Posts Tagged ‘Thonet’

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Standing in the Leipzig Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, surrounded by 150 years of Thonet chair history, Peter Thonet, x-times-great grandson of company founder Michael Thonet and until his recent retirement company CEO,  is clearly a very satisfied man, “It makes one proud to be able to look back on a collection of objects that have not only been important for the company, but which have also, occasionally, written design history”

Few visiting the new Grassi Museum exhibition “Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet” could or would argue.

Sitzen Liegen Schaukeln Möbel von Thonet Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig 02

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Established by Michael Thonet in “the 1840s”, Thonet grew from the backyards of Vienna to become one the world’s largest and most commercially successful furniture manufacturers. Success with bent wood – ask any Thonet staff member and they will happily confirm that between 1859 until 1930, around 50 million of Thonet’s pioneering Chair 14s were sold worldwide – was followed by success with bent steel tube, for all through works by designers such as Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer or the Parisian triumvirate of Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret, before, as so often in European biographies, the war years got in the way.

From the seven Thonet production facilities that were in operation before 1939 only the base in Frankenberg (Eder) near Kassel in Germany remained after 1945. The rest either destroyed by war or nationalised by socialist regimes.

Frankenberg was also badly damaged by allied bombs, but there was enough standing to allow the Thonet family to begin again.
And begin again they did.

Today Thonet employ around some 170 staff in Frankenberg producing a mix of classic Thonet products and more contemporary designs.

Presenting some 150 objects, Sitting – Lying – Swinging explores the story and history of Thonet chairs with a special, though not exclusive, focus on those works realised since 1945.

Organised by thematic, material and functional criteria rather than presenting the works purely chronologically, Sitting – Lying – Swinging freely mixes historic with contemporary objects and established Thonet classics with little known pieces; a curatorial decision that helps one to understand and follow the story of Thonet seating.

In the first half of the exhibition each section is arranged around a central, illuminated island, an arrangement that gives one the impression of visiting a hotel sushi bar: but an arrangement which does greatly aid the viewing. The second room, with its views into the Grassi courtyard is arranged in a more conventional museum style, but is sparsely enough populated to allow one to ignore the presentation and enjoy the objects.

As more regular readers will know we like to say that Thonet were responsible for two furniture industry revolutions, bent wood furniture and bent steel furniture. And that we’re all still waiting for third. Sitting – Lying – Swinging doesn’t provide any great hope that the third is coming any time soon, but demonstrates if it doesn’t arrive, that isn’t because Thonet as a company have been sitting back on their laurels.

For all since 1945 Thonet have worked with an impressive roster of German and international design talent including, for example, Ferdinand Kramer, Verner Panton, Gerd Lange, James Irvine or Naoto Fukasawa, designers who have not only helped keep the company portfolio fresh but who have introduced new ideas into the company’s philosophy.

Those of you who read our thoughts on Artek in Milan will no doubt now be asking why we feel it’s OK for Thonet to work with new designers, but Artek should just keep putting out the works of Alvar Aalto?

Those who read our thoughts on Artek in Milan properly will understand that we’ve nothing against established firms such as Thonet or Artek working with new designers, they must just keep focussed on their core competence. On those things they do well.

With Konstantin Grcic and Hella Jongerius Artek have worked with two designers who have utilised and extended Arteks’ core competences, and viewing Sitting – Lying – Swinging one sees clearly that Thonet’s most impressive, convincing and successful post-war creations are and were those where the designers have understood Thonet and have attempted to do something new, yet something that is still “Thonet”.  It sounds ridiculous, but a company must be comfortable with what they are doing if they are to break new ground. From Thonet’s most recent collaborations special mention in that respect must go to those with, amongst others, Läufer + Keichel, Delphin Design and Stefan Diez.

And for us the reverse is one of the reasons why the company lost their way a little in the 1980s. In our opinion too many of the chairs from that period were conceived with the aim of reinventing the Thonet brand, rather than advancing chair design. And such can never work.

Sitzen Liegen Schaukeln Möbel von Thonet Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig 19

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Viewing Sitting – Lying – Swinging there comes an, inevitable, moment when the question arises, when does an exhibition about Thonet chairs become a sales promotion for Thonet chairs?

A question that given that we see a Thonet trade fair stand every six months or so probably comes quicker to us than to most normal visitors.

The answer is, it doesn’t. If, as in the case of Sitting – Lying – Swinging the commercial interests have no influence over the museal content.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging has been curated by the Grassi Museum alone and all aspects organised by the Grassi Museum alone, Thonet merely allowed the Grassi team access to the archives to research.

Thonet is a very valid subject for a museum exhibition, Sitting – Lying – Swinging is the first exhibition ever to place a focus on Thonet’s post-war production and is one of the most comprehensive Thonet exhibitions ever staged. The Grassi Museum with its history going back almost as far as Thonet’s and being an institution that helped propagate the fledgling Bauhaus, is a fairly logical place for such an exhibition. And not mentioning Thonet in such an exhibition would be a little difficult. And daft.

One must also understand that the the majority of the chairs on show aren’t currently in production, and in all probability never will be again. They are, in effect, historical artefacts being presented in a curated museum environment.

