smow Design Blog


“What is the goal?” asked Elsie de Wolfe in 1913 in context of domestic interior design.

“A house”, she answered, “that is like the life that goes on within it, a house that gives us beauty as we understand it and beauty of a nobler kind that we may grow to understand, a house that looks amenity.”1

How Elsie de Wolfe understood such, and how over the intervening century and a bit understandings of life, beauty, nobler beauty, amenity, the goal(s) of domestic interior design have developed and expanded are explored and discussed in the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors.

Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors, Vitra Design Museum


With the 2020 edition Stockholm Furniture Fair celebrates its 70th birthday.

Grattis på födelsedagen!

We did think about taking along a cake, but knew the halls of Stockholmsmässan would be filled to the rafters with Kanelbullar, as indeed would we.

And so by way of a present, a Stockholm Furniture Fair 2020 High 6!!

Stockholm Furniture Fair 2020: High Five


“In many workshops and offices it is regularly attempted to achieve both direct and semi-indirect lighting by means of large, single, light sources, that is, to work only with ample general lighting. Yet as pleasant as this type of lighting may be, in many cases it proves unsatisfactory on account of certain inherent shortcomings”1

So opined in 1926 the German engineer Curt Fischer.

Rhetorically. For in 1919 he had already patented his first solution to resolving such “inherent shortcomings”.

How, and where his considerations have taken contemporary lighting design, are discussed and explored in the exhibition 100 Years of Positionable Light at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg.

100 Years of Positionable Light, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg


According to Goethe,

Without the Fastnacht’s dance and masquerade ball
February has little to offer at all.1

Rubbish! Absolute rot!

Our recommendations for new architecture and design exhibitions opening during February 2020 in Weil am Rhein, New York, Vienna, Houston and Kerkrade which ably demonstrate that February has much more to offer than carnival, and for all that February can provide for a greater degree of cerebral gratification than sensual………

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for February 2020


On March 6th 1927 the exhibition Europäisches Kunstgewerbe opened at the Grassimuseum Leipzig, not only a presentation of contemporary European applied arts but the inaugural exhibition in the museum’s (almost finished) new home on the city’s Johannisplatz.

With the exhibition Spitzen des Art déco the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig stage not only a presentation of European Art déco porcelain, but a reminder of both the Johannisplatz complex’s Art déco heritage and the vibrancy, colour and roar of the 1920s.

Spitzen des Art déco, Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Leipzig


Apart from the chance to peruse and consider the collections and new products of and from a wide variety of manufacturers and labels, one of the real joys of visiting any furniture fair is the opportunity it allows to observe designers in conversation with manufacturers and labels. For all in pairings that currently don’t formally exist. We never eavesdrop on such conversations, that would be rude, and to overplay our prowess as spies; but we do enjoy imagining what may arise from those conversations, imagining the enthralling objects and brave new world that awaits us all.

A brave new world that far from being a refuge from our contemporary world in many regards helps sharpen our focus on the contemporary world that surrounds us, the collections and new products of and from a wide variety of manufacturers and labels laid out for our consideration and perusal.

New products that may have begun as an informal conversation on a trade fair stand. And now look where that’s developed…..

And so, and with our customary caution that we have invariably missed one or the other gem, which in this case we know we did, but which we plan to make up for later, an IMM Cologne 2020 High Five!!

IMM Cologne 2020: High Five!!


In our post from the exhibition Design Gruppe Pentagon at the Museum Angewandte Kunst Cologne we noted that Gallery Pentagon was laterally based in Cologne’s Bismarckstrasse. Bismarckstrasse 50 to be precise, a former cardboard packaging factory which in the 1980s was developed into spaces for creatives of various ilks…..

…..Bismarckstrasse 50 is still home to creatives of various ilks, and is still home to a gallery, Galerie Martina Kaiser, where in context of the 2020 Passagen Interior Design Week a new generation of Cologne designers are presenting new projects, projects raised not in the agitations, turmoils and transformations of 1980s West Germany that informed the Pentagonia’s works, but rather in the calm, alpine forests of Austria’s Bregenzerwald.

Yet objects no less expressive for the change of air…….

