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Spotlight on: Afra & Tobia Scarpa

Afra & Tobia Scarpa were influential Italian architects and designers who made significant contributions to the fields. Born in 1937 and 1935 respectively, Afra and Tobia met while studying at the Venice University Institute of Architecture. They later married and formed a dynamic partnership that spanned several decades.

Early in his career, Tobia, son of the modernist architect Carlo Scarpa, worked as a glass designer at the Murano glassworks of Venini. In 1960 the couple established their design office in Montebelluna. One of their first collaborative commercial designs was the Bastiano sofa (1962) for Gavina which comprised loose cushions within a timber frame; and has gone on to be endlessly popular. The couple collaborated with a number of high-end design companies to launch their collections. Their designs were informed by a deep understanding of materials and empathy for traditional Italian craftsmanship.

In the realm of lighting, their work for Flos is extremely interesting with such a broad scope of materials used. The Fantasma lamp (1961) utilised a material called ‘Cocoon’ developed by the United States during WWII. The spray on polymer replicates the work of a silkworm, hence the name. The Biagio lamp (1968) is crafted from a single piece of Carrara marble. In metal and glass, the Papillona floor lamp (1977) is an elegant example of design that could easily have emerged from the 80s or 90s.

Back to furniture, the very sought after Soriana sofa (1970) created for Cassina exemplified their commitment to combining comfort with modern aesthetics. The Soriana sofa, characterised by its modular and organic form, became an iconic piece of Italian design, reflecting their ability to blend innovation with timeless elegance winning the Compasso d’Oro prize. The Maxalto B&B Italia Artona series designed in 1975 is an example of high-end timber craftsmanship.

The couple had various architectural projects throughout their careers including a collaboration with Benetton which spanned over 30 years. These projects demonstrated their ability to adapt to different contexts while maintaining a consistent design ethos.

Afra & Tobia Scarpa four seat Bastiano sofa for Knoll. Sold for $5,625

Afra Scarpa’s untimely death in 2011 marked the end of a remarkable partnership, but Tobia continued to contribute to design and architecture. The Scarpa duo’s influence is not confined to Italy; their work has left an indelible mark on the global design landscape. Afra and Tobia Scarpa’s legacies endure as a testament to their unwavering dedication to craftsmanship, innovation, and a holistic approach to design that transcends time and trends. In the tapestry of design history, Afra and Tobia Scarpa’s contributions remain vibrant threads, weaving together tradition and modernity in a harmonious celebration of the art of living.

Rebecca Stormont, Modern Design Specialist

Banner Image (detail): Fantasma lamp, The Triennale collection of Italian design objects, The Triennale di Milano museum hosted inside the Palazzo dell’Arte, Milan, Italy / Alamy

February 2024