The Francesca Spanish Chair by Philippe Starck

The 1984 collaboration with Enrico Baleri was one of Starck's first with an Italian company. It resulted in the creation of an essential chair with curved and broken lines, inspired by the American writer Philip K. Dick.

This article was originally published on Domus 1089,  April 2024.

Enrico Baleri was one of the first Italian entrepreneurs to open the doors to young French architect and designer Philippe Starck (Paris, 1949). It was 1984, and with his newly founded company, Baleri Italia, the manufacturer from Albino (Bergamo) decided to produce and promote a new type of furniture, far removed from fashions and based on high-quality design and research into materials. The firm was conceived as an atelier open to the stimuli and creativity of designers from all over the world.

At the time, Starck was building his global success, and the collaboration with Baleri offered him the opportunity to take his design beyond the Alps. Baleri felt a “love at first sight” for the French designer, as the entrepreneur said in one of the Lezioni di design broadcast by RAI in 1999, hosted by Ugo Gregoretti: “He was an incredibly scenographic designer capable of portraying heaven and hell.” Starck responded to Baleri’s invitation with an essential chair composed of the curved, broken lines that characterised his work in the 1980s.

The Francesca Spanish chair designed by Philippe Starck in 1984 for Baleri Italia, relaunched this year by the company. Courtesy Baleri Italia

As can be seen from the industrial architect’s archive drawing, which conveys the immediacy and rigour of the design, the inclined backrest, made of just three tubular elements, connects to the armrests that in turn become the legs of the seat. An unexpected functional aspect makes the chair a highly practical product: by lowering the seat and rotating the armrests, one inwards and one outwards, the chair can be folded and easily stored or stacked, thanks also to its small dimensions.

He was an incredibly scenographic designer capable of portraying heaven and hell.

Enrico Baleri

In naming it, Starck drew on the novel Ubik by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, a creative reference he had already used for the moniker of his first studio. The Francesca Spanish chair for Baleri takes the name of one of the book’s characters, a choice that may be interpreted as a tribute to the novelist’s “hallucinated” imagery, where readers are disoriented by alternating planes of reality. Francesca Spanish also presents two versions of itself: the essential, clean-cut version of the open chair, and the surprising one in its folded version made up of finely calibrated interlocking elements.

After almost 40 years, Baleri is relaunching the chair faithful to the 1984 original, its material and finishes. The steel structure is available in black or metallic silver, while the seat is rigid polyurethane. Francesca Spanish tells of a geometric and minimal 1980s Starck, whose sober style does not sacrifice the amazement of metamorphosis or the dialogue between broken and curved lines.

Opening image: Original drawings by Starck. Courtesy Baleri Italia

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