Certain chairs seem to have been with us forever. However, the Lady armchair by Marco Zanuso, circa 1951, was only rereleased by Cassina in 2015. With its deep seat and curvaceous armrests, this iconic chair conveys comfort well before one takes a seat. Designed low to the ground and appearing to hover above it on spindly steel legs, it’s the perfect chair for curling up into.
Marco, who trained as an architect, was one of the key designers who propelled Italian design in the post-war period. His efforts with his Lady armchair also brought him numerous awards, including the prestigious Gold Medal at the IX Triennale in Milan and the Compasso d’Oro no less than five times over his illustrious career.
While the Lady Armchair appears relatively simple in its form, its construction is considerably more complex. As well as being the first armchair to incorporate expanded polyurethane and foam rubber, it also conceals a sophisticated spring system using reinforced elastic straps. And while not apparent to the eye, there are different padding densities in each part of the chair to respond to where padding is most needed, such as in the armrests. While this iconic chair was initially produced by Arflex, it’s now produced by Cassina with numerous options – there’s also a lounge version of the Lady Armchair design.
Those wanting a softer and more neutral interior may favour one of the boucle fabrics – opting for texture rather than one of the bright colours. While one of the strongest colours for the Lady Armchair in the post-war period was bright red, it’s also available in mustard yellow, royal blue and forest green wools, along with various types of leather. The black and white houndstooth has also been welcomed by many wanting to give a stronger contemporary edge to this design.
Jacobo Garcia, who has been with Melbourne design retailer Mobilia for more than ten years, has seen the resurgence of the Lady armchair. “It works in both period and contemporary settings, as well as a standalone piece in a main bedroom or coupled together in a living area. It’s extremely versatile,” Jacobo says, who also appreciates how the chair hovers on its slender legs above the ground. “It has a relatively small footprint given its size and comfort,” he adds. The comfort and extensive options also make it a desirable piece today. “There’s such a large range of fabrics to choose from, including velvets and boucle through to wool and leather,” Jacobo says.
Interior designer Camilla Molders, known for her use of colour, appreciates the extensive hues offered with this chair. “People are coming out of this ‘greige’ period and starting to embrace colour,” Camilla says, who also loves the chair’s futuristic shape. “It would easily fit into an episode of The Jetsons (a 1960s cartoon series). The detailing of the chair is simple but also complex,” she adds.
At a time in the late 1940s and early ‘50s when Italy was reinventing itself as a design hub, the Lady armchair would have been well received, sending ripples across Europe. And while it has a sense of fluidity of line, the ‘devil is in the detail’ with all the structural elements seamlessly integrated into the whole, with the seat, back and armrest conceived as one.