And should be enjoyed as such.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging is a very simple exhibition that doesn’t attempt to do anything very complicated. Something it achieves with great competence.

Obviously if you don’t like chairs, don’t go, you’ll not enjoy it. It’s two large rooms full of chairs.

If however you do like chairs, or at least want to learn how chair design has developed over the past 150 years, how little chair design has developed over the past 150 years, and for all where Thonet  fit into the history of chair design, then do go.

You will enjoy it.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet runs at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Johannisplatz 5-11 04103 Leipzig  until Sunday September 14th 2014.

Full details can be found at www.grassimuseum.de



5 New Design Exhibitions for April 2014

Monday, March 31st, 2014

April 2014, as every April we can ever remember, means Milanese purgatory.

Apparently it is meant to cleanse the soul, purify our thoughts and generally mitigate for the sins of the past, and so allow us to proceed to higher plains and greater virtues.

And boy must we have sinned. We can’t remember exactly when, far less how. We just hope we enjoyed it at the time. Because now we are paying.

When, if, we return these are the new design exhibitions we’re planning on visiting to help us recover.

“Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet” at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig, Germany

As we have repeated on numerous occasions in the past, the back catalogue and archive of German manufacturer Thonet is of the kind to make the soul of even the most hardened design critic melt with longing. As one would, should, expect from a furniture manufacturer who have helped usher in two furniture design revolutions: the industrial production of furniture through mass-scale wood bending in the late 19th century and the use of bent steel tubing in the early 20th century.

The Grassi Museum for Applied Arts in Leipzig however have chosen to, more or less, ignore these moments, and so the first 130 years of the company history, and focus instead on furniture produced since the end of World War II in the company’s Frankenberg (Eder) base.

A decision that is as brave as it is commendable.

Presenting some 130 items the exhibition promises to present well known, lesser known and unknown works by the likes of Stefan Diez, Konstantin Grcic, Sir Norman Foster, Verner Panton or Alfredo Häberli.

The first ever major presentation of Thonet’s contemporary output Sitting – Lying – Swinging not only promises to allow a chance to place the more modern works in the company’s tradition and history but also to understand the role Thonet continues to play in the development of contemporary furniture design. We suspect it will also illustrate how, and why, the company lost its way a little in the wake of the the cultural and aesthetic rethinking of the 1980s, before regaining ground in the past decade.

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet opens at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Johannisplatz 5-11, 04103 Leipzig on Thursday April 17th and runs until Sunday September 14th.

Sitting – Lying - Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig, Germany

The bar stool 404H and chair 404 by Stefan Diez awaiting lacquering at Thonet's Frankenberg (Eder) production facility.

“Otl Aicher – Ordnungssinn und Dolce Vita. Fotografien der 1950er Jahre” at the HfG-Archiv Ulm, Germany

Although best known as a graphic designer, and for all through his work for Braun, Lufthansa and the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, Otl Aicher was a classically trained sculptor and so was, unsurprisingly, active in other artistic fields. Including photography.

The first exhibition of Otl Aicher’s photography for many a long decade, Ordnungssinn und Dolce Vita is, in effect, two exhibitions in one skin.

The Ordnungssinn – Sense of order – is explored through a presentation of some 50 original prints from a recently rediscovered collection of Otl Aicher photographs from the 1950s. Largely depicting landscapes and “structures” the exhibition organisers promise that the displayed works will allow both a glimpse into how Aicher perceived and understood the environment around him and also document the spirit of change/chance of the 1950s.

In addition to the rediscovered works the exhibition will also (re)present an exhibition of Otl Aicher’s photos that was originally shown in the Ulmer Museum in 1959 and which, and assuming we’ve understood the exhibition information correctly, largely presents studies from a tour of Italy undertaken by Aicher, and which present the Dolce Vita of the 1950s that still dominates German impressions of Italy. A particular highlight, if you think like us, promises to be an image of a non-leaning tower of Pisa – an image that unifies Ordnungssinn and Dolce Vita.

Otl Aicher – Ordnungssinn und Dolce Vita. Fotografien der 1950er Jahre opens at the HfG Studio, HfG-Archiv, Am Hochsträß 8, 89081 Ulm on Friday April 11th and runs until Sunday October 12th

Otl Aicher Ordnungssinn und Dolce Vita. Fotografien der 1950er Jahre at the HfG-Archiv Ulm, Germany

Otl Aicher - Ordnungssinn und Dolce Vita. Fotografien der 1950er Jahre" at the HfG-Archiv Ulm (Photos: Otl Aicher © Florian Aicher / HfG-Archiv/Ulmer Museum, Germany)

“Okolo Offline” at Depot Basel, Basel, Switzerland

After what feels like an eternity, everyone’s favourite Basel based design collective finally return with a new exhibition. An exhibition devoted to everyone’s favourite Prague based design collective, Okolo.

Established in 2009 by Jakub Štěch, Matěj Činčera, Adam Štěch and Jan Kloss Okolo have spent the past five years designing, curating exhibitions and publishing – online and offline.

