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Melchiorre Bega

Melchiorre Bega (1898 -1976) was an Italian architect and designer, who was active between the 1930s and 60s. He arguably did as much as many better-known designers to put his stamp on the urban and domestic world of design we inhabit today.
He was born into a family of designers in Caselle di Crevalcore, near Bologna. The family company, Vittorio Bega & Figli in Bologna, specialized in the manufacture and restoration of fine furniture. The workforce of 250 included woodworkers, upholsterers, and finishers, as well as specialists in the intricate crafts of intarsia and intaglio. Along with his siblings Mario, Dante and Iole, Melchiorre was educated in the craftmanship tradition of the firm and went to work there full-time in 1919 after graduating from the Fine Arts Academy of Bologna.
He quickly made a name for himself. Soon after arriving at V. Bega & Figli in 1919, Bega was designing the interiors for the most fashionable stores, bars and cafes of Milan, Bologna and Rome. Depending on the job, Bega designed the display windows, the shelving, counters, functional and ornamental fixtures, furnishings and furniture, controlling the entire customer experience.
Applying his principles to domestic architecture, Bega designed Casa Appenninica, in collaboration with A. Legnani and G. Ramponi, which was presented to the Milan Triennale design fair in 1933. The spare, elegant design mixed traditional and modern—ebony and burl walnut furniture with linoleum and concrete. In keeping with his total design concept, he included paintings by Santi and dal Monte, and sculptures by Pini. Beginning in the late 1920’s, owners of yachts, naval vessels and cruise ships began to seek him out to design their public rooms and cabins: his sumptuous yet spare kitting out of the luxury yacht, “Aurora” (1928), was featured in an issue of Domus. This was quickly followed by the 825-meter foot ocean liners, the “Bremen” (1929) and the “Conte di Savoia” (1931), and even a battle cruiser for the Italian navy in 1930.
Seeing in Bega a creative visionary, Ponti gave him space in the magazine. In a series of four articles in 1937, Bega laid out his principles of domestic interior design, using pictures of his private works along with his commentary. To many readers, the starkness was shocking. Bega had decluttered and de-ornamented living space, offering his trademark clean lines and volumes. For the more conservative defenders of bourgeois architecture and design, what Bega was proposing was scandalous.
It was only natural that in 1941, when Ponti stepped down as editor at Domus that he named Bega as his successor. Calling on the talents of Italy’s leading designers and critics, Bega expanded Domus’s range even further to include sculpture and painting as essential elements in the creation of fully realized interior design. Bega’s direction changed the editorial team of Domus without upsetting its structure. He called on his artists and sculptors to contribute—these included Sironi, Carra, Severini. Bega also extended the Ponti tradition of allowing Italy’s leading architects to use the pages of Domus as a creative laboratory, running articles and designer spreads from BBPR to Zanuso and Mollino among others.
His vision of design, which combined Rationalism and Novecento, seemed radical at the time. With their focus on clean line and use of space, his interiors were freshly seductive and captivating, even as they challenged and disturbed established bourgeois design traditions.
His works include over 300 design projects in the major cities of Italy and abroad. In Milan and Bologna alone, Bega designed 40 retail stores, 8 hotels and 41 public buildings. His commissions abroad took him to Tripoli, Hamburg, Berlin, Paris, London, Geneva, Ankara and New York, where he oversaw the interior design of the Palazzo d’Italia in Rockefeller Center. He was comfortable working at any scale, from the intimate to the monumental product design, furniture, private homes and apartments, retail shops, cafes and bars, hotels and movie theatres, banks and office high-rises, churches and schools, yachts and cruise ships. And for most of these assignments, he also designed the furnishings and oversaw their manufacture.
Original pieces of his furniture became high-priced collectors’ items. His architectural works remain, honored and updated for current use, testaments to one of the most fertile, vibrant talents of the 20th century, known and appreciated by specialists as landmarks of urban modern building design.