Everything in design history is open for debate. Still, you would be hard-pressed to find someone disdainful of mid-century Italian cars — almost without dispute, these machines are among the most pleasing forms in the pantheon of designed objects.
Unlike German, American, French or Japanese automobiles of the same era, which were almost all penned in-house by corporate design offices, Italy’s automotive landscape was steeped in a distinctive, studio-based culture. Fabled houses like Zagato, Pininfarina and Bertone — think tanks of industrial fine art working independently of the carmakers they served — churned out one masterpiece after another for every illustrious Italian brand: Lancia, Lamborghini, Fiat, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo.
It is no coincidence that we named this sofa Alfa: it is our very first — our alpha — and when, after many iterations, we arrived at its final form with Takagi Homstvedt, we couldn’t help but see the playful spirit of a lithe Italian roadster in full forward motion, savoring the serpentine roads of Mullholland or Monaco. As a litmus test, we asked a few car aficionados in our orbit — designers, journalists, photographers — to tell us why the Italian cars from this era remain so enduringly handsome. Then, we asked them for hot takes on our own Alfa.
“Italian cars looked fast even when sitting still.”
— Tim Healey, editor, The Truth About Cars
Clockwise from top left: Alfa Romeo 2600, Alfa 2-seater in Ikat Red, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, Lancia Fulvia.
“Without a doubt, the 1960s was the golden era of automotive design. The Italians had an edge over the others due to their legendary design houses. Their blend of elegance and dynamism really set them apart.”
— Huseyin Erturk, automotive photographer
“I love how the legs disappear into its organically shaped cushions, making it playful and just a bit mysterious. Like the car, it’s elegant without looking delicate.”
— Chris Nguyen
“The scale and proportions of these cars are honest and unimposing. Every line, curve and bend looks intentional and is never interrupted by unnecessary garnish. At the same time, they never look delicate. They look like they’re meant to be used. Even if you have never driven one, you know that it’s something special.
Though the rear of a sofa isn’t seen often, I think it’s as much a defining element as the front. On the Alfa, I love how the legs disappear into its organically shaped cushions making it playful and just a bit mysterious. Like the car, it’s elegant without looking delicate.”
— Chris Nguyen, designer
Left to right: Alfa in Goose, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider.
“Italian car design in the ’60s and ’70s was about more than just making pretty cars — they were created with style and functionality at their core. If you get the bones of a car just right, you don’t need to garnish it with add-ons or overwrought detailing.
We think of these cars like classical sculptures, but in general, they were stunning shapes fitted with practical, off-the-shelf bits. I love the honest functionality of the handles, latches and louvres that showed up on them.
I’m struck by how simple and airy Alfa Sofa is — it looks as if it’s made only of pillows. It achieves the rare feat of appearing visually minimal without being a stark, firm rectangle. It actually looks plush and comfortable, like it has volume and bounce. I can see the Italian car design inspiration in its approach — basic, eye-pleasing proportions, with no add-ons or ornamentation.”
— Kevin McCauley, designer and automotive photographer
“It achieves the rare feat of appearing visually minimal without being a stark, firm rectangle.”
— Kevin McCauley
“If the American dream cars of the ’50s and ’60s took us up into the stratosphere, the Italian cars that followed took us to the moon, to the dark side and beyond. Alfa Romeo’s BAT concepts, designed in collaboration with Bertone, were a taste of what was to come. No earthly jet-thrusters required: these cars arrived already in space, an advance party blazing a trail. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that these cars were just the first step, birthed from minds still thinking in terms of the flow of air over, in and around metal.
1968 Alfa Romeo Carabo, one of a number of concept designs that signified a new era of more angular, futuristic models.
But by 1967, Italian car designers — unmoored from what came before and probably unhinged by the potential of outer space — prepared to go interstellar. To wit, the arrival of the futuristic Lamborghini Marzal, Alfa Carabo and Lancia Stratos Zero. With no air to caress and only space-time to compress, exterior forms hardened. Teardrops gave way to wedges wrapped tight over propulsion packs and curves became chamfers, primed to deflect interstellar radiation. And freed from the constraint of looking down the road, windows were reoriented to take in the majesty of space, as were the passengers inside.
Despite the evident speed of these machines, travel between stars takes time and cabins were designed to reflect this. Extraneous detail that might tire the eye was banished and instrumentation was pushed to the periphery to better enhance the view. And in the center were not so much seats, perhaps, but systems for suspending the human body. Pulled taut to support and generously cushioned to cradle, they were an invitation to lay back and enjoy the ride.
And so it is with Takagi Homstvedt’s Alfa: its form invites you to take time, with an openness that suggests the perfect place to watch the world go by. And suspended there, mid-air, you too — for just a minute — may find yourself dreaming of a life beyond the stars.”
— Drew Smith, car designer
“Alfa’s form invites you to take time, with an openness that suggests the perfect place to watch the world go by.”
— Drew Smith
Kind thanks to car designer Drew Smith, photographer Kevin McCauley @capturingthemachine, photographer Huseyin Erturk @huseyinerturk, designer Chris Nguyen @analogdialog and editor Tim Healey.