)

In his brief but brilliant career, JOE COLOMBO (1930-1971) produced a series of innovations which made him one of Italy’s most influential Italian product designers. From the Universale, the first chair to be moulded from one material, to the all-in-one Boby Trolley, everything Colombo created was intended for "the environment of the future".

When most designers discover that their work was been ripped off, they erupt in understandable fury; not Joe Colombo who would say: "We’ll just have to make it better." And if a manufacturer didn’t show as much enthusiasm for a project as Colombo himself, he didn’t waste time arguing, but stopped work and found another company to make it.

Thanks to this energy and optimism Joe Colombo produced an extraordinarily broad body of work in his tragically short career. Not only did he die young ?of heart failure at the age of 41 ?but he also came to design relatively late having devoted his twenties to painting and sculpture. Yet in his decade or so as a designer, Colombo was exceptionally prolific. He created some of the most memorable products of the 1960s: from the Universale, the first chair to be moulded from a single material, to the futuristic all-in-one living systems which culminated in his opulent Visiona, the "habitat of the future".

Born in Milan in 1930, Cesare Colombo - nicknamed Joe - was the second of three brothers. The eldest, Sergio, died as a toddler. The youngest of the three, Gianni, grew up to be one of Joe’s closest friends and collaborators. Their father Guiseppe was an industrialist who had inherited a ribbon factory from his father and turned it into an electrical conductor manufacturer. Encouraged by their musical mother, Joe and Gianni spent their childhood drawing and making Meccano models. Joe was even allowed to clear a large space in the family home to construct elaborate Meccano structures.

After switching from science to art at secondary school, he studied painting and sculpture at the Accademia di Bella Arti in the Brera area of Milan. There Colombo joined the Movimento Nucleare, an avant garde art movement founded in 1951 by his friends Enrico Baj and Sergio Dangelo. Like them, he experimented by painting abstracted images of fossilised organic forms. Colombo also sketched fantastical visions of a futuristic "nuclear city" where man would exploit advances in atomic science to create a new way of living.