The self made Italian, Willy Rizzo, was born in 1922 and died recently in 2013. He was a photographer of Playboys and starlets and he designed furniture that suited this clientel.
Willy’s work as a designer occured by chance. The story goes that his furniture design venture began in 1966 when he signed up a six month lease on an abandoned commercial space. Using a handfull of local artisans, willy quickly set about turning the empty office into a living space, complete with brown and gold walls and custom-designed sofas, coffee tables, consoles and hi-fi storage units.
Though never his intention to become a furniture designer, Rizzo’s friends, clients and contacts, many forming the upper crust of the fashion and film industries, fell in love with his creations and he was swamped with orders and requests. By 1968, Willy’s work was in constant demand by the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Salvator Dali, etc. As a result he set up his own factory just outside Rome at Tivoli, which employed over 150 staff, including the original team from his early apartment transformation. Over the following ten years, Rizzo designed and produced more than thirty pieces of furniture. He opened boutiques across France and Europe and had points of sale in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. However, in 1978, Rizzo gave it all up to return to photography, his first love.
Willy Rizzo’s furniture design combines clean, simple lines with bold geometric forms and a delicate handling of materials. His lack of formal training in furniture design placed him outside Italy’s strong design traditions, making his style utterly unique at the time.
Willy Rizzo’s furniture is now widely exhibited, notably in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. He returned to furniture design for a period in the late 1980s and then again in the mid-2000s, in collaboration with Paul Smith and Mallett Antiques. In 2010, at the age of 82, he opened his first gallery in Paris with the help of his wife, Elsa and his son, Willy Rizzo, Jr.