Palainco Seriously light minded

The world would be more beautiful if we were still using an Olivetti typewriter (Part 1)

Breathtaking and innovative showrooms in Venice, Turin and Milan

  • Share

Olivetti was an Italian manufacturer mostly renowned for producing typewriters; the company combined technological innovation and high quality standards with a strong commitment to culture and art. They were also very much concerned for the mental and physical health of their employees. Olivetti had a reputation for attention to design and publicity and they were one of the first companies that believed a store could be used for improving brand awareness and image building.

  • 02_Palainco_Olivetti_Adriano_Olivetti_Factory_Ivrea_Portrait Adriano Olivetti (1901-1960) in the factory in Ivrea, in the province of Turin (© Publifoto / LaPresse).

    Most of the initiatives came from Adriano Olivetti (1901-1960) who succeeded his father Camillo as President in 1938. He believed that the showrooms of the company should be a manifestation of functionality, innovation, and above all beauty. To this end, he selected top locations in important cities and challenged the best architects to come up with unique ideas. As lighting played an important role in most stores, we have made a selection of our favourites among the masterpieces of Olivetti. In this article we will limit ourselves to the Italian showrooms.

  • The first example is the Olivetti shop in Venice, which was designed by Carlo Scarpa (1902-1978). Adriano Olivetti commissioned Venetian Scarpa to design a showroom on Piazza San Marco in Venice, as he preferred someone well acquainted with the architecture, history and culture of the city.

    As from the start of the cooperation in 1957, it was understood that the showroom would be a space designed to further highlight the image of Olivetti and simultaneously to stress Scarpa’s talent as an architect.

  • 03_Palainco_Olivetti_Venice_San_Marco_Carlo_Scarpa_Showroom The shop was located on the northern edge of Piazza San Marco; in the background you can see that the square is completely flooded because of aqua alta (source: Afflante).
  • Carlo Scarpa had to deal with aqua alta, or tide peaks, that periodically occur on Piazza San Marco. Hence, he raised the floor 31 centimeters and the objects on which the typewriters were exhibited were not in contact with the floor.

  • palainco_negozio_olivetti_venice_scarpa-3482 Every single detail demonstrates the level of sophistication of this project (source: Palainco).

    The marble steps that appear to be weightless, the teakwood near the balcony, the mosaic floor, the modernity of the illumination, the stone panels of some walls, these are just some of the aspects that make this showroom a refined masterpiece.

  • Today the Venetian showroom is a recognised historic building, restored to its original state and protected by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI). It is a small museum, so if you happen to be in Venice you can admire, among others, these simple but elegant lamps.

  • 05_Palainco_Olivetti_Venice_San_Marco_Carlo_Scarpa_Showroom Modest-yet-elegant lamps encourage full attention on the products of Olivetti (source: Afflante above and Palainco below).
  • palainco_negozio_olivetti_venice_scarpa-3469
  • An early example of using the shop as an expression of the communication strategy was initiated in Turin under the supervision of Swiss designer Alexander ‘Xanti’ Schawinsky (1904-1979).

    Judging by the photos it is easy to agree with what was written in Domus No. 92 (August 1935): “Only very rarely, especially in Italy, have we seen a similar work in which the purity of design, the appropriate use of materials and the balanced forms surpass the genre of the project to become worthy of consideration as a work of art.”

  • 07_Palainco_Olivetti_Torino_Turin_Xanti_Schawinsky_Showroom The ultra chic exterior of the Olivetti shop in Turin. Bear in mind that this shop opened in 1935 (source: Renato Zveteremich, originally published in Domus 92 / August 1935)!
  • 08_Palainco_Olivetti_Torino_Turin_Xanti_Schawinsky_Showroom A bit difficult to see, but the sconces were unquestionably ahead of their time (source: Renato Zveteremich, originally published in Domus 92 / August 1935).
  • In 1956 Adriano Olivetti employed Walter Ballmer as a graphic designer at the department of development and advertising in Ivrea. Just before he started his own studio in 1971, he created a new company logo.

  • 09_Palainco_Olivetti_Logo_Camilio_Olivetti_Walter_Ballmer Old logo—conceptualised by Camilio Olivetti, new logo—designed by Walter Ballmer.
  • Ballmer was also involved in the layout of the Olivetti store in Milan where he decided to display lamps from Stilnovo.

  • 10_Palainco_Olivetti_Milan_Stilnovo_Walter_Ballmer_Pendant_No_1175_Table_Lamp_No_8066_Showroom_Catalogue_Apparecchi_per_lilluminazione_Palainco_Archive The Olivetti showroom in Milan by Walter Ballmer (from the Palainco archive, Stilnovo catalogue 'Apparecchi per l'illuminazione').
  • palainco_stilnovo_lamp_1175_pendant Stillovo, Pendant No. 1175, as exposed in the showroom in Milan (from the Palainco archive, Stilnovo catalogue 'Apparecchi per l'illuminazione - lighting fittings - No. 11').
    12_Palainco_Olivetti_Milan_Stilnovo_Walter_Ballmer_Table_Lamp_No_8066_Showroom_Catalogue_Apparecchi_per_lilluminazione_Palainco_Archive Stilnovo, Table Lamp No. 8066, as exposed in the showroom in Milan (from the Palainco archive, Stilnovo catalogue 'Apparecchi per l'illuminazione').
  • Eventually all stores had to be closed because of the excessive costs and the transition from mechanics to electronics, but what remains are fantastic lamps, and of course… these exquisite typewriters.


  • 13_Palainco_Olivetti_Typewriter_Studio_42_1935 Olivetti Studio 42 - 1935, design: Luzzati, Figini, Pollini & Schawinsk (source: Sevenels).
    14_Palainco_Olivetti_Typewriter_Valentine_1969 Valentine - 1969, design: Ettore Sottsass (source: Sevenels).
  • If you would like to be the first to read articles on designers and special designs, please subscribe to our newsletter.

    • Literature: Domus No. 92 (August 1935), ‘Olivetti 1908-1958’ - Published by Olivetti, Rome (1958), Storia Olivetti, Fondazione Adriano Olivetti & FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano).

    Unless otherwise stated, all material is sourced and/or generated internally. All rights reserved.

    • Text: Palainco, Koos Logger & Ingrid Stadler.
    • Image sources: Olivetti, Domus, Renato Zveteremich, Publifoto/LaPresse, Afflante, Stilnovo, Olivetti 1908-1958, & the Palainco Archive.

    The article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any part or form without the prior written permission of the copyright holders.

error: This content is protected