Culture

Patricia Urquiola: a breath of poetry in contemporary design

Patricia Urquiola is a familiar name to lovers of contemporary design. This 61-year-old Spanish architect and designer has an exemplary career and a CV full of collaborations with the greatest contemporary furniture publishers: Alessi, Antares-Flos, Artelano, Boffi, Cappellini, Cassina, Kartell, B&B, etc. As proof of his fame, his creations are part of the permanent collections of MoMA. In 2013, I had the opportunity to visit in Lyon the beautiful exhibition dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Italian company Moroso, entitled: sguardo laterale. Moroso, a search between decorative arts and design. I discovered the intense collaboration between the Iberian designer and the Italian publisher. This post looks back at Patricia Urquiola’s outstanding creations, and in particular her fertile collaboration with Moroso.

Patricia Urquiola, portrait.
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Bohemian lounge chair for Moroso, 2008. An emblematic creation of Patricia Urquiola’s talent, who revisits the world of “capitoné” with this piece.
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Patricia Urquiola was born in 1961 in Oviedo, Spain. She studied architecture at the Faculty of Madrid, then moved to Milan where she turned to design. She studied at the Polytechnic of Milan. Unusually, she had the privilege of defending her thesis under the supervision ofAchille Castiglioni, considered one of the greatest Italian designers of the 20th century. In an interview for the publisher Flos, Patricia Urquiola explains: ” Castiglioni taught me the importance of design at a time when I still believed that architecture was a higher art – and the pleasure of imagining objects. The irony, the fun, the fact that you don’t take yourself too seriously even if you take what you do very seriously.”

Photograph of Patricia Urquiola, young, with Achille Castiglioni.
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In the early 1990s, Patricia Uquiola began her career as a development manager for the Italian publisher De Padova. This extraordinary opportunity brought her into contact with another great Italian design personality: Vico Magistretti. With him, she published herfirst object, the Flower chair.

Flower chair, design Patricia Urquiola & Vico Magistretti for De Padova. Structure in polyurethane, seat in polyurethane foam with polyester wadding inside. Fully removable fabric cover. 4 chrome-plated metal legs or 5-star base, swivelling on castors.
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Spotted for her talent, Patricia Urquiola was appointed director of the design department of Piero Lissoni’s famous Lissoni Associati agency in 1996, which enabled her to work on projects with the leading Italian furniture manufacturers. At the same time, she continued her career as a freelance designer and signed products for B&B, Bosa, De Vecchi, Fasem, Kartell, Liv’it, MDF, Molteni & C., Moroso and Tronconi.

Vintage 3-piece sofa by Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 1990s.

In 2001, Patricia Urquiola asserted her independence and created her own design studio. Her reputation grew, she continued to work for major houses and in 2003 she was named best designer of the year by Elle Déco magazine; in 2005, she was awarded this title by the famous decorating press magazine Wallpaper.

How to define Patricia Urquiola’s style? A mixture of gentleness and exuberance, a concern for ornamentation, a great sense of poetry that makes her choose organic forms, all combined with refinement and sensuality. This is true of her superb chaise longue and the armchairs in the Antibodi series for Moroso. It can also be said that she combines the best of artisanal techniques, such as weaving, with industrial production.

Antibodi armchairs and lounge chairs, design Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 2006. A piece that symbolises the quintessence of the “Urquiola” style.
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Antibodi seats, design Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 2006. What can we say about this emblematic piece of Patricia Urquiola’s designs? With the chaise longue, you feel as if you were lying on a bed of flower petals… A very poetic, feminine and sensual seat.
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Antibodi chaise longue, detail, design Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 2006. The textile is made of felt and wool sheet. It is handcrafted in the manner of origami: the pieces of fabric are cut into triangles, folded and sewn to create beautiful flowers in relief.
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Smoke armchair, design Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 2005. We find Patricia Urquiola’s “touch” in this armchair, which is inspired by the concept of the hammock: a sensual look, pleated seams that give a very feminine aspect to the armchair and extreme refinement in the work of the leather.
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Smoke armchair, detail, design Patricia Urquiola for Moroso, 2005. The rings used to hang the hammock have been converted into armrests… In addition to being an aesthetically pleasing piece, Smoke is a cocoon that invites relaxation.
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Pavo Real armchair, design Patricia Urquiola for Driade, 2010. A small masterpiece that illustrates Patricia Urquiola’s attraction to high-end and complex craft methods. Here, the rattan pith is woven using a novel braiding technique.
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Patricia Urquiola has worked extensively with organic style, revisiting elements of nature that she incorporates into her furniture pieces with always a poetic note. In 2013, for example, she created the Foliage collection for Kartell, a range including a 2-seater sofa and an armchair with a natural and poetic spirit. These are very comfortable seats, decorated with stitching in leaf motifs. At the base of the seats, a lacquered metal structure reminiscent of a branch.

2-seater sofa and armchair from the Foliage collection, design Patricia Urquiola, 2013
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Liquefy series, high and low tables and consoles in transparent extralight tempered crystal. A very recent creation by Patricia Urquiola for Glas Italia that illustrates her taste for organic forms: the tables and consoles adopt a veined and organic decoration, just like the marbling. A sumptuous work!
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Liquefy series, table and console tops, detail. Design Patricia Urquiola for Glas Italia, 2020.
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Like some great design talents, Patricia Urquiola knows how to navigate all styles. And this is perhaps one of her greatest strengths: open to the world, she has the ability to move from one universe to another, mixing influences. So what do the fantastic woven garden armchair Crinoline (at B&B Italia) and the famous Comback chair for Kartell have in common? Not much, except for their creator’s insolent talent for designing unique pieces!

Crinoline armchair, design Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia Outdoor, 2008. This polyethylene garden armchair with high back is part of the Crinoline outdoor furniture collection.
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Crinoline collection, outdoor armchairs, design Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia Outdoor, 2008. Braided in white-black or bronze-black polyethylene fibre, braided in natural or bronze rope
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Comback chair, design Patricia Urquiola for Kartell, 2012. Comback is a seating collection that revisits the classic Windsor chair and offers 4 basic models.
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Comback rocking chair, design Patricia Urquiola for Kartell, 2012.
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At ease with composing with very different styles, Patricia Urquiola is also capable of designing objects other than furniture. She has collaborated with Foscarini and Flos to design classy lighting fixtures, and for Kartell, she designed the Jellies Family tableware collection.

Caboche lamp, designed by Patricia Urquiola for Fosacarini. The lamp evokes a pearl bracelet, an elegant and light presence with a touch of fantasy. Foscarini produces several versions of the lamp: as a wall lamp, a ceiling lamp or a suspension lamp.
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Tatou Table, desk lamp, design Patricia Urquiola for Flos, 2012. The design of this lamp is inspired by Japanese armour. It is made from a set of metal loops attached to each other with ribbons.
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Plates and glasses from the Jellies Family collection, design Patricia Urquiola for Kartell. Once again Patricia Urquiola has drawn on organic design to create refined pieces. The plates feature relief patterns inspired by the wax cells made by bees.
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Patricia Urquiola has a great creative sense and is a reliable name in contemporary design. The pieces she has designed have become “must-haves” for anyone wishing to bring modern, cheerful and often warm design into their homes. Since September 2015, she has been the artistic director of the Italian publisher Cassina.

François Boutard