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24 January 2023
The archetype of the kitchen chair turned special by the pencil of an exceptional creative
Mariolina is a timeless chair. At first glance, the recall to the kitchen chairs of the 50s is immediate and make it familiar and reassuring, but on a closer look at the engineering of the details, it reveals itself to be innovative and ingenious in its simplicity. To understand it, it is useful to take a step back and broaden the perspective by including the design approach of Enzo Mari who designed it in 2002, 21 years ago. Mari was born in Novara in 1932, trained in art and literature at the Brera Academy and then developed a passion for industrial design and introduced his first furniture project to the Danese company in 1957.
For his background, he can be defined as an anomaly in the design panorama: he is not an architect, he is not an engineer, he did not grow up in a family business like many of his generation. Rather, he is a thinker who transforms his reflections into a project, claiming his vision of design and of designers according to which the goal of design is to be functional and efficient and not to follow trends or bend to marketing diktats.
Therefore, style is not Enzo Mari’s priority, however, the accessories and furnishings that he signs have a strong visual identity, an aspect that the designer instead held in high consideration. He was an all-round design theorist, he didn’t stop at research but pushed himself into the heart of experimentation, closing the circle of all his reflections, bringing them up to the final phase of the creation of the object and its delivery to the user. Which for Mari was not passive but an actor in the relationship with the project, an active part of it. An example is the Pago-Pago vase with which Mari participated in the 1972 exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, at the MOMA in New York. The exhibition confirms the leading role of Italian design in the world and its vase is significant of the relationship between function and user: it can be used upright or upside down to allow those who own it to use it in different contexts and ways based on their own decision. Here too the function, the search for efficiency, leads to formal choices which, although essential, determine the aesthetics of the object and the resonance of its presence in the environment.
The beauty of function is a theme that naturally returns in the design of the Mariolina seat for Magis. It is a stackable chair, which has a chromed steel structure while the seat and back are in polypropylene. As we said, apparently this chair looks like the classic kitchen model of the past but pausing on the technical details reveals Mari’s study and research: the steel legs with scratch-resistant feet are thin and precise and the polypropylene components are not screwed but fixed by interlocking through a series of ribs that hook the structure, seat and back. The latter are essential but studied in inclination and proportions, the seat is round, and the backrest is a large oval, to give comfort and stability to the seat. The chair is 85cm high, the seat is at 48cm, and the maximum width is 46cm.
While other prominent designers walk the path of formal innovation, giving chairs experimental shapes and proportions, Enzo Mari traces his path against the tide. He returns to the archetypal forms of this piece of furniture, identifies its proportions and the optimal technical structure and almost establishes a canon. Giving life to Mariolina, a simple but important chair, which in its retro aspect immediately becomes familiar and then reveals its more technical and innovative side aimed at efficiency of use and durability: a timeless chair, in balance between the past and future.
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