Design The Story of the Joe Armchair
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The Story of the Joe Armchair

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Anna Frattini

Contrary to what one might think, the iconic Joe armchair – inspired by a baseball glove – is a product conceived and produced by the Italian company Poltronova in 1971. The designers behind this piece are Jonathan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino, and Paolo Lomazzi, who, inspired by and wanting to pay homage to Joe DiMaggio, created an ironic and playful armchair that deviates from rationalism.

The Prototype of the Joe Armchair

Creating a baseball glove replica that was truly comfortable and could accommodate two people was not straightforward. The creation of the first prototype initially involved clay and, later, plaster. At that point, it was possible to derive the mold to inject polyurethanes. However, the Joe armchair project is a bold and irreverent endeavor that managed to shake things up in the world of Italian design. Here’s why.

At the time, Sergio Camilli – founder of Poltronova – was concerned about the usage rights associated with Joe DiMaggio’s name. The solution was found by Paolo Lecci, who came up with an ad-hoc slogan, «JOE… di maggio, giugno, luglio…» («JOE… of May, June, July…»). At the time, the advertising poster was launched in Milan, and during its creation, “no prototype of the armchair existed yet, so my baseball glove was used as the subject, drawn from life with a dog curled up on it, fitting well with the glove’s folds,” recounts Mario Lovergine.

The Cartoon Technique

«The drawing was made using the cartoon technique (drawing on transparent sheets and colors applied on the back of the support) with a two-color Letraset background (at the time, Pantone did not exist). It was all printed in six colors (four-color process plus two background colors) on embossed paper that reproduced the leather texture,» continues Mario Lovergine in a document found in the digital archives of the Museo del Design Toscano.

The Joe armchair’s success was cemented the year after its creation, with its participation in Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, the famous exhibition at the MoMA in New York showcasing prominent designs of Italian origin. This event marked the beginning of the success for De Pas, D’Urbino, and Lomazzi – propelling them into the pantheon of designers.

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Written by Anna Frattini
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