'Alveo’ Burr Thuya & Brass Coffee Table, circa 1973
'Alveo’ Burr Thuya & Brass Coffee Table, circa 1973
'Alveo’ Burr Thuya & Brass Coffee Table, circa 1973

WILLY RIZZO (1928-2013)

'Alveo’ Burr Thuya & Brass Coffee Table, circa 1973

1973 French

Offered by Lucy Johnson

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This is a rare edition of the Alveo (riverbed) coffee table, retailed by Mario Sabot in Italy from 1972.

The table is veneered in burr Thuya which is sought after for its beautiful figuring. The top has an inset brass-lined well. This may have been conceived as a bar, a wine cooler or for burning charcoal. The corners have been chamfered and finished off with bold, brass, triangular edge. The table stands on a recessed base.

Willy Rizzo has always loved beautiful things and fine antiques and, in this piece he has created a contemporary piece that mixes perfectly with the old. The form is simple but striking and the grain of the burr thuya very beautiful. The well could be used for many purposes, it is shown here full of pot pourri. It could be adapted as a display compartment by fixing a perspex or glass panel over the well.

THUYA BURR (Tetraclinis artisulate) : North Africa: The burr grows underground as a root burl and is dug out rather than felled. The colour is rich golded brown to orange red. The grain is contorted, hard and full of knots resulting in a beautiful mottled birds eye figure. The timber produces some beautiful patterns, taking an excellent finish.

WILLY RIZZO : Willy Rizzo is best known as a photographer and his career began during the golden age of photojournalism. He began an illustrious 20 year career with Paris Match in 1948 that would see him photograph some of the greatest names of the age. Married as he then was to actress Elsa Martinelli, Rizzo has unparalleled access to the stars and his constellation of sitters would include such greats as Brigitte Bardot, Sofia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. His assignments would take him to the Nuremberg trials and the French Indochina war. He was the first in the Vatican to photograph the new Pope Pius XII and his colour portrait of Winston Churchill made the first cover of Paris Match. Herge even based the character of Paris-Flash photographer Walter Rizotto in Tintin’s adventure The Castafiore Emerald on his real-life Paris Match counterpart.

His photographic work is well known and well documented, but less so is his design. In the late 60s, he put down his camera and focused instead on furniture design, a field which, though he had no experience, he would go on to enjoy considerable success. His imagination and severe neo-classical style defines the Italian style between 1965 and 1980.

"Imagination and very modern style, which joins well with any environment” defines the Italian style of years 1965-1980 which Willy Rizzo claims. As reported by the designer so well, it all starts in a hair salon located Piazza di Spagna in Rome at the end of 1966. While his wife Elsa is getting a hair cut, they both discuss moving to Italy. As Willy liked the neighborhood, he asked the hairdresser where he could find a real estate agent close to the salon. "Of course, just around the corner but you'll need a miracle to find an apartment." And the miracle happened in a second floor occupied by a manufacturer of folders with views over the Piazza di Spagna. It was a commercial apartment, abandoned, without water inlet and virtually uninhabitable. Willy immediately signed six month lease and returned triumphant to the salon, all in 45 minutes. Having decorated the apartment Willy turned to designing the furniture: sofas, coffee tables, consoles, hi-fi furniture and everything else. The result was very chic.

Willy Rizzo never intended to become a designer of furniture, but when his friends saw what he had done in his apartment they fell in love with his furniture. And as he had many friends in fashion, film, orders poured. One of his first clients was Ghighi Cassini,who invented the phrase "jet set" to describe the universe and the lifestyle that Fellini immortalized in La Dolce Vita. Cassini wanted an apartment in a modern classical Palazzo. Willy Rizzo has always loved beautiful things, and fine antiques, and he has managed to create contemporary furniture that fit perfectly with the old. Famous playboys like Rodolfo Parisi, Gigi Rizzi Rapetti and Franco were also part of his prestigious clientele, as the directors Vicente Minnelli, Otto Preminger. Salvador Dali commissioned several pieces and Brigitte Bardot for the interior of the Madrague in Saint-Tropez.

He furnished aristocrats apartments in the Palazzo Borghese and Palazzo Ruspoli. Rizzo style marked an era. Regarded as the designer of Dolce Vita, which he personified. The demand was such that in 1968, he decided to start his own company. He established his locations outside of Rome, in Tivoli, where his team grew from 8 employees to 150. His furniture is contemporary in style and always based on natural and noble materials such as wood, marble, stainless steel, brass, wild boar. He opened a shop Willy Rizzo, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and several in France and Europe as well as outlets in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. His creations are published in many magazines. In 1978, Willy returned to his first love, photography. "I've never tried to become a businessman and I'm starting to get bored. I miss my bohemian life of photographer, "

During these 10 years, Rizzo, great admirer of the sophistication of Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Ruhlmann, developed a style that is easily recognizable today. His pieces have clean lines with geometric shapes and are made from carefully selected materials, often inlaid in brass and chrome.

The style was first defined by his customers and interior decorating. Comfort, strength and convenience were also important. Thus, modular sofas were lavishly covered with skin and with a control panel that controls the light and the volume of the stereo. The doors of his apartment opened and closed by snapping in hands. And the tables were equipped with a bar. It has been said that his photos are beautiful because they have a rare simplicity, and that his furniture works well in as it has an elegant simplicity and a purpose. The originality of his furniture comes from its independent creator who has never worked or copied, which explains his striking, individual style. Some of the furniture have been exhibited in New York's Metropolitan Museum, most recently at the gallery on Madison Mallett and London with Paul Smith. His photographs were published in the book Star Society in 1991, from Schirmer-Mosel, and My Stars, at Hachette-Filipacchi in 2003, pending an exhibition of war photographs at the Museum Niepce in Chalon-sur-Saône.

This design was exhibited at the 1973 Salone di mobile in Milan.
This design has been published in several publications: the July/August 1972 issue of the design periodical Casa Vogue, Maison & Jardin, Septembre 1973, page 131 and `Le retour de Willy Rizzo`, AD, number 86, Septembre 2009, page 54.

Height 33.70 cm (13.27 inches)
Width 130.00 cm (51.18 inches)
Depth 80.40 cm (31.65 inches)
Burr Thuya & Brass
Lucy Johnson

Lucy Johnson
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