Carlo Bugatto's Exotic Futurist Furniture!

Carlo Bugatti, Curule Armchair, 1890-1896. Wood, painted parchment, copper. Source

Victorian overkill: Queen Victoria's Railway Carriage.
In the history of furniture, perhaps no century offers a more fascinating variety of approaches to the problem of style than the 19th century. The urban blight and poverty that were side effects of the Industrial Revolution had people looking wistfully back to the “good old days”, reflected in a wave of design revivals - Greek, Renaissance, Jacobean, Queen Anne, Rococo, usually re-interpreted with the Victorian “more is more” attitude. Let no lamp go infringed!

The era’s designer reformers championed various more aesthetically pleasing alternatives, ranging from the Medievalism of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Japanese-inspired designs of the Aesthetic Movement, and the stylized natural motifs of Art Nouveau. 

Carlo Bugatti, Desk, ca. 1902. Walnut, copper, pewter, vellum. Source

Italian designer Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) was associated with the Italian variant of Art  Nouveau, but his approach was so original as to be uncategorizable. The son of an architecture/designer, Bugatti studied in Milan and Paris, and in 1880 opened his own furniture manufacturing concern, C. Bugatti & C., Fabbrica Mobili Artistici Fantasia in Milan.

Carlo Bugatti, detail of ornamentation.

Carlo Bugatti, Cobra Chair, 1902. Parchment-covered wood with paint, pencil, copper. Source

While you can’t mistake a piece of Bugatti furniture for anything else, you are forgiven for wondering what exactly you are looking at, as his idiosyncratic vocabulary of forms was configured into some truly eccentric pieces. Sit backwards in the Cobra Chair and you might feel like you’re at the helm of a retro-future space ship.

Carlo Bugatti, Snail Living Room, 1902. Source

The Cobra Chair was part of Bugatti’s Snail Living Room, created for the Turin International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art of 1902. In keeping with Art Nouveau designers’ penchant for insect motifs, Bugatti based the wall treatment of this dreamy space on the snail’s spiralling shell. Yet the circular motifs also look forward to Art Deco, still more than two decades away. Now that’s visionary!