Design decoded: ‘MHC.2’ by Yasuhiko Itoh, Molteni & C

How Japanese aesthetics, Italian craftsmanship and pioneering manufacturing techniques created a classic

MHC.2 wooden bookshelf

In 1959, when young Japanese designer Yasuhiko Itoh created the freestanding wooden bookshelf 'MHC.2' for Italian brand Molteni & C, it was considered – from technical and aesthetic perspectives – revolutionary. Steamed and curved, the strips of Iroko wood that made up the unit's honeycomb-like structure were overlaid with a double layer of poplar timber, then finished with a teak veneer – not an easy feat to achieve at the time.

Yasuhiko Itoh's 'MHC.2'
Yasuhiko Itoh's 'MHC.2'

During that period, Molteni & C was mostly known for creating high quality, classical-style furniture, yet its founder Angelo Molteni was a trailblazer and, spotting an opportunity to lead the way with Italian design, he invested in the machinery needed to manufacture contemporary pieces on an industrial scale. Itoh, a graduate of Tokyo's University of Waseda, had spent several months at Molteni & C working with its expert production team, experimenting with this bookcase, an avant-garde prototype which went on to win an award at the Selettiva del Mobile in Cantù, Italy, a well-regarded design competition. He and Molteni were, together, paving the way for the future.

Little is known about Itoh’s next moves within the design world, and the ‘MHC.2’, which existed as a one-off prototype for many years, was only later produced in a limited run of 100. Now, it’s part of Molteni & C’s ‘Heritage Collection’, reissued with an American walnut finish and made in two heights, which look especially effective when placed side by side. This year, the piece celebrates its 60th birthday and still looks every bit as cutting-edge as it did when Itoh first designed it.

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration January 2019

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