A Brief Ponti-fication
I awoke early enough last Saturday at our house share in the Hamptons to consider making the rounds of the advertised yard sales, solo. Early birds do get worms, and by the time our group of four is turned out and ready to roll, the modern worms are usually accounted for. So, feeling professionally virtuous, I navigated by myself to five sales. Four of them produced what yard sales these days usually produce—nothing worth handling. The fifth, which was the second sequentially, resulted in what we in the industry call a “score.” There was a time when this would have been just another Saturday, but those days are long gone, and finding anything these days feels like winning the lottery.
From a distance, the sale looked less than promising. The house itself, though large, was traditional, and the first thing I saw was a standard set of redwood outdoor furniture, followed by a table of quotidian glassware and dinnerware. Next, a glimmer of hope in a set of four ice cream parlor metal chairs, 1940’s vintage. Then, across the lawn, an austere, rakishly angled folding chair caught my eye. A rara avis? I zeroed in, and, as nonchalantly as possible, inspected the chair. Identification was facilitated by the label, which read, “Gio Ponti design, per Walter Ponti, S. Biagio, Italy.” This was more like it.
I spotted the homeowner deep in negotiation with a woman over a used telephone. I waited patiently as she concluded the transaction, selling the phone for $2. “How much,” I asked, pointing, “do you want for that white folding chair?” The homeowner considered for a moment, and then quoted a figure I won’t repeat, but which wouldn’t fill a Metrocard. I told her I would take the chair, and that I would continue looking around. When I returned to pay—I also purchased a tripod-base metal coffee table for $15—the homeowner, a woman in her 60’s, admitted that she had mixed feelings about parting with the chair. I very much wanted to know if it had any brothers or sisters in the house, but I didn’t want the homeowner to feel bad about making a mistake, or worse, change her mind about selling the chair, so I thanked her and collected my spoils. She even asked me if I wanted her husband to help me carry the pieces to my car, but bad back and all, I demurred.
Interestingly, I did not get to this yard sale until 9:30, and it opened officially at 9:00, meaning I was not one of the first 30 or 40 people on the scene. How the chair was still there, I have no idea. Luck was certainly involved, though the chair design was admittedly esoteric. What I found was a high-back folding chair of white lacquered wood and cream colored leather, from the APTA series, designed by Gio Ponti and produced by Walter Ponti (no relation) in 1970. Gio Ponti turned 79 in 1970, and the APTA series of easily moveable, foldable, lightweight, and affordable pieces, was an effort on the part of an aging design giant to sustain his relevance through the POP era. APTA was presented at Eurodomus 3 in Milan in 1970, an exhibition that explored new developments for the modern house. APTA featured dining tables, coffee tables, and consoles with colorful, painted tops, high and low folding chairs, armchairs, sofas, sofa-beds, desks, wardrobes, magazine racks, and table-bars, all characterized by a flexible lightness of being.
Originally, APTA pieces were inexpensive and intended for wide distribution. Today, they are prized on the market, as is much of Ponti’s output, and are actually quite rare. They were probably only produced for a year or two, and, as with other inexpensive, folding furniture, a fair number were discarded after a period of use. Only a few pieces turn up on a Google search, including a low-back folding chair in black (the other option), available for $2,500. A drop-leaf dining table and console with multicolor tops sold at Wright in 2008 for $9,500 and $18,000, respectively. My yard sale find? Now available, priced at more than a few Metrocards.