Okolo Offline promises to give 25 Okolo blog posts from the past five years a physical, tactile form and so – hopefully – help explain the group, their approach to and understanding of contemporary creativity and so introduce the collective and their work to a wider audience.

In addition to the exhibition itself Okolo Offline also marks the launch of MINUTE a series of short films on design history produced by Okolo.

Okolo Offline opens at Depot Basel, Voltastrasse 43, 4056 Basel on Friday March 28th and runs until Sunday April 27th.

Okolo Offline Depot Basel

Okolo Offline at Depot Basel...... Basel

“Ola Kolehmainen – Geometric Light” at Haus am Waldsee, Berlin, Germany

“I use architecture as a starting point and source of inspiration, not as the ultimate final result. In fact my work is an examination of space, light and color, which reflect and question our way of looking at things.”

So explains the Finnish photographer Ola Kolehmainen his approach to his work. An approach that is as structured and methodical in its preparation as it is abstract and deconstructed in its result.

Until May 17th the Berlin gallery Haus am Waldsee is presenting Ola Kolehmainen’s latest project “Geometric Light” a series of photographs in which he ignores the buildings even more than before and concentrates on the light and shadow within and around the works.

Inspired and initiated by and during a tour of Spain in 2013 Geometric Light includes works from that Spanish tour in addition to photos originating, for example, in the Hagia Sophia.

Originating in. Not necessarily “of”……

Ola Kolehmainen – Geometric Light opens at Haus am Waldsee, Argentinische Allee 30, 14163 Berlin, Germany on Saturday April 5th and runs until May 17th

Ola Kolehmainen Konstruktivizm Infantil XII 2013

Ola Kolehmainen, Konstruktivizm Infantil XII, 2013 (© Ola Kolehmainen, Courtesy: Gallery Taik)

“WEGNER – Just one good chair” at the Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Hans J. Wegner is one of the most important representatives of Danish modern design. We know this because it is invariably the opening sentence of any given Wegner biography.

Yet he remains a designer about whom there is a genuine dearth of reliable, insightful information. And certainly a subject of much fewer books and exhibitions than most of his contemporaries.

And so punctually to his 100th Birthday the Designmuseum Danmark Copenhagen are presenting the largest, most in depth exhibition devoted to Hans J. Wegner and his oeuvre ever staged.

Presenting some 150 exhibits, including original furniture, drawings, models and photographs, Just one good chair promises not only to explain Wegner’s life and work, but also through analysing Wegner’s contribution to the Danish design tradition also explain how Danish Modernism and Organic Modernism in general developed. And how that all led to the abiding myth of Danish Design as a style in its own right.

In addition to the Wegner objects, Just one good chair promises to round the history by juxtaposing Wegner’s work with that of his contemporary such as Charles & Ray Eames, Finn Juhl or Arne Jacobsen and contemporary designers including Jasper Morrison or Konstantin Grcic.

WEGNER – Just one good chair opens at the Designmuseum Danmark, Bredgade 68, 1260 Copenhagen on Thursday April 3rd and runs until Sunday November 2nd

Hans J Wegner and Johannes Hansen JH550 PP550 The Peacock Chair

Hans J Wegner (l.) and Johannes Hansen (r.) inspect a JH550/PP550 "Peacock Chair" (Photo: Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen)



The Kramer Principle: Design for Variable Use @ Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main

Friday, March 28th, 2014

If we were to be completely honest we would have to admit that although we were aware of the name “Ferdinand Kramer”, it wasn’t until Frankfurt based manufacturer e15 launched a series of Kramer re-editions at Milan 2012 that we actually paid any serious attention to the man and his work.

Something we are very thankful for.

Born in Frankfurt in 1898 Ferdinand Kramer undertook a foundation architecture course in Munich before joining Bauhaus Weimar in 1919. Disillusioned by the lack of a formal architecture course at Bauhaus, Kramer returned to the Technical University Munich from where he graduated in 1922. In 1925 Kramer began a position in Frankfurt in the office of the city’s then Building Director Ernst May, a position which brought him into the heart of the “Neues Frankfurt” urban regeneration and house building programme: after the Weissenhofsiedlung arguably the most important Modernist architecture project realised in Germany. If not Europe.

Under the Nazi dictatorship Ferdinand Kramer, as an acknowledged Modernist, was banned from working as an architect, and so in 1938 he emigrated to America where over the next decade and a half he developed and realised numerous architecture, interior design and product design projects. In 1952 Kramer was invited to take up the position of Buildings Director of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in his native Frankfurt. A position that largely involved re-building the war damaged institution, and a position Kramer immediately accepted and which he held until his retirement in 1964. Ferdinand Kramer died in Frankfurt on November 4th 1985.

In addition to buildings Ferdinand Kramer also designed furniture, fixtures and fittings – often for his buildings, though not exclusively – and this aspect of Kramer’s oeuvre forms the principle focus of the exhibition “The Kramer Principle: Design for Variable Use” currently showing at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt am Main.

The Kramer Principle Design for Variable Use Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt am Main

The Kramer Principle: Design for Variable Use @ Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main

Divided into three chronological sections covering the three major periods in Kramer’s life and career – 1924-1938 in Frankfurt, 1938-1952 in America and 1952-1985 in Frankfurt – The Kramer Principle presents some 115 objects including chairs, tables, wood burning stoves, umbrellas and examples of Kramer’s numerous furniture systems.

