Born between the two World Wars (in 1926), Italian designer Gianfranco Frattini was the son of severity and austerity. The decades between the 1920s and 1940s were the decades of Fascism, nationalism, and also propaganda. Later, after the end of World War II, design and architecture switched the focus on mass-production and the use of the rediscovered material of plastic.
Frattini started his career after graduating from Milan’s Politecnico in 1953. His works reflected an alternative way of doing design and architecture. Instead of creating spaces or furniture that caused ruptures or pauses, he believed in a continuous space. Indeed, there are no limiting spaces or rules. Everything connects thanks to rebellious concepts and warm materials. In other words, everything connects, even the past with the present.
First, Short Bio of Gianfranco Frattini
After graduating with a degree in Architecture, Gianfranco Frattini joined the studio of Gio Ponti as an apprentice. He stayed there until 1956, when he made the giant leap by opening his own studio.
In the meantime, Frattini also started his collaboration with the Italian design company Cassina, known for its alternative and provocative works, also signed Afra and Tobia Scarpa, Gio Ponti, and Mario Bellini.
But Frattini didn’t stop at Cassina. During his long and successful career, he also collaborated with the company Bernini (that also engaged Carlo Scarpa and Franco Poli) and with important names such as Livio Castiglioni and Pierluigi Ghianda. In the 1950s and 1960s, these names represented the new Italian design movement, moving away from the tradition of artisans to focus on the industrial style.
Moreover, in 1956 Gianfranco Frattini founded the “’Associazione per il Disegno Industriale,” or the Association for Industrial Design (ADI). This organization was so successful. It still is working with the goals of promoting and valorizing Italian and international design. In 2021 just like in 1956, ADI wants to bring to the broad public concepts of project, production, distribution, and consumerism.
Frattini stayed true to his values during his career, and he never compromised. Until his death in 2004, after decades of success and inspiration. Starting from his 1954 Sofa 836 for Cassina.
The Most Iconic Works of Gianfranco Frattini
From his introduction into the world of Italian design to his death, he created iconic pieces filled with character and beauty. To him, materials mattered. So, in the decades of plastic, he went back to the roots of design, choosing the work with wood. In other words, rebellious or genius? Here are some of his most signature pieces for different Italian design companies.
Sofa 836 for Cassina, 1954
In walnut wood, this sofa was inspired by a previous lounge chair. It featured both a two-seat or three-seat version, even without armrests. The legs are made of tubular metal in a perfect industrial style, while the padding is in fabric. It’s ebonized and enameled, made to be comfortable.
Albero Bookcase, 1955
Intricate like a sculpture, this bookcase is made in Canaletto walnut. It features four pillars that can be assembled on either eight or 12 shelves. The caps are attached with toothed supports, and the bottom one has a non-slip rubber. Furthermore, the Albero bookcase has finishings in antiqued burnished steel. It rotates 360°, a truly panoramic view. Initially created for an exhibition in Cantù in 1955, it was introduced in the Poltrona Frau catalog in 2014.
Mod. 849 Armchair for Cassina, 1956
The 849 armchair offers a clear contrast, made of ash wood and with padded seatings and backrests. It’s the juxtaposition of the geometrical base with the soft padding, also in polyurethane. Every detail looks simple, but it’s intricate. Comfortable and elegant, Agnese is timeless.
The Sesann Series for Cassina, 1970
This design set includes a sofa and an armchair, in different versions. Gianfranco Frattini worked with walnut to create a classic piece of furniture. The Sesann series features an internal frame in cold foam, while the backrests and seats are in polyurethane. The seats are also supported by poplar plywood. This set was so iconic that the company Tacchini relaunched it in 2015 because sensuality is timeless.
Kyoto Table for Pierluigi Ghianda, 1974
This is traditional woodworking at its finest. While it looks simple, this coffee table is as intricate as design can get. It features over 1,705 joints linked at 45-degree angles to create this unique piece of beech and walnut beauty. There are no decorative items on the Kyoto coffee table, only the raw charm of the wood. Therefore, it fits in every space and with every style of decor. Personalizable, indeed.
