Osvaldo Borsani’s Elegant Cabinet Is Meant for Merrymaking

The 1940s home bar unites lively design with clever engineering.

By the time Osvaldo Borsani designed the 1955 Tecno P40 lounge chair, the adjustable recliner with a Jet Age look for which he is probably best known, the Italian architect had had a storied career working in very different styles.

“He was a prodigy, highly regarded at an early age,” says Paul Donzella, a Manhattan-based dealer of vintage modern furniture, lighting and ceramics, who is currently offering an extraordinary Borsani World War II–era mahogany bar cabinet with Art Deco leanings on 1stDibs.

Furniture design was in Borsani’s blood. A scion of the family that owned Arredamenti Borsani Varedo (ABV), a bespoke furniture manufacturer in Varedo, Italy, he began designing furniture in his teen years, winning a silver medal in 1933 at the Milan Triennial before he’d even graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan.

1940s Osvaldo Borsani bar cabinet, offered by Donzella Ltd.
Borsani’s mahogany cabinet is decorated with tambour-like ridges on its sides.

Not every European designer of that era was of a Bauhaus bent, Donzella points out. “Designers splintered off in different directions,” he says. “A lot of the French Art Deco people were producing work that was luxurious and intricate” well into the 1940s, as was ABV.

The meticulously restored bar cabinet, made of mahogany outside and maple within, is composed of two demilunes, or half-moons, its gold-toned retractable doors fancifully decorated with butterflies, mythical creatures and figures in top hats and tuxes. “The sexy skirt,” Donzella says, “is one of my favorite elements,” along with the tambour-like ridges on the sides. “It’s so pretty — a top-tier, A-plus piece.”

The painted doors were executed in layers by Marcello Piccardo, with whom Borsani worked on other, less elaborate pieces for ABV. “There’s a lot of movement and repeated pattern,” Donzella says. “It feels like a joyful celebration.”

1940s Osvaldo Borsani bar cabinet, offered by Donzella Ltd., with its doors open
The maple interior automatically lights up when the doors open.

The cabinet is also an impressive technical achievement. “You have to open both doors at once,” Donzella says. “There are wheel mechanisms inside, like a clock. As soon as you move one, the other wheel is spinning, and the interior lights go on.”

Only a handful of the cabinets were likely made, each with unique decoration. On Donzella’s showroom floor, the piece invariably attracts attention. “It’s such a tour de force of a cabinet,” he says. “People stop to marvel, and when I show them how it opens and the lights go on, their jaws just drop.”

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