If we were to continue the streak of honesty with which we began this post, we would have to say that The Kramer Principle isn’t the sort of exhibition you will leave with a feeling of having, necessarily, learnt more about Ferdinand Kramer. And, at least for us, the exhibition doesn’t live up to its billing of being a “comprehensive retrospective”

For that the objects are presented too lifelessly. Far too uncritically.

It is however an excellent introduction to the design work of a man who helped develop many concepts of furniture design that continue to dominate the industry today, including for example, modular furniture systems and in-store sales systems.

In addition The Kramer Principle offers a nice insight into the ideals of 1920s German social design as represented by Kramer’s furniture designs for “Neues Frankfurt” and is an opportunity to enjoy some truly delightful, thought provoking, and rarely seen, design objects including, Kramer’s B 403 bentwood chair for Thonet, an undated prototype for an upholstered cantilever chair and the deliciously simple “Three-in-one” combined extendible stool/side table from 1942.

And so while the exhibition may not live up to its aims, it is well worth viewing.

The Kramer Principle: Design for Variable Use is on show at the Museum Angewandte Kunst, Schaumainkai 17, 60594 Frankfurt am Main until Sunday September 7th 2014.

Full details can be found at www.museumangewandtekunst.de



(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special: Thonet

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Our coverage of IMM Cologne 2014 may be reaching its conclusion, but we still have a few gleaming gems to bring you, the brightest of which was to be found on the Thonet stand: the new S 1200 desk by Randolf Schott from and with the Thonet Design Team.

While classic Thonet desks such as Marcel Breuer’s S 285 can work very well in a contemporary home office and/or as an informal place of work in a living room, they do bring with them a certain formal heaviness owing to their abstraction from the more traditional, quadratic, wooden furniture that Marcel Breuer and his Bauhaus cohorts were moving away from, but couldn’t quite free themselves from.

With the S 1200 Thonet and Randolf Schott have moved the genre on and developed an object that bequeaths bent steel tubing a new lightness, a new informality.

While unquestionably owing its provenance to Marcel Breuer’s innumerate bent steel tube tables, the S 1200 is much more accessible, largely we feel on account of the gentle gradient of the inward leaning front leg, a feature that makes the S 1200 less rigid, less dominant. Warmer. Coupled to the practical foot rest bar and even more practical double level desk top, this formal accessibility make the S 1200 a very inviting place to sit and work. Or, if you’re like us, to just sit. Looking out the window. Dreaming your brilliant career away.

Although the S 1200 frame could, theoretically, have been bent from one single piece of steel tubing, it has been formed from two. The simple reason is that chrome-plating one massive piece would have been all-but infeasible. The foot rest, somewhat naturally, was always intended as an extra piece and has been attached to the frame via a specially developed joint – not welded as we initially thought, but carefully and exactly attached.

All in all a very impressive object and a very welcome addition to the Thonet family.

Complimenting the desk Thonet have created a series of accessories; a bookrest, filing tray and what Thonet refer to as a pencil box, but which in reality is a multi-purpose storage box that has been designed to ensure that should you want to use it to store your phone while charging it, the cable passes unobtrusively and neatly through a slit the corner. And in terms of cable management a special mention must go the – patented – magnetic clip cable management system that attaches to legs. For who wants to ruin the simple beauty of bent steel tubing with the wires that haunt our modern, oh so mobile, reality.

Being a contemporary product the S 1200 comes in a range of pastel colours; as now do further bent steel tube objects from the Thonet portfolio including Mart Stam‘s S 43 classic chair and Marcel Breuer’s B 9 and the Thonet B 97 side table series. Not available in coloured steel tubing, yet every bit as appealing, are the new glass versions of the B 9 and B 97 series – objects that add a dignified decadence to the reserved charm of the wood versions.

Elsewhere a more than notable mention must go to the new S 290 programme by Sabine Hutter from and with the Thonet Design Team. A free standing, steel tube, sideboard system, the S 290 programme is composed of four base elements which can be used individually or joined to create an extended unit. That the units cannot be stacked vertically the S 290 is not modular in the formal definition of the term, but is if you prefer a more relaxed interpretation. And regardless how one defines it, as a flexible sideboard system for home or office the S 290 is an important, and worthy, addition to the Thonet programme.

Its not easy being Thonet. Having revolutionised furniture design twice, everyone is waiting for the next. IMM Cologne didn’t provide that, but did delightfully show that in design further development is always possible. And often desirable. In our Orgatec 2012 interview with Antonio Citterio he told us that he likes to continually develop his projects, to tinker as it were, create something new from something existing, however he emphasised, “I don’t want to develop something so that the previous version becomes old or outdated. It should just be another option.

This spirit was very much in evidence on the Thonet stand at IMM Cologne 2014.

And we liked that.

