Carlo Mollino outside of Casa Cattaneo. Photo courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.

Mollino the Mysterious

By Fulvio and Napoleone Ferrari

The furnishings by Carlo Mollino—each unique—are often prized for their sinuously organic forms, for the skill with which they were executed and the rare quality of the materials employed. While another component of his work is not immediately visible—the literary culture and in particular  the knowledge of ancient cultures  with which he organizes his work—which in turn makes a deep understanding  of his projects all the more problematic. We can assert that each of his works is in reality a visual narrative. What is the novel of his house in Agra about?  It is the construction of a sort of autocratic Alpine shack disposed on and almost hidden by a dune looking onto Lake Maggiore. The roof of the house is tiled in alternating brown and dark green so that seen from the top of the hill it is perfectly well blended into its surroundings, an obvious connection to ancient Japanese houses. Not only that, the sparse furniture of these houses is frequently hidden or made invisible, just as with the piece with drop leaf here under examination which, because it was originally hidden in the wall, has hardly had an autonomous life of its own as it is virtually hidden in the composition of this interior. 

The present lot at Casa Cattaneo Agra. Photos courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.
An attentive critic might compare this method of composing things to that of the construction of a sequence of his famous Polaroids in which Mollino starts by portraying a perfectly dressed body and little by little reveals its shape thus leading us to the heart of beauty and its enigma.

Another reference:  this time concerning only the material—the perfection of the Oriental interior is rendered by the statuesque white marble with which he has created the shelf for the Minola House. The material, which shows no personality from veining or color, abstracts itself into pure form, a contoured eave, a tongue sticking out of the wall. We will see this tongue in the library/writing desk for the office of the Le Roi ball room. There, an exposed surface juts out of the structure of this piece of furniture to form a little writing desk. This manner of proceeding, resolving the matter with the same unexpected solution, we see applied as well to the wooden mountain dwelling in a tongue forming a sinuous terrace. Our ‘mysterious’ Mollino, in reality, ably invents forms that can contain other ones, novel forms, buildings that function in surprising manners, as with the piece for the Casa Cattaneo Agra which has on its left side a functional tall cupboard. The interior has milky lacquered surfaces, rounded corners and reflective black material that is alluring and sensual. An attentive critic might compare this method of composing things to that of the construction of a sequence of his famous Polaroids in which Mollino starts by portraying a perfectly dressed body and little by little reveals its shape thus leading us to the heart of beauty and its enigma.

Plan and elevation of Casa Cattaneo Agra. Photo courtesy of Museo Casa Mollino.
Mollino turned his attention to the most refined ‘mechanical structure’ there is:  the female body.

And how does Maestro Mollino resolve the mystery of beauty?  Simple: Since architecture, furniture, and apartments are made of matter, one must know how to operate the laws of matter, those laws that make nature the most complex, fascinating, and marvelous ‘matter’ around us. To grasp these laws means being able to operate using our most sophisticated of possible software. And how was Mollino able to master the laws of nature? Once again the solution is simpler than one might imagine. Mollino turned his attention to the most refined ‘mechanical structure’ there is:  the female body. He has studied it at length over the course of years, drawing its form, like a studious schoolboy. That is how Mollino has transformed himself not into an organic architect, but into an architect capable of creating organisms. And this may be considered the secret ‘peak’ of his ability. 

Carlo Mollino 1905–1973

As a child, Carlo Mollino was smitten by the engineering work of his father and his infatuation led him to the study of constructional engineering and architecture at the University of Turin. After graduating, Mollino worked at his father’s studio before founding his own architectural and interior design practice run out of the same space. He built several famed structures including the Società Ippica Torinese (1937-40, now destroyed), Casa del Sole, Cervinia (1947-54) and the Teatro Regio Torino (1965-73) as well as several private homes and apartments.

Aside from architecture and interior design, Mollino possessed a love of race cars; he created sweptback cars for himself to race and even set a record at Le Mans that remained unbroken for two years. An expert skier obsessed with aerodynamics and clean lines, Mollino wrote a book on the subject. Not only did he love speed and the sleek bodies of automobiles but the voluptuous curves of the female form inspired a series of erotic photographs featuring nude models on and around his own furniture designs. The idealized female form and aerodynamics motivated his design aesthetic, curved backs, slim ankles, and hourglass shapes abound in his furniture designs. Moving away from the austerity of the Modernist movement, Mollino imbued his furniture with a sense of the feminine and the surreal.

Auction Results Carlo Mollino

CARLO MOLLINO, set of six dining chairs from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

set of six dining chairs from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $216,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Important coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Important coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $150,000–200,000
result: $215,000

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $80,000–120,000
result: $206,500

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model #1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model #1114
estimate: $40,000–50,000
result: $180,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Important coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Important coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $161,000

CARLO MOLLINO, desk from Reale Mutua Assicurazioni | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

desk from Reale Mutua Assicurazioni
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $156,000

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model #1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model #1114
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $156,000

CARLO MOLLINO, coffee table, model #1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

coffee table, model #1114
estimate: $40,000–50,000
result: $132,000

CARLO MOLLINO, bed from the Casa Minola | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

bed from the Casa Minola
estimate: $100,000–150,000
result: $120,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Important coffee table, model 1114 | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Important coffee table, model 1114
estimate: $70,000–90,000
result: $80,500

CARLO MOLLINO, Talucci side chair | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Talucci side chair
estimate: $50,000–70,000
result: $57,600

CARLO MOLLINO, dining table from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

dining table from the Casa del Sole, Ristorante Pavia, Cervinia
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $54,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $54,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $40,000–50,000
result: $45,600

CARLO MOLLINO, cabinet from the Ferro residence, Torino | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

cabinet from the Ferro residence, Torino
estimate: $35,000–40,000
result: $42,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $42,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Chair from Casa del Sole | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Chair from Casa del Sole
estimate: $30,000–50,000
result: $38,750

CARLO MOLLINO, Casa del Sole chair | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Casa del Sole chair
estimate: $30,000–50,000
result: $37,500

CARLO MOLLINO, Suora floor lamp | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Suora floor lamp
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $35,000

CARLO MOLLINO, chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

chair from the Casa del Sole, Cervinia
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $35,000

CARLO MOLLINO, set of eight chairs from Lutrario Hall, Turin | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

set of eight chairs from Lutrario Hall, Turin
estimate: $30,000–50,000
result: $35,000

CARLO MOLLINO, dining chairs from Lutrario Hall, set of eight | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

dining chairs from Lutrario Hall, set of eight
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $30,000

CARLO MOLLINO, Suora floor lamp | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

Suora floor lamp
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $26,250

CARLO MOLLINO, bed from the Casa Minola | Wright20.com

Carlo Mollino

bed from the Casa Minola
estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $26,000