Generation Köln trifft Bregenzerwald, Cologne


Our increasingly networked, digital, virtual society is not only changing our relationship to innumerable everyday activities, activities such as personal communication, shopping or watching television to name but three, and thereby activities which a few short years ago seemed destined to remain unchanged for ever, but is also changing our relationship to work, be that in terms of what we do, where we do it or how we do it.

Changes which invariably place both new demands on our furniture, and our understanding of the term “functional” in context of furniture; an understanding which a few short years ago seemed destined to remain unchanged for ever.

With the showcase USM Haller HomeWork smow Cologne consider responses to such evolutions with the assistance of the USM Haller modular furniture system.

USM Haller HomeWork, smow Cologne


Within any regular pentagon one can locate, in numerous, manifold, relationships, the Golden Ratio, that centuries old guarantor of harmony, balance, beauty….

And within an irregular Pentagon?

With the exhibition Design Gruppe Pentagon the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne search for an answer in context of the 1980s Rheinland design quintet…….

Design Gruppe Pentagon, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne


The long and winding (hi)story of furniture design is largely one of evolution not revolution, largely one of innumerable, often imperceptible, social, cultural, economic, technical, et al transformations, movements, hindrances and undulations which slowly, continually, combine and interact to widen and deepen the river as it flows. A process aided, abetted and accelerated by irregularly arising confluences where a new tributary flows into the unflinchingly onwards rolling mainstem.

One such being inarguably Michael Thonet.

With the exhibition Bentwood and Beyond. Thonet and Modern Furniture Design the MAK – Museum für angewandte Kunst Vienna navigate the history of that tributary and explore its legacy and contemporary relevance, and relationship, to the course of furniture design.

Bentwood and Beyond. Thonet and Modern Furniture Design, MAK - Museum für angewandte Kunst Vienna


Off late, and certainly in a European context, January has become a month of forgoing, eschewing and general abstention, with campaigns such as Dry January and Veganuary extolling us to utilise our guilt at our dangerous, decadent, gluttony of late December as an impetus to radically alter our behaviour, as a catalyst for reduction.

And while less is unquestionably more, and thus worth striving for, fundamental change is invariably more sustainably and meaningfully achieved through better understandings rather than by sudden, extreme, knee-jerk, changes; that more information can lead to less harmful choices. More information and better understandings such as those an architecture or design exhibition can provide.

We can’t promise the following five will necessarily change your (unhealthy) relationship to alcohol or food, they should however allow for new perspectives on the world around us, new perspectives which should allow for new reflections on your relationship to that world, and, potentially, a healthier, happier you. And a healthier, happier world. Potentially.

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for January 2020


In context of the 2013 exhibition Lightopia at the Vitra Design Museum a point of particularly intense illumination, pun intended, was the difference between light and lighting, and that the craft of the lighting designer is to bring a tangible form to an intangible material.

With the exhibition Ingo Maurer intim. Design or what? Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum Munich celebrate, and remember, one of Germany’s leading designer’s of light…..

Ingo Maurer intim. Design or what?, Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum Munich


Looking back from the safety of 2019 it can be all too easy to assume that Bauhaus was a popularly received and much celebrated institution.

From its very earliest days, even before the first students had arrived in Weimar, the institution met with tenacious criticism and steadfast resistance; and arguably nowhere more so than in Weimar.

With the exhibition Mathilde von Freytag-Loringhoven. Painter, Author, Animal Psychologist and Bauhaus Critic the Stadtmuseum Weimar introduce one of the institution’s most tenacious and steadfast opponents; and in doing so allows not only for considerations on some of Bauhaus’s lesser discussed (hi)story, but also for reflections on the political, social and cultural realities of 1920’s Germany……

Mathilde von Freytag-Loringhoven. Painter, Author, Animal, Psychologist and Bauhaus Critic, Stadtmuseum Weimar


“Since the founding of the museum in 1864 there has been an ongoing committent to honouring the statute of the house, namely, to promote the art industries and the arts and crafts and to develop the taste of contemporary society”1

So noted the, then, Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst’s Director Wilhelm Mrazek in the catalogue to the museum’s 1969 exhibition Sitzen 69, Sitting 69, an exhibition which sought “to develop the taste of contemporary society” in terms of sitting/seating.

