Rumble, Gianni Pettena′s sofa of possibilities

Gianni Pettena's sofa, designed in 1967, lives again thanks to the historic Florentine company Poltronova.

This article was originally published on Domus 1077, March 2023.

“I made it all on my own, paying an upholsterer in instalments for the foam rubber padding covered in orange fabric, because these were the most expensive components of the design,” says Gianni Pettena (Bolzano, 1940), an architect, or rather radical “anarchitect”, artist and designer, recalling the story of Rumble, the “liveable” sofa that he designed for his loft in Florence. 

a human space where I could live, and anyone who entered here could be sincere, if they wanted. Or they could leave if they couldn’t manage it.

Gianni Pettena

While studying architecture at university, he rented the former atelier of a painter, which was full of sunlight and had high ceilings, to understand if he, too, had a little bit of an artist in him after all. The loft was empty with the exception of a green garden chair and a telephone. Designing Rumble meant “occupying the empty spaces” and recreating a place where guests could interact and get to know one another, “a human space where I could live, and anyone who entered here could be sincere, if they wanted. Or they could leave if they couldn’t manage it,” he told Domus in 1970, assisted by Aurelio Amendola’s colourful photos of his friends resting on the detachable cushions scattered across the room.

Original drawing by Pettena, Archivio Gianni Pettena

As the pencil archive drawing shows, Rumble could be taken apart and then reassembled and experienced in every way possible. The idea of a “nest to live in and then dismantle” was inspired by his friend Ettore Sottsass, the serial seducer of designers craving for novelty and a brazen transgressor of modernist dogmas. Sottsass talked about India and its colours, about Japan and its homes filled with tatami mats, and where, as Pettena remembers, “Everything was outside the usual dimension. Attention was given to the relationship one could have with the objects in these homes made of paper. They were homes above all others.” 

So the young tenant also wanted to make a piece of furniture to “activate” his new domestic space and build a “peaceful” place. A recollection is still clear in his mind after more than 40 years: “A distinguished and elegant lady who was sitting on Rumble during a party – I later found out it was Edith Farnsworth, the private client of Mies van der Rohe – told me a secret about her famous home. It’s an example of how this soft and colourful object can host anyone, whatever their desire may be.” 

Rumble sofa now-re-proposed by Centro Studi Poltronova

In the 1970s it was manufactured by Gufram. Today, Poltronova, the legendary company based in Florence, has reissued the large ring of detachable cushions. Instead, the colours have changed: royal blue, raspberry pink and emerald green. Pettena himself reflects on the timelessness of the shape, simple like a soft lap, “where everything happens or already happened, but suggests more possibilities, other things that could happen.”

Domus 487, June 1970

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