The Genni lounge chair looks as good now as it did when it was first designed in 1935 and is still produced today by Italian specialist furniture manufacturer Zanotta.
Genni - at a glance
Bauhaus style lounge chair designed by Italian artist Gabriele Mucchi.
It was designed in Milan in 1935 with the first model being produced in 1936.
The chair uses a tubular steel frame to support a sprung leather pad and is adjustable to two positions.
This reclining lounge chair was designed by a true artist who very much fitted the mould of the modern renaissance man. Throughout his life was best known as a painter although his skills in many other areas also led him to acclaim as an engineer, architect, teacher and designer. He was a deep thinker and intellectual who formed part of the Italian avant-garde and Realist movements and in 1934 he created the Via Marcora house, one of Milan's earliest examples of Rationalist architecture.
He saw it, and did it all – he not only survived both wars but outlived the 20th Century and passed away peacefully at the grand old age of 103 in 2002. One wonders what he thought of the modern world having witnessed so much: from horse to Hummer, Edison to Apple and from the Wright Brothers to infinity and beyond; the mind boggles.
Born in Turin in 1899 the young Gabriele showed promise as an artist from an early age and would often be found sketching in the grounds of the family property. It was expected that he would follow in the footsteps of his artist father Antonio Maria, and although he did fulfil his destiny in later life, his first love was engineering. He was fascinated by mechanical devices and after graduating high school, he enrolled at the University of Bologna to study civil engineering and architecture. After completing his studies he lived in Berlin and later returned to Italy working in a construction company in Rome; and from 1927, in an architectural office in Milan.
The Milan Collective After working on a number of key architectural projects he segued into design and started working for Emilio Pino's furniture atelier, in Parabiago in the North of the city. Here he rubbed shoulders with some of the greats of Italian design including Giuseppe Pagano, Gio Ponti, Antonio Fornaroli and Eugenio Soncini. Pagano was designing the interior of the offices of the Milan newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia and Ponti, et al, the Montecatini Building.
Giuseppe Pagano, anti-chambers of the offices of Il
Popolo d’Italia, Milan, 1935,
These projects experimented with the idea of rule and flexibility, adopting the aesthetics of new materials but in Italy the conditions required to do this on a large scale were still lacking. Metal furniture was recommended for public places, but the material (superior quality steel) and the chrome-plating (which ensured its durability) made its manufacture costly; this, despite the activity of small and medium-sized industries like Emilio Pino, SIAM in Turin and Columbus in Milan; the later working with Olivetti Synthesis in the production of office furniture. Mucchi, like Mart Stam and Corbusier before him, was fascinated with the possibility of using metal tubing in design and it was in this environment that the Genni chair was conceived; and in his first year as a designer in 1935.
Like many designs of that era (most notably the LC4) it was not a great success at the time; this came some 50 years later when it was re-introduced. Despite the luke warm reception he continued working with Emilio Pino until 1945 when he finally adopted the life of a painter which had been his destiny all along. He had great success in this field and continued painting until his 90s.
He created only one other chair in his life, and at the age of 84; the Susanna armchair in 1983.
Genni Clearly influenced by Bauhaus, the design has much in common with the work of Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe but also echoes the extraordinary Transat chair designed by Eileen Grey in 1927 - in fact I’ve always considered Mucchi’s interpretation to be a far more accessible and comfortable version of it.
It features a long leather pad that is sprung (like Corbusiers and Perriand's LC4) from underneath to add comfort. It's first and foremost a lounge chair rather than a chaise as it has a more upright seating position, but could be adjusted into a gentle recline using the clever roller and rail mechanism located at the side of the frame. It was sold as a solo chair but also in combination with a matching ottoman that added to the appeal.
And the Genni name? As all good things, it stems from love…
Mucchi’s life partner was the gifted sculptor and artist Jenny Wiegmann (known as Genni) who he had first met within the artistic melting pot of Caffè Aragno in 1930. She was married at the time to fellow sculptor Berthöld Müller but the two maintained a close friendship and eventually married in Milan in 1933. They spent much of their time together and often also exhibited in unison in Paris, Berlin, the USA and Italy; a trend that continued throughout their lives together until Genni sadly passed away after a long illness in 1969.
Of the chair, he said it represented both beauty and strength as well as an eminent practicality and therefore named it in honour of his wife who he said exhibited all the same qualities.
It’s a story that makes me love the chair even more, but I’ve also always been captivated by how modern the design still looks. And it is still produced today by Italian furniture company Zanotta who re-discovered Mucchi’s design back in 1982. Ever since it has been one of their most enduring and successful designs - a truly fitting tribute to Mucchi’s wife, Genni.
Installation of two Genni chairs with ottomans, Merrow Associates dining set and art; London 2022
David Rokov - January 2024 This article forms part of a series of blogs for Cherished Designs. These are produced in two categories: 'Design Spotlights', which are deep dives into iconic designs and designers and 'Design Shorts', as here. Designs Shorts are intended as briefer introductions to specific designs - more a snack than a meal. Our blog is usually updated towards the end of each month with new content focusing on iconic designs and designers. To be notified of new content please subscribe by using the form at the bottom of the page. Thanks!