(smow)offline: Heirloom Design

Eames Lounge Chair by Vitra - The classic view of furniture as an heirloom

Eames Lounge Chair by Vitra - The classic view of furniture as an heirloom ...

Our (smow)twitter recently brought our attention to an article at worldchanging.com about what the author termed “Heirloom Design

In the article Adele Peters discusses sustainability, durability and for all “What makes something worthy of passing down through generations?”

Peters decides that the future monetary value, the usefulness and sentimentality play a role; somewhat bizarrely in respect of sentimentality , she states: “…designers can aim to create products that inspire emotional responses.” Sentimentality is of course never something a designer can aim to achieve, rather is something abstract that develops through the nature of the relationship you have with an individual product. But more on that later.

Mr Impossible by Phillipe Starck for Kartell - howver is also a product that can be enjoyed for generations

... however, Mr Impossible by Phillipe Starck for Kartell, is also a product that can be enjoyed for generations

For us, however, the main point that Adele Peters misses in her highly readable article is that “Heirloom Design” isn’t “new”; rather, it has always existed.

In the past designing and constructing furniture to have a eternal life span and to be kept within a family for generations was normal. However, in the fast moving consumer culture that has overtaken The North since Thatcher freed us from guilt we’ve kind of all lost sight of that a little. And at this juncture you’ll forgive us if we don’t discuss the role of everyone’s favourite Swedish producer, but you get the drift. And because we’ve forgotten that one can pass furniture on to the next generation “Heirloom Design” can be presented as a “new meme”.

AC 4 by Antonio Citterio for Vitra - 54% recycled and 95% recycable

AC 4 by Antonio Citterio for Vitra - 54% recycled and 95% recycable

However for producers such as Vitra, USM Haller or Moormann and their designers, creating products with a long life span is part of the normal product development process. As we have often stated, and will probably never tire of repeating, with, for example, the Eames chairs from Vitra or the complete system USM Haller elements, practically every component can be replaced if required. They are truly articles that once bought will outlast the owner and the owners children. And which will be used every day by all.

Just far too many people think that designer furniture is expensive and that to buy a product that will last more than four months involves an investment beyond the average mortal soul.

Random Light by Bertjan Pot for moooi

Random Light by Bertjan Pot for moooi

In her book “Antiques of the future” – we hate the title by the way, but enjoy the project – Lisa S. Roberts presents her collection of items she believes will increase in value in the future. Included in the collection are products such as Algue by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra, Louis Ghost Armchair by Philippe Starck for Kartell or Random Light by Bertjan Pot for moooi. These are not especially expensive products, nor are they products that in all honesty are likely to increase greatly in monetary value.

They are, however, every day items that you would use and interact with, without even necessarily noticing them. And because of this they are items with which you develop a bond and which through their function and familiarity become part of your identity and as such something that you want to pass on the next generation, just as much as your Rolex watch, Mont Blanc Pen or Gangsta Lean record storage units. That’s the sentimentality that Peters’ means and that has nothing to do with the Bouroullec’s or Philippe Starck, rather us. The designers just make the relationship possible. (For more on Philippe Starck’s own assesment of his role in such check out our (smow)tube video)

214 from Thonet, also an heirloom if looked after properly

214 from Thonet, also an heirloom if looked after properly

And the wonderful part is that because they are well made, high quality  products whose development was painstakingly undertaken and in many cases where whole new production processes had to be developed just to create the goods – you can pass them on. And your kids will also be able to pass them on. And their kids. And theirs … ad infinitum.

And that without lumbering the future generations with an unpayable debt.

Designer clothing is all about the designers name, art is all about the artists name, designer furniture, however, is about products created to fulfill a function. OK one or the other designer can afford to buy a couple of pair of shoes and is occasionally photographed at a star-studded party.

But the designers name isn’t just the brand much more it is the guarantee of quality.

And so we say a hearty yes to “Heirloom Design” but lets not call it such, the PR monkeys take up enough of our time, lets call it simply “designer furniture

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