The Lamps Signed Gianfranco Frattini
The Italian designer didn’t just focus on furniture. He also looked at the light and its many aspects. Floor and table lamps are a crucial part of the decor, and Gianfranco Frattini paid particular attention to them. His first work dates back to 1961, and here are more of his most iconic lighting pieces.
- Lamp 957, Arteluce, 1961 in lacquered aluminum with rayon fringe
- Boalum’ light for Artemide, 1970, in the permanent collection of MoMA in New York. It was innovative for its time since it used LED technology.
- Lucilla Lamp for Leuka, 1970 with an enameled aluminum structure
- Gecko Lamp for Leuka, 1971, table lamp connected to the base by a magnet that can be oriented in all directions
- Megaron for Artemide, 1979, with particular attention to functionality and forms
- The series for Lucitalia, 1979 that includes the elegant floor lamp Veronica
- The Acheo series for Artemide, 1988 that includes wall, floor, and ceiling lamps
- House Lamp for FontanaArte, 2000, to welcome the new millennium
These are only some of the lamps signed by Gianfranco Frattini. Just like these tables and sofas, the lamps feature an industrial style, elegant in its shapes and functional. While these works look simple, they reflect the latest technology designed to reduce production times and costs. Like everything Frattini created, these projects reflect his view on design and architecture.
Architecture and Decor Projects
Gianfranco Frattini could never stay still. So, his creative mind was always buzzing with ideas and projects. After all, he graduated in Architecture and, during his career, Frattini worked on villas, hotels, and buildings.
While most of these projects are in Italy, he also created the Hotel Hilton in Tokyo in 1984. Here, he designed the hotel’s public spaces, including the bar, lounge, restaurant, and discotheque. The designer’s unique signature is in every detail, including the lighting and the seatings, inspired by Japanese style.
Furthermore, a completely different personality for the Villa RSS in Briosco, which dates back to 1986, and Gianfranco Frattini designed it for the Rossini family. This is a single-family house with a distinctive pyramid shape and coated in a single triangular firing. Of a delicate pink tone, this villa is divided into two floors, and its geometry and shapes combine with the surrounding landscape. The architect built this villa according to the family’s needs, including the three bedrooms for the kids and the chance of showcasing Rossini’s art collection.
From a family villa to a hotel on the Southern coast, it’s the Europa Palace Hotel in Anacapri (1960), now the Capri Palace. Frattini’s footprint created a revolutionary project with low ceilings, a dark-toned hall, and a transparent swimming pool. Frattini also paid attention to the outdoor spaces connected with the inside in a continuous space, free from barriers.
But the Italian designer never got tired. In fact, he also designed residential interiors, especially for urban apartments. For example, he projected the Apartment MSC in Milan (1971) and the Apartment ADB in Turin (1977). These apartments shared similar characteristics, including wood pieces and industrial style armchairs, comfortable and simple in their lines.
Gianfranco Frattini, a True Creative Mind
Furniture, architecture, design, and interiors. What didn’t Frattini do? He was genuinely passionate about anything and everything. So much so that he also created jewelry, objects, and fabrics. The jewelry collection dates back to 1975, and it features necklaces, bracelets, and rings. He designed it for Gio Caroli, all made of gold and with inserts in ebony and rubber. More of his jewels also had brilliant-cut diamonds for an extra touch of elegance.
On the other hand, Frattini’s objects included ashtrays, containers, and even door handles. There were objects for the kitchen, such as cutlery, silver tableware, and glasses. But he also created protective helmets, like those used in construction sites. Made of plastic, the design was 100% accident-prevention, and workers actually used it in Italy.
The Italian designer also produced fabric screens and baskets, almost like the ones you’d see in an Asian room. These are like the fabrics he created with Torri Lana and Dooor, filled with colors and geometrical shapes. And, in true Italian style, Frattini created leather containers for whiskey bottles designed for the Stork Club.
So, what didn’t Frattini do? There is nothing his creative mind didn’t explore.
The Philosophy Behind Every Piece
Gianfranco Frattini reflected his thinking in each piece he created, whether it was a necklace, an armchair, or an ashtray. He focused on craftsmanship, materials, and the construction of space. He returned to the wood, an antique material, but he used it in the modern, industrial style. In fact, Frattini believed in learning from the past to produce innovative, versatile, and modern pieces. To be creative, the Italian architect and designer had to recognize the power of the past.