A few impressions:

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet S 1200 desk Randolf Schott Thonet Design Team

The S 1200 desk by Randolf Schott / Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet Mart Stam S 43 colour

The S 43 Classic by Mart Stam through Thonet – in colour, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet S 290 by Sabine Hutter Thonet Design Team

The S 290 programme by Sabine Hutter / Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet S 290 Sabine Hutter Thonet Design Team

The S 290 programme by Sabine Hutter / Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014



(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special: Stylepark Featured Editions

Friday, January 17th, 2014

When in our preview of IMM Cologne 2014 we referred to it as marking the opening of the European design circus, we had no idea that it was a circus with a fairground.

Sadly the carousel incorporating Zeitraum’s Pelle chair seat shells was not there to provide adrenaline rushes.

Only visual thrills as part of the 2014 Featured Editions programme.

Premièred as a concept at IMM Cologne 2013 and curated by the online portal Stylepark, Featured Editions is a collection of installations in which designers/artists/architects present a design object in a playful, conceptual way. Some of the installations attempt, and indeed achieve, a genuinely artistic discourse with the objects; others suggest a creative under time pressure and an organisation prepared to accept anything just as long as the presentation is ready on time.

A mix which doesn’t in anyway distract from the fun of the concept.

In addition to the Pelle carousel other works include a diving Sharky chair from Kristalia, a String ladder and the most bestial evisceration of the Charles and Eames DKR Wire chair, or indeed any chair, we’ve ever witnessed

Aside from providing a pleasing distraction from the high-glare of the companies stands and the all to often uninspired and dry presentations to be found thereon, the Featured Editions installations also provide a handy place to have a seat and relax for a few minutes.

All good clean fun and an excellent addition to the IMM Cologne package.

Our gallery:



IMM Cologne 2014 and Passagen 2014. Preview

Monday, January 6th, 2014

On Monday January 13th the European design circus rolls into the new year with the opening of IMM Cologne 2014 and Passagen 2014, and against our natural inclinations we’ll be there, or as Ride so nearly put it;

“If we’ve seen it all before,
Why’s this train taking us back again?
If we don’t need anymore,
Why’s this train taking us back again?”

Yes, the rent has to be paid. But there are easier ways to earn a living than spending a week in January on the banks of the Rhein questioning your own existence as you’re confronted by yet another piece of soulless furniture whose singular raison d’être is to fill a perceived gap in a company’s portfolio. Regardless of what that means for the environment or global social harmony.

Yes, (smow) now have a shop in Cologne, but they also have a shop in Chemnitz and we’ve never felt any great need to spend time in the wilds of south Sachsen.

However, and much like Milan, although we don’t “need” anymore, we want more. We know that amongst all the dross, junk and criminally unnecessary we will find one or the other project that restores our faith in the design profession. A project that genuinely excites and challenges us. And we want that. We want those moments.

And although we’re not expecting to find such moments at IMM Cologne itself, a few of the new products that have been publicised in advance certainly appear to be worth closer inspection. In particular the new S 1200 desk by Thonet.  Formally it does remind us of the PS 07 Bureau by Delphin Design that Müller Möbelfabrikation launched at IMM Cologne 2013; however the wooden desk top and the split level storage space make it an object that can be more easily used in domestic situations. And it has a footrest bar. An underrated yet so simple feature of a good, practical, user-friendly desk.

Artek meanwhile are promising, amongst other new additions, a re-release of Yrjö Kukkapuro’s 1964 Karuselli lounge chair and the tables 907B and 915 by Alvar Aalto. A further foci for us is seeing how Wilde+Spieth follow up 2013′s successful launch of the CU! chair by Avinash Shende, and then of course there are those delightful, unannounced, unexpected discoveries. Which as we all know are often the best. Most satisfying.

Thonet S 1200 IMM Cologne 2014

The new Thonet S 1200. To be unveiled at IMM Cologne 2014

Away from the fair ground the Passagen design festival looks a bit weaker, more sparse, than in previous years, but still promises some interesting shows. For all country specific shows. Italian Style at the Italienisches Kulturinstitut, Dutch Design at the Handwerkskammer zu Köln, Modern Japanses Design at the Japanisches Kulturinstitut and in the Belgisches Haus Flanders design as represented by Cas Moor and the ever amiable Atelier Bonk.

Elsewhere we’re delighted to see the organisers of last years Objects for the Neighbour are back this year with a slightly larger show under the title Objects and the Factory; the exhibition Alle Metalle/all metal promises to present contemporary and classic metal design objects, could fall flat on its nose, but looks well worth checking out; Jack in the box e.V. are hosting a couple of interesting looking presentations – and some urban gardening boxes; and we’re really looking forward to Stefan Wewerka: Denkmöbel at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft. Ungers Archiv isn’t the roomiest exhibition space in Cologne, but looks like being one of the more thought provoking and educational.

And then there is the USM Haller exhibition Facetten at (smow) Köln, “Mit Grüßen aus Istanbul” featuring works by design students from the FH Dortmund created in Istanbul’s craft quarter Sishane and of course Werner Aisslinger’s inauguration as A&W Designer of the year 2014 with accompanying exhibition(s).

