Exquisite craftsmanship and refined forms and materials underpin Paola Buffa’s design repertoire, spanning architectural structures, interiors, furniture, lighting, and pottery. After graduating from Milan’s Politecnico in 1927, Buffa went to work in the studio of then already prominent architect Gio Ponti. The following year, he opened a firm with architect A. Cassi Rimelli, establishing himself as a designer catering to an affluent clientele. Buffa’s early work might be characterized by a penchant for neoclassical forms and orientalist flourishes as befitted 1920s tastes. Throughout his career, Buffa adhered to modernist ideals, and his furniture remained fundamentally simple and elegant, often embellished by bronze accents or artisanal carving. It is telling that Roberto Aloi, in his seminal 1934 text on Modernism, L’arredamento moderno, consecrated more pages to Buffa than any other designer. This attests to his importance in the movement, although seen perhaps most clearly in his 1950s work, as well as in Italy’s design heritage. Aloi’s text illustrated many tables, cabinets, and benches by Buffa with interlaced arced legs like that of Jon Howell’s x-form table basse (item #1067). This feature is typical of Buffa’s work in the interwar period and later, in the second half of the 1930s, was often replaced by slender pillars. In addition to his use of bronze sabots and other accoutrements, Item #1067 exemplifies Buffa’s mastery of wood inlay, often resulting in a grid-like surface through the juxtaposition of several different, strong-grain veneers. These inlays sometimes portrayed detailed figurative motifs, including the signs of the zodiac and hunting scenes. In 1945 Buffa began a collaboration designing interiors with Ico Parisi that lasted a decade. Some of his notable projects include the Royal Palace of the King of Albania in 1940, the Quirinale Hotel in Rome in 1951, and the furnishing of the royal yacht of King Farouk of Egypt and the cruise liner Leonardo Da Vinci, both in the 1950s. Throughout his career from 1930, Buffa was an important presence at ENAPI salons and the Milan Triennial. However, it was notably his significant contributions to the design and architecture magazine Domus that positioned him as an authority in the design sphere. In 1947 he was invited by fabric designer Fede Cheti, along with other well-known Italian designers (Albini, Buzzi, Pietro Chiesa, Cesare Lacca, Minoletti, Carlo Mollino, Ico Parisi, Rava, and Guglielmo Ulrich), to participate in the exhibition Le stile nell’arredamento moderno, held in Milan and, the following year, Paris. This exhibition was critical in its forming a definition of Italian design that would have a place in the annals of 20th-century design history, characterized by its inventiveness, elegance, and technical mastery, as well as highlighting its key players.
Roberto Aloi, L’arredamento moderno. Milan: U. Hoepli, 1934.
Roberto Rizzi and Paolo Buffa, I mobili di Paolo Buffa. Cantù: Centro Legno Arredo Cantù, 2001.