And that through a presentation of (largely) wooden chairs, several of which dated back to the 1930s and 1940s………

…….in 1969.

?????????

With the showcase Sitzen 69 Revisited the, now, MAK – Museum für angewandte Kunst initiate a debate on the apparent contradictions inherent in Sitzen 69, and on the wider question of the mediation of design, through a presentation of objects presented in 1969 juxtaposed with some of those chair designs that weren’t. Chair designs that one may have, reasonably, expected should, would, have been……

Sitzen 69 Revisited @ MAK – Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna


“…when we shall hear
The rain and wind beat dark December, how,
In this our pinching cave, shall we discourse
The freezing hours away?”

asks Arvirargus of his brother Guiderius in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, before lamenting,

“We have seen nothing”

Easily solved old boy, a visit to an architecture or design exhibition should not only provide for new, stimulating, impressions but plenty of discourse throughout not only December but for many, many months to come.

For all a visit in December 2019 to the following new exhibitions opening in Vienna, Holon, Bloomfield Hills, Weil am Rhein & San Francisco……..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for December 2019


Sitting unassumingly, and largely unnoticed, in the middle of Germany, the city of Gotha may have only little resonance with the majority, with the great unwashed; however, every European royal family can trace their lineage back to Gotha: most famously the English royal family through Queen Victoria’s 1840 marriage to Prince Albert, but the royal houses of Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Holland, Norway, you get the idea, can all trace their lineage back to and through Gotha.

Gotha and royalty ✔

Gotha and inter-war Modernism ¿?

Marianne Brandt for Ruppelwerk Gotha, as seen at Inspired by Bauhaus - Gotha Experiences Modernity, the KunstForum Gotha


For all the popular associations of the inter-War years with the reduced and the paired down, with objects whose value was deemed inherent rather than something one added, one must remember that the inter-War years were also a period that brought forth the colours and confusions of Surrealism and the glitz and glamour of Art Déco: The Roaring of the Twenties being as much about a self-confidence of expression as a joyous relief that the war years were, once and for all, over.

And thus that both the reserved and the ornate existed side by side in the inter-War years, if not necessarily comfortably; and this tension between decorative ornamentation and a more reserved understanding of design are explored in the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge’s exhibition Decoration as Trespass?

Decoration as Trespass?, Werkbundarchiv, Museum der Dinge, Berlin


“Das tritt nach …meiner Kenntnis … ist das sofort, unverzüglich”

“As far as I’m aware….. that applies …. with immediate effect, forthwith”

Rarely has an almost sentence in a press conference had such consequences. With his confidently unconfident utterances on the evening of Thursday November 9th 1989, a statement concerning a relaxation on restrictions for those East Germans wanting to travel to West Germany, a statement made while distractedly flicking through papers looking for, and missing, the answer to the question of when the relaxations applied, Günter Schabowski, East Germany’s ruling SED’s somewhat bombastically titled, Secretary of Information, in effect, opened the Berlin Wall. Within the hour streams of those East Germans were taking advantage of the freshly, prematurely, relaxed restrictions and flowing westwards…….

Yet for all its momentousness, as the exhibition 1989 – ​Culture and Politics at the National Museum Stockholm reinforces, the fall of the Wall, was only another event in a remarkable, momentousness, political year.

And a remarkable year for creative expressions: 1989 seeing the death throes of Postmodern design, art getting political, again, while in music the increasing influence of electronic dance music, for all House, in all in its numerous guises, was not only being felt in the music produced, but in the attitudes of the yoof: the poodle rockers and 80s pop kids were still there, still enjoying success, but a new generation was preparing to replace them. And a new generation who were, when not necessarily more aware than the poodle rockers and pop kids of contemporary political, economic, environmental and social realities, certainly were much more prepared to vocalise their opinions, and developing new soundscapes in which to do that.

And so by way of marking not only 30 years of Günter Schabowski stumbling towards the reunification of Europe, but all those other moments, good and less so, in 1989….. a Radio smow playlist of 89 songs from ’89……

Record sleves from 1989, as seen at 1989 - Culture and Politics, The National Museum Stockholm


Birthday’s are not only an occasion for celebration, but also for reflection on the year past, and on those milestone birthdays, for all the decadal birthdays, to reflect wider on the lives you’ve lived and the experiences you’ve enjoyed/endured, reflect on what you’ve gained, what you’ve lost, in those decades past.

