Tradition, technology and serendipity:
the unusual history of the MAURO CHAIR
The Mauro Chair is a stackable timber chair with plenty of character and a very unusual back story. Created by Italian designer Mauro Pasquinelli in the 1970s it has been rediscovered by Established & Sons and its alluring old-school aesthetic and futurist aspirations given a sculptural 21st-century makeover.
The chair had not previously gone into production due to its challenging geometries and curves, explains Sebastian Wrong, design director for the brand: “When it was originally designed you could never have made a sophisticated chair like this at a competitive price point, simply because the technology for chair-making in volume didn’t exist in factories as it does today. Nowadays you can use CNC routing systems that cut into solid wood and make complicated and compound curves, sections, joints and alignments that could once only be done by a craftsman.”
But the tale of the Mauro Chair is not just about a brand, a designer and the possibilities of technology. It is also about the expertise and know-how of a specific district in Italy, the chair-making triangle located in and around the tiny town of Manzano in the north-eastern province of Udine, in northern Italy. And about chance.
A year ago Wrong and his colleague Federico Gregorutti were visiting a plywood factory in Manzano when they spotted a chair that seemed special. It wasn’t being carved by a machine or in the hands of a craftsperson, “it was just one of many chairs on the factory floor that had been there forever and was used randomly be employees who needed to sit down to do something,” says Wrong. “In their eyes it was just a comfortable chair they used to carry out certain tasks, it had become invisible.” Intrigued, Wrong and his team embarked on a search for the designer of the chair. Eventually, they tracked it back to Mauro Pasquinelli, a once prolific but relatively little-known designer based in Scandicci outside Florence, and discovered that it had been produced by a Manzano-based firm called Malobbia.
Pasquinelli is 87 and in poor health now but still draws and makes things every day from a makeshift studio set up in the basement of his house. Part of a generation of Italian designers that helped shape the way furniture and chairs evolved it the 20th century, he created over 50 chairs and several pieces of furniture for various manufacturers during the course of a career spanning at least half a century. “I still design chairs every day,” he says. “It is greater than me, it’s my passion.” A self-confessed perfectionist, when Wrong and Gregorutti visited him for the first time, he immediately told them about a prototype in his attic that he considered to be an evolution and improvement on the chair they had seen.
The sculptural backrest on this later chair featured sophisticated curves, the seat was lighter, the legs were more defined and there were elegant chamfered edges on the backrest. This is the chair that was to become Established & Sons’ Mauro Chair.
When designing a chair Pasquinelli’s focus has always been on simplicity, stackability and versatility. His elegant Giulia chair has been used in auditoria, hotels, restaurants and lecture theatres for instance, and was made with and without armrests, side tables and upholstery. The 50,000 units sold also pulled manufacturing company Olivo, based in the province of Udine, out of near-bankruptcy in the 80s. The Nodo, designed in 1975, could be demounted using an innovative metal joint on each side that connected the seat, leg and backrest.
Another major priority for Pasquinelli is comfort. His chairs respect a scrupulous set of parameters for inclination, radius, height of legs and backrest that make them some of the most comfortable on the market. “I don’t make chairs to look at, I make chairs to be sat in,” he says. But despite his almost-obsessive approach leading to several international awards and huge sales for the manufacturers he worked with, Pasquinelli is not as well-known as he should be today. Catharine Rossi, a design historian and director of research in the School of Critical Studies and Creative Industries at Kingston University, says this is not unusual for a country that is home to so many skilled designers: “There are so many more Italian designers than the few that get celebrated.”
But Pasquinelli is among those that should be remembered. “Few designers have been able to combine simplicity of form, an aesthetically pleasing product and excellent ergonomics as well as Pasquinelli was able to do,” says Umberto Rovelli, Director of the Tuscan Design Museum and author of a book on Pasquinelli.