The Scarpas

When drawing the plan of an area, the story behind the design could be derived from the inherent characteristics of the structure containing it. Good natural light, the presence of a beautiful fireplace, an untouched historic building around it or possibly a garden door opening out to a forest. Even one of these would be more than enough to establish the main theme or essence of the design. Sometimes, the homeowner’s collection might include one of those iconic Soriana sofas. Then, the leading role of the living room is self-evident.

The creators of the Soriana sofa are a couple who are as iconic as their designs. Theirs is a love story. It seems it isn’t marriage that symbolises their eternal allegiance, rather their designs made with passion which have left their mark on the last century.

Afra Bianchin and Tobia Scarpa studied architecture at Università luav di Venezia in Venice, Italy. They were strongly influenced by Tobia’s father, Carlo Scarpa who was a Venetian architect and designer. Early in his career, Tobia worked as a designer at the Murano glass factory in Venini. Soon after, he started collaborating with Afra Scarpa in all his creations. Eventually this collaboration evolved into a partnership in the form of a design office that they founded in 1960 in Afra’s hometown of Montebelluna, Italy. As the creators of some of the best examples of the postmodern movement, the couple is probably best known for the Bastiano sofa designed for Gavina and the Soriana sofa designed for the Italian furniture and interior design company Cassina. They also gained attention for their collaborations in creating furniture and light fixtures in particular with numerous other brands and companies that include B&B Italia, Knoll, Flos and San Lorenzo.

Some pieces are merely objects, yet others deserve further attention. Today, Afra and Tobia Scarpa’s designs are no longer in production. The rare pieces produced by the couple during the 60s and 70s can be found in some private residences and auction houses. Some are also exhibited in prominent museums ranging from MoMA in New York and the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Designed in 1968, the armchair Soriana is one of my favourites from the iconic designers. In 1970, Soriana received the “Compasso D’oro”, one of Italy’s most important design awards of the period. The idea behind Soriana was expressing a design which enveloped a bundle of fabric inside a metal frame. A revolutionary and unique design. Today, it still is a sought-after item of furniture in projects developed by prominent designers and architects. The original collection consisted of multiple items including a deck chair, a medium sized sofa and a larger sofa… If you stumble upon an original Soriana sofa, it will probably be around 60 years old. In their current condition they might have sagging cushions, worn out fabric and rusting on the metalwork.

In terms of architecture, the Scarpas maintained a consistent working relation with the famous clothing brand Benetton. The couple has designed the brand’s factories, retail outlets and main offices in Paris and New York. Another of their well-known works is the restoration of Benetton’s Villa Minelli located in Treviso. Between 2004 and 2007, the Scarpas were involved in several other historic building restoration projects like the Palazzo della Ragione in Verona, Italy.

After the death of famous designer Afra Scarpa, Tobia focused on solo work and since 2002 he has been lecturing design at the Università luav di Venezia. Tobia Scarpa argues that designing is a profession without a rulebook. His timeless light fixture creations Fantasma and Foglio designed for the lighting company Flos are the material representations of this belief. The amazing couple’s design philosophy and unequalled mastery in craftsmanship will remain inspiring for generations to come.