“You may sit on that bag”: 21 game changers in domestic design

Car headlights becoming floor lamps, baseball gloves becoming armchairs, and a selection of other outrageous objects that questioned the rules of their category.

Quite a popular milestone in Italian cinema history, the sketch featuring Giandomenico Fracchia and the Sacco chair shows an oppressed clerk being invited (i.e. forced) by his sadistic boss to sit in front of his throne-like desk, on a bean bag chair, whence the clumsy man pitifully and irreparably rolls down. Although harshly satirizing all classist abuses of power — which often found silent allies in the  world of design — this scene also depicts a then widespread skepticism towards a game changer, an object that in spite of its indecipherable appearance was redefining the rules of the game in its own category.

Italian actor Paolo Villaggio in "Fracchia la belva umana" (Fracchia the fanatic) a 1981 comedy film directed by Neri Parenti.
Italian actor Paolo Villaggio in "Fracchia la belva umana" (Fracchia the fanatic) a 1981 comedy film directed by Neri Parenti.

The history of contemporary design is sprinkled with objects that transformed the grammar of domestic space through a simple yet radical operation: the extrapolation of shapes and components form their original context of function and sense, and their application to a totally new, or even stranger function, sense or scale. It is a quite outrageous design approach: gloves becoming chairs, car headlights becoming floor lamps, often reaching the role of representatives of an entire object typology.

We often and easily associate such operation to Postmodernism — the plastic duck becoming a house, à la Robert Venturi — but it would be more correct to recognize it as the starting point of many capital moments, often defining the end or the start of entire eras: Modern architecture (Le Corbusier’s fascinations for cars and grain silos, for instance), the Radical season, systemic design or Surrealism before all of them.

You are invited by Domus to a short journey across a selection of such outrageous game changers, and with the side-note certainty that the author of this article, despite being more than two meters tall, has always found the Sacco chair extremely comfortable. 

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