As we say there are more pleasant things to do in January than travel to Cologne, but it does always throw up those brief, magical, moments that make the otherwise unbearable bearable, that make us appreciate just how privileged we are that we can experience such and so, ultimately, “the circus lights you see, is where you have to be”

Reports and photos to follow…..

imm cologne

IMM Cologne 2014 at Cologne Messe



5 New Design Exhibitions for January 2014

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Those still looking for a New Year’s Resolution could do worse than to promise to try to maybe visit more design exhibitions this year.

And January 2014 offers a few wonderful places to start.

That January is once again IMM Cologne and the accompanying Cologne Design Week we make no apologies for having selected two Rhein-side exhibitions, in addition we have an investigation of the production process and a brace of exhibitions devoted to Denmark’s more important design “old masters”…..

“BKULT Featuring Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Konstruieren statt Konsumieren” at AIT Architektursalon Cologne, Germany

Older readers will be aware that we long had huge problems with Berlin architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s decision to call his “breakthrough” project Hartz IV Furniture. Delightful project. Appalling name. Having spoken to Van Bo on a couple of occasions over the past couple of years we now at least understand why the project is called what it is called.

We still find the name truly appalling.

We still find the background thinking behind the project truly delightful.

And from Thursday January 16th the AIT Architektursalon Cologne is giving you the chance to make up your own mind. In collaboration with Berlin based platform BKULT the AIT Architektursalon is hosting an exhibition, workshops but for all a discussion around Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s central theory – Build More Buy Less. Can we create a better, fairer society if we kill off consumer culture? Does building your own furniture make you happier? Is Hartz IV Furniture a good name? What is Karma Economy?

Answer to none, some or all of these and similar questions will be searched for and discussed in the course of the event(s)

BKULT Featuring Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Konstruieren statt Konsumieren opens at the AIT Architektursalon Cologne, Vogelsanger Strasse 70, Barthonia Forum, 50823 Cologne on Thursday January 16th 2014 and runs until Thursday February 20th 2014.

Van Bo Le-Mentzel Hartz IV Moebel - Build More, Buy Less

Hartz IV Moebel - Build More, Buy Less. The book.

“Rolf Sachs “typisch deutsch?”" at Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne, Germany

For their major winter/spring 2014 exhibition Cologne’s Museum für Angewandte Kunst will present London based designer and artist Rolf Sachs’ take on popular German stereotypes. A take that if we’ve correctly understood the accompanying press material promises to be a little more humourful than your average design exhibition. Tackling traits such as industriousness, tidiness, sociability or wistfulness “typisch deutsch?” promises to present a series of objects and installations intended to not only reflect on the truth about the nature of “Germanness” but which also encourage us to view the objects around us in a new light. And so by extrapolation ourselves.

Rolf Sachs “typisch deutsch?” opens at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, An der Rechtschule, 50667 Cologne on Monday January 13th 2014 and runs until Monday April 21st 2014.

Rolf Sachs typisch deutsch Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Rolf Sachs' interpretation of industriousness....

“”In the Making” an exhibition curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby” at Design Museum London, England

One of the curious aspects of the design world is that for the designer the finished, on the shelf, ready to buy product is thunderingly uninteresting.

The creative process, the prototyping, form-giving and the production process(es) are what really interest designers. And if most could get away without ever having to produce anything sellable they probably would.

For the London Design Museum Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have curated an exhibition presenting 20+ familiar objects in various stages of production. Ranging from a coins over tennis balls and onto Thonet chairs, “In the Making” aims to make the charm and wonder of the production process visible, and so the designer’s fascination with production processes comprehensible. In addition there is nothing like getting to know a production process to make you appreciate a product – and of course the difference between a diligently produced product. And cheap tat.

“In the Making” an exhibition curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby opens at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD on Wednesday January 22nd 2014 and runs until Friday May 4th 2014

Auf Biegen und Brechen Thonet

The hot wood bending process developed by Michael Thonet. And still practised today.

“The Answer is Risom” at Silvermine Arts Center, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA

Although the story, and indeed success, of Knoll International is without question closely associated with Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia and Eero Saarinen, it all began with a Danish designer who came to America looking to understand contemporary American design. And ended up helping to define it.

Born in Copenhagen Jens Risom studied at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts under teachers such as the great Kaare Klint before in 1939 he travelled to America. In 1941 Jens Risom was introduced to Hans Knoll and in the same year created the first commissioned pieces for Hans Knoll’s fledgling furniture company. And so the very first Knoll Collection. A collection that confirmed Knoll’s commitment to modernism and on which the early success of the company was unquestionably based. In 1943 Jens Risom was drafted into the US Army and post-war established his own Jens Risom Design studio.

Always one of the more underrated proponents of mid- 20th century design Jens Risom’s importance goes far beyond the works he created and can be found in his approach to design and his understanding of his materials.

The exhibition in New Canaan promises to present not only examples of Jens Risom’s furniture but also of his advertising/graphic design work. And will hopefully help a lot more people understand the true majesty of Jens Risom.

