By Eliza Williams

“I think of a design project as an exploration that involves both the mind and the senses,” says Italian designer and architect Mario Bellini in a new book of his work published by Phaidon. “In order to understand something fully I must test it and investigate it thoroughly, just as children do, when they touch and taste everything around them.”

Titled simply Mario Bellini, the Phaidon book marks the first time that Bellini’s design work has been comprehensively catalogued, making it both a useful contribution to design history as well as a beautiful coffee table book. The objects featured are presented in themes, and include everything from calculators to record players, sofas to lighting. Alongside images of the products themselves are also sketches and photographs from Bellini’s archive, published here for the first time.

Top: Olivetti Divisumma 18, electronic calculator, 1973. Photo: © Mimmo Capurso; Above: Olivetti A4, electronic accounting machine, 1975

Minerva  GA 45 Pop, portable record player, 1968. Photo: © Alberto Fioravanti

MoMA Kar-A-Sutra, 1972. Photo: © Studio Castelli

Bellini, now 80, has had a prolific career, creating products for many world-renowned brands including Olivetti, Fuji, Vitra, Yamaha and more. Alongside his design work he has also worked as an architect since the early 1960s and even managed to squeeze in being chief editor of Domus magazine from 1986-91 as well as lecturing at various unversities.

His work is distinguished by its clean lines but also its playful styling, which is most in evidence in the Kar-A-Sutra, pictured above in an amusing marketing shot. Designed in 1972 for an exhibition on Italian design held in MoMA New York, it never went into production though has been hugely influential nonetheless, apparently inspiring one of the most familiar vehicles on our roads today.

“If, as automobile historians now unanimously maintain, my approach to imagining the Kar-A-Sutra marked the actual beginning of the trend for people carriers,” Bellini explains in an interview in the Phaidon book, “it would mean that in some way that design has influenced nearly 50% of all the cars built across the world since then.”


Cassina Bruco 1,  lounge chair, 1965.

Heller Ultra Bellini Chair, 1970

Meritalia Via Lattea, sofa range, 1970. Photo: © Oliviero Toscani. Unless otherwise stated, all images courtesy of the Mario Bellini archive. All images reprinted from Mario Bellini (Phaidon, 2015)

The march of time and technology has sadly rendered a number of Bellini’s products largely redundant in the modern world, though flicking through this book it is difficult not to continue to drool over them, and long for the days when such calculators or record players were still essential items in the office or home. Collectors items they undoubtedly remain.

Mario Bellini by Enrico Morteo is published by Phaidon on September 14.

Read more here:: Playful objects of desire: Mario Bellini