Joe Colombo’s Modular Furniture Is Still Cool Decades Later

Set of blue cabinets on a white background
credit: Joe Kramm, Courtesy of R & Company

Cesare ‘Joe’ Colombo was an influential Italian designer of the 1960’s. According to the Design Museum biography of Colombo, he believed that everyone should have access to good design for their homes. Inspired by space travel and telecommunications, his designs often have multiple configurations and can be transformed to suit the user’s needs. A selection of Colombo’s work is currently on display at R & Company in New York City. The works are from the collection of Olivier Renaud Clement. The following pages of this slide show highlight his modular, transforming furniture such as "Living System Box 1" (shown above).

Living System Box

credit: Margaret Badore

The Living System Box is an entire bedroom in one compact unit, including a closet, chest of drawers, shelf, desk, vanity, and chair—all of which nests under the bed. Colombo designed it in 1968 but it was never put into production. Only a handful were made, including this one, which was purchased by a family from the window of Macy’s and used by generations of their children over the course of 40 years. In addition to being compact, the set includes a number of ingenious double-uses. For example, the desk chair can be flipped over to serve as a step-stool up to the bed. Similarly, the vanity’s top can be used as a beside table when closed or flipped open to reveal a mirror.

credit: Joe Kramm, Courtesy of R & Company

This recliner is part of a “Living Center” designed in 1970. As you can see, the headrest can also be used as an ottoman. There are also small wings that slide out from the side of the chair, which serve as a place to put your drink. The wings also hide a built-in ashtray. "Colombo had an amazing potential, sense of creativity-futuristic and yet realistic in its function," says collector Olivier Renaud Clement. "As a designer, he had finesse, and was sophisticated in his technical development of plastic and resin. He also was one of the first to combine high and low-end materials.”

Table Kitchen

credit: Joe Kramm, Courtesy of R & Company

This table has a cooking range in the center, as well as storage for dishes and a drawer for utensils. When you’re done cooking, the sides flip up to provide a larger surface for dining. This is another piece from the “Living Center” designed in 1970.

Tube chair

credit: Margaret Badore

Another lounge chair, this piece can be arranged in a huge number of different ways, thanks to detachable clips that hold the tubes together. When the chair isn’t in use, the tubes can be nested inside of one another for storage. A version of the chair was produced by flexform in 1969. More Joe Colombo designs on TreeHugger: Total Furnishing Unit by Joe Colombo