Willy Rizzo (1928-2013)

Italian photographer and furniture designer, Willy Rizzo was famous for his original and unique creative genius and for his portraits of princes, princesses, playboys, and starlets. He created the iconic rectangular coffee table with a wood structure and metal covering.

Willy Rizzo
Willy Rizzo

Image source: https://studiocadmium.com/willy-rizzo-jet-set-furniture/

Who was Willy Rizzo?

Willy Rizzo was born in 1928 in Naples, Italy. When he was a child, he went to Paris with his family. He developed an interest for photography and he decided to work very hard. At the age of 12, he began shooting portraits and in 1948, he was hired by Paris Match magazine, for whom he photographed the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Fred Astaire, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso, among others. He also photographed a variety of events: the Nuremberg Trial and the Fashion events for Marie-Claire and Vogue. His interior design career started in Rome and from the late 1960s he produced over thirty furniture designs as well as completing interior design commissions for prominent figures.

Willy Rizzobefore taking a picture of Marilyn Monroe.
Willy Rizzo before taking a picture of Marilyn Monroe, © 9Colonne

Image source: https://www.9colonne.it/47206/photography-brazilian-mube-pays-homage-to-willy-rizzo#.W6pCeBMzZmA

He went on to launch a furniture line in Rome in 1966, inspired by Modernists such as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. His inaugural collection included steel-banded travertine dining tables and bronze table lamps, and today many of his pieces are exhibited in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  He became such a famous chronicler of the glamorous “jet set” of the 1950s, Rizzo was memorably immortalized as the paparazzo Walter Rizotto in Tintin creator Herge’s The Castafiore Emerald in 1963. In the mid-2000s, he returned to furniture design, collaborating with Paul Smith and Mallett Antiques. He died on February 25, 2013 in Paris, France.

About his most important works

Willy Rizzo for Mario Sabot, dining room table and six chairs.
Willy Rizzo for Mario Sabot, dining room table and six chairs, ca. 1970’s
Willy Rizzo for Mario Sabot, dining room table and six chairs
Willy Rizzo for Mario Sabot Dining Room Table and Six Chairs, ca. 1970’s

Images source: https://www.aspireauctions.com/#!/catalog/353/1865/lot/81233

One of the most important works made by Willy Rizzo in the 1970s are these dining room table and six chairs, made for Mario Sabot. The table is characterized by a rectangular shape with brown formica top banded in aluminum. Mounted on a massive rectangular Formica plinth standard terminating in an extended steel platform base. Regarding the chairs, they are low open barrel back with molded crest rail with diagonal side supports descending to a circular base. The round seat upholstered in green figured velvet and banded in aluminum.

Willie Rizzo's hidden bar Coffee Table in burl wood.
Willy Rizzo’s hidden bar Coffee Table in burl wood, 1970s

Image source: https://www.vntg.com/166635/willy-rizzo-hidden-bar-coffee-table-in-burl-wood-1970s/

In the 1970s, Rizzo designed the iconic rectangular coffee table with a wood structure and metal covering. This coffee table was designed for Cidue. It is an extendable table with hidden mirrored dry bar. Once opened, it can arrive up to 83,46 inch. As for the structure, it is chromed and raised on a black wooden base. While the upper floor is made of bronze smoked glass.

Alveo Console by Willy Rizzo for Mario Sabot, 1970's.
Alveo Console by Willy Rizzo for Mario Sabot, 1970’s

Image source: https://www.vntg.com/127122/alveo-console-by-willy-rizzo-for-mario-sabot-1970s/

This is a luxurious and exceptional console by Willy Rizzo in burl elm with brass, «Alveo» Range by Willy Rizzo. From 1972, it was retailed by the Italian company Mario Sabot and it is characterized by veneered in quality burl elm in a rich shade of gold/blond color, which is finished with the original soft matt lacquer. The «Alveo» range smartly combined modernist designs with richly stained wood alongside polished metals such as brass for a warm and glamorous look.

How can we recognize Rizzo’s style?

Original Vintage Willy Rizzo TRG Revolving Coffee Table in burl, Italy 1970.
Original Vintage Willy Rizzo TRG Revolving Coffee Table in burl, Italy 1970

Image source: https://www.vntg.com/166321/original-vintage-willy-rizzo-trg-revolving-coffee-table-in-burl-italy-1970/

During the ’70s, Rizzo, a great admirer of the sophistication of Mies van der Rohe, Corbusier and Ruhlmann, developed a style that is very easily recognizable today. His pieces have simple lines with well-marked geometric shapes using meticulously selected materials, mixed with chrome and copper. It has always remained faithful to the traditional use of the materials of craftsmen, avoiding entering the mass production system and the plastic that was fashionable at the time. The style at the beginning was defined by its customers and by the interiors to be decorated.

Coffee Table by Willy Rizzo in Steel & Cow hide, 1970s.
Coffee Table by Willy Rizzo in Steel & Cow hide, 1970s

Image source:https://www.vntg.com/134403/coffee-table-willy-rizzo-in-steel-and-cow-hide-1970s/

Rizzo’s style can be defined with the following words: comfort, solidity and practicality are equally important elements. This is why the modular sofas were luxuriously upholstered in leather and equipped with a control panel that controlled the light and volume of the stereo. The doors of his apartment are deprived and closed with the clapping of hands and the low tables were equipped with a bar. As you can say that his photos were beautiful for their rare simplicity, the same way you can say that his furniture worked perfectly in contemporary decor because they have an elegant simplicity and their reason for being. The originality of his furniture derives from his independence as a creator who has never copied or collaborated, which explains his style so different and pared.

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