“The Answer is Risom” opens at the Silvermine Arts Center, 1037 Silvermine Road, New Canaan, CT 06840 on Wednesday January 8th 2014 and runs until Sunday February 16th 2014

Jens Risom Lounge Chair Knoll

Jens Risom's 1943 Lounge Chair for Knoll

“Børge Mogensen” at Trapholt – Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture, Kolding, Denmark

On April 13th 2014 Børge Mogensen, one of the true giants of Danish furniture design, would have celebrated his 100th birthday. And to mark the occasion the Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture in Kolding have organised an exhibition devoted to the man and his singular approach to the problems of his age.

As one of the first Danish designers to adopt industrial production Børge Mogensen was able to combine his fine understanding for the traditions of Scandinavian, English and American furniture with mass production to create cheap, affordable furniture.

And in doing so unwittingly played an important role in helping define the ubiquitous as it is mythical concept of “Danish Design”

In our 2012 introduction to Børge Mogensen we wrote that he “…has never reached the same level of public fame, far less acknowledgement, as a Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen or Verner Panton.”

And while the show at Trapholt wont substantially change that, it will hopefully introduce a lot more people to Børge Mogensen’s life and work.

“Børge Mogensen” opens at Trapholt – Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture, Æblehaven 23, DK-6000 Kolding on Wednesday January 22nd 2014 and runs until Sunday October 5th 2014

Børge Mogensen FDB Chair Desk

A 1944 FDB catalogue featuring Børge Mogensen's chair and desk designs.



(smow) blog 2013. A pictorial review: January

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

January 2013 was, as every January, dominated by IMM Cologne, and all that that entails. In particular IMM Cologne 2013 brought us Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec‘s investiture as A&W Designers of the year and a delightful Alvar Aalto Stool 60 exhibition at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft.

January 2013 was in addition the opening of the exhibition “Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things” at the Design Museum London…..

Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things Design Museum London

Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things at Design Museum London

London Design Museum Collection Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things British

Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things at the Design Museum London. Photographing a motorway sign in a museum. Very British!

IMM Cologne 2013 Thonet S 1520 S 1521 S 1522

Thonet launch the S 1520, S 1521 & S 1522 coat racks/shoe racks at IMM Cologne 2013

A&W Designer of the year 2013 Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

A&W Designer(s) of the year 2013: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. As we know them, considering their work.

A&W Designer of the year 2013 Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec A Collection Hay

The A-Collection for Copenhagen University through Hay by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, as seen at the A&W Designer(s) of the year 2013 exhibition.

IMM Cologne 2013 Stool 60 by Alvar Aalto at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

IMM Cologne 2013: Stool 60 by Alvar Aalto at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

IMM Cologne 2013 Stool 60 by Alvar Aalto at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

The production steps for the Stool 60 legs

IMM Cologne 2013 Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln Isn’t it romantic Contemporary Design balancing between Poetry and Provocation

"Isn’t it romantic? Contemporary Design balancing between Poetry and Provocation", Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

IMM Cologne 2013 Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln Isn’t it romantic Contemporary Design balancing between Poetry and Provocation Makkink Bey Birdwatch Cabinet for a girl

Birdwatch Cabinet for a girl by Makkink & Bey as seen at "Isn’t it romantic? Contemporary Design balancing between Poetry and Provocation", Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln



(smow) blog Design Advent Calender

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

One of the biggest challenges facing product designers in coming years will undoubtedly be the question of planned obsolescence.

For while we genuinely believe that the majority of designers understand their responsibilities in terms of sustainability and resources, we also know that most designers understand their responsibilities to help their clients generate profit.

Finding the correct balance wont be easy. But it must be found.

Perhaps the most distressing example of planned obsolescence is the chocolate filled advent calendar.

Whereas in days of yore one could, if one was especially careful, re-use an advent calendar over several festive periods…. an eaten chocolate cannot be replaced.

At least not yet. We have high hopes that before too long chocolate advent calenders will be sold in conjunction with 3D printers, thus allowing one to recreate the consumed, savoured, snowman, boot and/or tree.

And so to do our bit to support the global design community find new approaches to more socially responsible chocolate filled advent calendars…. we are re-using our 2012 Design Advent Calendar.

The delights behind each door remaining as fresh, contemporary, and frankly delicious, as they were 12 months ago.

It seems therefore wasteful and irresponsible to produce a new version.

The full 2013 (smow) blog Design Advent Calendar can be found, already opened, at www.pinterest.com/smowblog/design-advent-calendar/

A few impressions of what awaits you…..

Design Advent Calendar Napoleon Eames House Bird

Christmas Gnome Napoleon bids farewell to the Eames House Bird....

Design Advent Calendar Napoleon Thonet

.... awaits Santa on his S 43 Classic by Mart Stam through Thonet....

Design Advent Calendar Napoleon Kartell

.....using his Componibili as a Christmas Tree holder.....

Design Advent Calendar Napoleon Cobb Grill

.... and enjoying his Christmas Dinner courtesy of his Cobb Grill.



A Brief History of Thüringen: The Congress of Erfurt, 1808

Friday, November 8th, 2013

In 1808 Napoleon had a problem.

Or better put, in 1808 Napoleon had a whole continent of problems.

Spain, Austria, Finland, England, Russia, Germany, Turkey. Noone it seemed was behaving in a manner that fitted with Napoleon’s grand, global plans.

How, for example, was he ever to find the time to conquer India if Europe wouldn’t just quietly accept French domination?

