Manufactured by Serafino Arrighi, Cantù in 1950
L. 170 cm D. 45 cm H. 99 cm
Studying the oeuvre of Milanese architect and designer Paolo Buffa (1903–1970) is generally a lesson in sophisticated, inventive classicism. Whether he was producing furnishings for a swish ski-resort hotel or constructing gracious villas for the haute bourgeoisie of Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where he lived, Buffa’s work was marked by unmistakable suavity. But every so often that smooth veneer gave way to a breathtaking loopiness that seems to have taken its cues from his surname, which can be a synonym for bizarre in Italian.
In the late ’20s, after graduating from the Politecnico di Milano, he was briefly employed by architect Gio Ponti, then quickly struck out on his own. Records indicate that his earliest architectural commission was a cylindrical mausoleum—with a stepped roof capped by a jazzy finial—erected in 1927 for a Lombard worthy. A year later Ponti’s brand-new design magazine Domus devoted a full page to a Buffa rosewood dressing table it hailed as “elegant and solid.”
Soon the young Italian was turning out country houses and civic buildings, some in the classical-revival mode that was all the rage during Mussolini’s dictatorship. Also off his drafting table came carpets, lighting, and scores of mod-meets-historic interiors.
The furniture used in those spaces was typically made to Buffa’s specifications by renowned artisans, most prominently Mario Quarti and Angelo Marelli. Consequently, his fashion-conscious stylings were coupled with the fine craftsmanship that attracted influential patrons. On the eve of World War II, King Zog of Albania hired him to decorate the palace in Tirana (Buffa’s plans were rejected by the queen), and in 1951 King Farouk of Egypt ordered a makeover of his yacht. For Roberto Farinacci, Buffa conjured a meltingly lovely salon, where a star-studded ceiling hovered high above pale-violet skirted sofas and cabinets bearing lively inlaid geometric motifs.