Joe Colombo’s Universale chair [1967] has an iconic status in the history of design. Firstly, it was the very first plastic chair to be injection-moulded in a single piece, made entirely of ABS. This kept production costs down, so that it could be sold more cheaply. In addition, it is modular. You can add to it, to suit your tastes or needs; it can be transformed into a barstool with the addition of extensions to its legs, and its feet are also detachable, making a lower chair for a child. Different coloured legs can be added to customise the chair. In opting to name the chair Universale, Joe Colombo was referencing modernist notions of standards and norms.

Versatile and easily manoeuvrable, it is a crowning example of the industrially-orientated attitude to plastic furniture production that prevailed in the “Golden Sixties”. This chair was originally intended to be made of aluminium, but Joe Colombo opted for ABS plastic as a means of keeping costs low. Once the mould was completed in the autumn of 1967, the Italian design company Kartell launched the production process. In 1971, ABS was replaced by polyamide [PA], which is less smooth but more resistant to scratches and almost unbreakable. The current models have been made of polypropylene since 1975.


Born in Milan in 1930, Joe Colombo initially studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brera. He went on to study architecture at the Polytechnic University in Milan from 1949 to 1954. He pursued his interest in painting until 1959, when he was obliged to take over the family business following his father’s death. In 1962, he left his position there in order to open his own design agency in Milan. He and his brother Gianni collaborated with important design companies such as Kartell. His work was based on everyday, modular items. Before his untimely death in 1971, Joe Colombo was one of the leading figures in the anti-design movement in the late 1960s.

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