Each element of his works fits and works together to create beauty. So, he studied every detail, no matter how small, considering the placing of the object, the light that might hit it, and its function. That’s how space finds its identity and how Frattini was able to induce an atmosphere. Space isn’t just something to fill with as many objects as possible. Just the opposite, it’s alive with emotions, interactions, and shapes.
“In my language, there is space for memory’s dimensions, linked to past expressions, to the attention and love for the materials, that I work with care and dedication,” said Frattini.
His care and passion led him to create timeless pieces that still reflect his love for balance and design. Indeed, from his ashtrays to the sofas, the heritage of Gianfranco Frattini is the heritage of modern and passionate Italian design.
More Projects for Cassina and Bernini
While the pieces above are the most iconic by Gianfranco Frattini, he also produced more works for both Cassina and Bernini. Here’s a complete list of these collaborations, resulting from an alternative view and a different type of creativity.
In the 1950s
- Armchair, Lina (Mod. 831) Cassina, 1955
- Desk, Mod. 530. Bernini, 1957
- Table, Gio (Mod. 740) Cassina, 1957
- Sofa, Oliver (Mod. 872) Cassina, 1957
- Armchair, Giulia (Mod. 877) Cassina, 1957
- Sofa, Mod. 807. Cassina, 1959
- Sofa, Mod. 881. Cassina, 1959
- Sofa, Mod. 882. Cassina, 1959
- Chair, Mod. 101. Cassina, 1959
- Chair, Mod. 102. Cassina, 1959
Entering the 1960s
- Chair, Mod. 107/107P. Cassina, 1960
- Bookcase, Mod. 540. Bernini, 1960
- Cabinets, Mods. 503/504. Bernini, 1960
- Table, Mod. 522. Bernini, 1960
- Desk, Mod. 535. Bernini, 1960
- Wardrobe, Mod. 591. Bernini, 1960
- Bed, Mod. 581. Bernini, 1960
- Desk, Mod 804. Bernini, 1961
- Desk, Mod. 807/801/803. Bernini, 1961
- Swivel Chair, Mod. 112. Cassina, 1961
- Chair, Mod. 114. Cassina, 1962
- Revolving bookcase, Turner (Mod. 825) Bernini, 1963
- Revolving cabinet, Mod 831. Bernini, 1963
- Screen. Cassina, 1963
- Table, Mod. 775. Cassina, 1964
- Desk, Mod. 804. Bernini, 1964
- Chair & sofa, Mod. 907. Cassina, 1964
- Armchair, Mod.908. Cassina, 1964
- Table, Mod. 775-776. Cassina, 1964
- Garden table & chair, Mod. 916. Cassina, 1965
- Tables, Mod. 780. Cassina, 1966
- Table, Mod. 786 – Marema. Cassina, 1967
- Bookcase. Bernini, 1967
- Screen, Mod. 835. Bernini, 1968
- Clothes Stand, Mod. 840. Bernini, 1968
- Table, Mod. 784 (Dalles). Cassina, 1968
Works by Gianfranco Frattini in the 70s and 80s
- Armchair & Sofa, Sesann (Mod. 595). Cassina, 1970
- Tables, Mods. 621/622. Cassina, 1970
- Tables, Mods. 725/726. Cassina, 1970
- Tables, Mods. 720/721. Cassina, 1970
- Furniture, Series 560. Bernini, 1971
- Bookcase. Bernini, 1980
- Furniture, Ovunque. Bernini, 1981
- Furniture, Materita. Bernini, 1981
- Bookcase, Practica. Bernini, 1981
- Chairs, Mods. 830 + 832. Bernini, 1981
- Desk, Sesamo. Bernini, 1983
- Table, Cerry. Cassina, 1984
- Armchair, Hotel Hilton, Tokyo. Cassina, 1984
- Table, Capri. Cassina, 1985
- Chair, Caprile. Cassina, 1985
- Armchair and Sofa Bull, Cassina, 1987