In the mid-1960s it was the holy grail of furniture design: the chair made from a single piece of material. Many designers achieved this aim but the results were never as neat as their designers would have liked. The ultimate aim was a chair created from a single shot injection moulding. Verner Panton's eponymous chair (see Design Landmark, December 2012) had this ambition but was originally made from polyurethane with a lacquered finish. It wasn't until 1999, a year after Panton's death, that his chair was injection moulded.
The holy grail was discovered by Italian designer Joe Colombo. His Universale stacking chair was the first chair to be injection moulded as a single piece. Designed in 1965, it took two years to get to production-ready form. Early production runs used ABS but, finding that the material scratched and degraded with age, this was substituted with PP.
Universale chairs featured a novel design which allowed them to be stacked with ease. Rounded rectangular recesses at either side of the seat accommodated the profile of the legs. So one chair could be stacked upon the other without needing any protruding clasps.
In its original incarnation, the Universale was also genuinely universal. Sold with two sets of leg extensions that screwed into the base of the legs, the Universale could be used as a standard chair, dining chair or bar stool.
The Italian manufacturer Kartell continues to manufacture Colombo's chair to this day. Now known as the 4867 Chair and only available in a single height – the screw-in leg extensions were a wacky 1960s conceit that didn't endure (could you imagine a bar stool with screw-in leg extensions in today's litigious personal injury culture?) – the chair might not be as “Universale” as it once was but it has stood the test of time. Not as iconic as Panton's chair, perhaps, but important enough a landmark in design and processing to have become part of the permanent collection of London's Design Museum.