So, or similar, the Vitra Design Museum, who celebrate their 30th birthday in November 2019 and are marking the occasion with reflections, when not necessarily on their own three decades, but the past three decades in design…….

After the Wall. Design since 1989, Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot, Weil am Rhein


As this Bauhaus Weimar centenary year is making ever clearer, whereas Bauhaus may have been physically sited in Weimar, Dessau and (nominally) Berlin, approaching a better understanding of “Bauhaus” involves leaving those sites and following the many paths that either led to, or from, those sites.

Paths that not only allow one to approach a better understanding of “Bauhaus”, but for all to approach a better understanding of the wider developments of the inter-War years, of inter-War Modernism, and thus to better understand that Bauhaus was but a component of that period, but a component of inter-War Modernism.

And paths, such as those mapped by the Brandenburgisches Landesmuseum für moderne Kunst, that invariably lead to new places, to new understandings and to an Unknown Modernism………

Das Bauhaus in Brandenburg, as seen at Unknown Modernism, Brandenburgisches Landesmuseum für moderne Kunst, Cottbus


On November 1st 1512 Pope Julius II celebrated the All Saint’s Day Mass in the Sistine Chapel. The first public presentation of Michelangelo’s frescos, and thereby the opening of a permanent exhibition still on show today. And still attracting a public.

And while permanent exhibitions are good and important, for all in allowing an overview and an introduction to a subject, it is those ever changing temporary exhibitions that, should, ideally, allow for new insights and deepening of understandings.

Our recommendations for five new, temporary, architecture and design exhibitions opening in November 2019, and which promise such insights and depths, can be can be found in Munich, New York, Vienna, Esslingen and Gotha…..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for November 2019


Whereas the 1920s may have been Roaring, Golden, Années folles, a decade which could be certain that The Great War, that war to end all wars, had brought lasting peace to Europe, and where the utopian visions of the International Modernists, coupled to political and social emancipation and technological progress, made everything possible, and meant we could all gaily Charleston away our nights and days; the 1920s was also the decade that ushered Europe into one of the darkest periods in its history.

With the exhibition Design of the Third Reich the Design Museum Den Bosch explores the role of artists, architects and designers, in helping that darkness settle over 1930s Europe……..

Design of the Third Reich, Design Museum Den Bosch (Photo courtesy Design Museum Den Bosch)


Having started this Bauhaus Weimar centenary year by exploring the path from Arts and Crafts to Bauhaus, the Bröhan Museum Berlin end this Bauhaus Weimar centenary year by exploring the path from Bauhaus to Arts and Crafts Scandinavia.

Or more accurately put, by exploring Nordic Design. The Response to the Bauhaus.

Nordic Design. The Response to the Bauhaus at the Bröhan Museum, Berlin


László Moholy-Nagy may have given Marianne Brandt “mettle for metal”, and metal may be the material with which she is most readily and popularly associated; however, as she wrote in 1922, “Ich bin ganz von Glas”….. I am entirely glass.

Fragile? Transparent? Opaque? Metamorphic? Refractive? Sparkling?

For its 7th edition the triennial International Marianne Brandt Contest sought projects exploring glass in all its interpretations, properties and essences; the 60 nominated projects being presented alongside a cabinet showcase devoted to Marianne Brandt in the exhibtion Ich bin ganz von Glas. Marianne Brandt and the Art of Glass Today at the Sächsische Industriemuseum Chemnitz.

Ich bin ganz von Glas. Marianne Brandt and the Art of Glass Today, Sächsische Industriemuseum Chemnitz


Our Mondo Contemporaneo is a very unhappy, unsatisfying, unrewarding, dark, place.

Should we perhaps all consider a move to the colourful, dynamic reverie of Mondo Mendini?

At the Groninger Museum you can undertake a trial visit……………

Alessandro Mendini, Marcel Proust, & Poltrona di Proust by Alessandro Mendini, as seen at Mondo Mendini, The Groninger Museum, Groningen