In an attempt to, at least partially, find a way out of the chaos a meeting was organised with Tsar Alexander I of Russia to discuss the situation and to secure a new peace treaty and strategic alliance between the two empires.

At the Tsar’s suggestion the chosen location for the meeting was….. Erfurt.

While admittedly never the most glamorous European metropolis, Erfurt marked the eastern border of the French Empire at that time, and as such was a logical choice for such a meeting.

Napoleon Erfurt

"L'entrevue d'Erfurt, 27 septembre - 14 octobre 1808: Napoleon I receiving Baron Vincent, the Austrian Ambassador, at Erfurt, 1808" by Nicolas Gosse. One of the few paintings recording the Congress of Erfurt.

The Congress of Erfurt was arranged for late September 1808 and the French hosts planned the summit with the same proficiency as they planned battles: with the exception that instead of machines of war “… a large quantity of magnificent furniture, carpets and tapestry, both Gobelin and la Savonnerie; bronzes, lusters, candelabras, girondoles, Sevres china; in fine, everything which could contribute to the luxurious furnishing of the two Imperial palaces, and those which were to be occupied by the other sovereigns; and a crowd of workmen came from Paris.”1

Napoleon himself departed Paris on September 22nd 1808 and arrived in Erfurt on September 27th. Following a brief exchange of pleasantries with the event’s, nominal, host, King Friederich August von Sachsen, he set off to meet Alexander.

The Tsar had departed Saint Petersburg on September 17th, reached his sister, the Grand Duchess Maria Pawlowna, in Weimar on September 25th, and was now on his way to Erfurt.

The two Emperors met under a pear tree near Utzberg and according to all reports of the day greeted one another with an almost fraternal tenderness.

And while we’re generally distrustful of any sources older than ourselves, the accounts of the Congress of Erfurt do contain the most wonderful references to the warm nature of Alexander and Napoleon’s relationship.

For example, aside from tell of the regular gifts the pair presented one another, we learn from Louis Constant Wairy that most mornings Tsar Alexander visited Napoleon in his bedroom and that one morning “….Emperor Alexander remarked on the elegance and durability of his Majesty’s iron bedstead; and the very next day by his Majesty’s orders, conveyed by me, an exactly similar bed was set up in the room of the Emperor of Russia, who was delighted with these polite attentions.”2

Which is just a wonderful insight into the sort of small talk Europe’s leaders engage in.

And of course the relative ease with which one could, in the 19th century, acquire contemporary furniture in Erfurt.

The Congress itself ran less brotherly and ended on October 14th 1808 without any clear results, a trend loyally continued by political summits 200 years later; however, the diplomatic discussions formed only one part of the proceedings and so John Holland Rose could, with only a hint of irony, report “Napoleon’s chief triumphs at Erfurt were social and literary”3

Before departing Paris Napoleon – so it is conveyed – had ensured that the discussions would be accompanied by an entertainment programme befitting the stature of his guests.

In addition to the de rigueur dinners and receptions, the ensemble of the Comédie francais were sent to Erfurt to perform “the masterpieces of the French stage”4 for the assembled Kings, Princes, Dukes, Counts, et al. To this end Napoleon ordered that the Ballhaus in Erfurt’s Futterstraße be refitted as a Royal Theatre for the occasion.

The plays began at 7pm every evening. At least in theory. For as Constant notes, “the two Emperors, who always came together, never arrived till half-past seven.”5 At which point the performance began.

Presenting a repertoire of works by the likes of Racine, Corneille and Voltaire, the Comédie francais not only wowed the audience but, and more importantly, also played an important role in helping establish French culture in Germany. Culture as politics.

In this context it is important to note that aside from European Royalty, the three hundred or so guests in theatre counted amongst their number the artistic and literary luminaries of the day, including, most famously, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. But that is a story for another post.

The building in the Futterstrassse where Napoleon was able to claim at least a modicum of success from the Congress of Erfurt still exists, re-christened the Kaisersaal in honour of events of that fortnight in 1808 when Erfurt was the “focus of European politics”6, and some 200 years after Napoleon I, Alexander I, Goethe et al graced its floors still hosts congresses, theatre and cultural events of all shades and colours.

And since recent renovations also hosts furniture as elegant and durable as any Napoleonic iron bedstead: USM Haller and the Thonet S 360 chair by Delphin Design, all supplied by Michel Einrichtungs GmbH, who, since autumn 2013, have been trading as (smow) Erfurt.

1. Constant, Louis Constant Wairy (1910) “Recollections of the private life of Napoleon” Translated by Walter Clark. The Saalfield Publishing Company, Akron, Ohio

2. ibid.

3. Rose, John Holland (1901) “The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 2 of 2)” via Projekt Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14290. Accessed 07.11.2013

4. ibid.

5. Constant (1910)

6. Wencker-Wildberg, Friedrich (Ed.) (1930) “Napoleon. Die Memoiren seines Lebens. Band 11 Das Kaiserreich auf dem Höhepunkt: Fürstenkongress zu Erfurt Feldzug in Spanien (1808)” Gutenburg-Verlag Christensen & Co. Hamburg