Mauro Pasquinelli, a forgotten master of Italian design, on how he became one of the most prolific 20th-century chair designers and the background behind the Mauro Chair.
Mauro Pasquinelli created his first seat aged just 10. He is now 87 and still working in Scandicci, outside Florence. Over the course of his career, he designed more than 50 chairs and worked for some of the most important companies in the Italian design industry. The Mauro Chair is a versatile and practical timber dining chair designed to last a lifetime. The prototype was created in the 1970s but was too challenging to produce at scale due to the technical requirements of its shape. Its accidental rediscovery by Established & Sons’ design director Sebastian Wrong during a factory tour has led to not only the realisation of the chair, thanks to CNC technology, but also the international recognition of a designer who should be celebrated alongside other 20th century giants. Inviting us into his home, Pasquinelli shares his surprising history, offers timeless advice for young designers and explains why the chair is the most difficult piece of furniture to design.
EST: When did your fascination with designing and making things out of wood begin?
PASQUINELLI: My father was a carpenter in Florence. He was a brilliant artisan who worked for some of the best architects in Italy such as Carlo Scarpa. I spent a lot of my time in his workshop during the summer holidays and during the war because the bombing made it hard to go to school. I learnt all about varnishes and different types of wood. One day a friend of my father’s, an art teacher, asked me if I liked drawing. I said ‘yes, it’s the only subject I really like’. He said I should go to the Art Institute in Florence. I did, for eight years, and got my diploma in 1951.
EST: What was your first piece of furniture?
PASQUINELLI: A bench I made at the Atelier degli Artigianelli, a craft workshop in Florence that my father sent me to when I was around 10. We learnt what it was like to work with wood and how to make dovetail joints. At art school, I also made five or six chairs. Once I made a table that could be folded down into the size of a suitcase.
EST: When you finished school you got a permanent job in a company that built waste disposal plants?
PASQUINELLI: I didn’t want to go and work for my dad as his workshop was small and we had very different ideas. So I got a full-time job, which allowed me to make a living and do what I really loved in my spare time. Initially, I was operations manager for the company but then I became the in-house architect when they realised I could draw. I designed the buildings and the industrial ovens and I even designed a claw grab once. It turned out really well!
EST: And your colleagues never knew about your other life as a designer?
PASQUINELLI: No I never told them because I was scared that they would talk and that I would be fired. By then I had bought a plot of land and was having a house built, I had financial commitments. When I retired I gave two managers who had always got on my nerves an envelope with clippings of the publications my work had been shown in. There were over 300, including Domus and Abitare. They were so surprised their jaws fell to the floor!
EST: In a strange way you really were a designer for the sheer love of it.
PASQUINELLI: Absolutely! After my wife went to bed in the evening I would go up into my study and draw until one in the morning. During my holidays I would travel to show producers my models. I would go see the late film at the Gambrinus cinema in Florence and then take the overnight train at 1am to Udine. I would always bring a prototype, never drawings. I wanted to show the product in its completed form. I never got tired because designing furniture was a passion for me.
EST: Your economic security meant you had the freedom to say no.
PASQUINELLI: Exactly. I walked away from a meeting with Cassina once. Snaidero also asked me to do an office chair and I told them: ‘I don’t like office chairs and I don’t have any experience of making them.’ People have asked me to design lights too, but I don’t know how to design a light and I don’t actually want to.