smow Design Blog


We thought long and hard as to if we should continue our online exhibition recommendations series, or go back to offline exhibitions…… and decided for a return to offline.

We fully appreciate that in a lot of countries museums are still closed, as indeed are the international borders that you would normally and naturally criss-cross for a short city break to visit those that are open; however, many museums are open, many more are planned/planning to open in the course of June, and interesting and informative as online presentations can be, viewing an exhibition in a museum is the more satisfying experience, the more rewarding experience, the more enduring experience. And an important experience.

As we oft opine, museums aren’t just about collecting and preserving the past, nor just additions, adornments, to cafés and gift shops; rather they are locations for discourse, contemplation and reflection. Locations in which not only subjects which, in the overhyped, overheated marketplace of contemporary media may never find an audience, can be allowed to tell their story, can in many cases be allowed to reclaim their place in our (hi)story, but locations where subjects can be approached not only from a multitude of perspectives simultaneously, but from new, contradictory and often otherwise unachievable perspectives, and that without prejudice, bias or a commercial necessity to conform to some preconceived narrative.

Admittedly not every exhibition manages that, many do succumb to an egoistic desire to be a “blockbuster” and thus present an accepted, tourist gaze, presentation of their subject; but there is no reason why every exhibition cannot discuss lesser illuminated subjects without fear or favour.

And when museums do such, and do such well, do such with honesty and impartiality, they become locations which invite, encourage and enable you to extrapolate on that which is presented and to carry your thoughts and arguments over into other arenas and areas, and thereby helping us all approach better understandings of ourselves, individually and collectively, and of the world around us, the innate natural and that which human society has created. While also improving our knowledge of the subject at hand. Clarifying that you may not have understood a subject as completely as you believed you did.

And that’s not an experience and opportunity that one should ever undervalue or neglect. And certainly never stop searching for.

While specifically in context of design exhibitions; for all that online exhibitions can and do offer, there is simply no substitute to being in the presence of a physical object, nor can we imagine there ever will be.

And so while all museums remain virtually open 24/7, and we’d encourage each and everyone of you to use museums’ online services as tools and resources; the fact that many are physically open is much more important. And something to be treasured and made use of.

If made use of with appropriate awareness and sensibility at this moment. Therefore, if you feel comfortable visiting a museum, please before doing so (a) check in advance to ensure that it is actually open, short-term changes can occur and (b) familiarise yourself in advance with ticketing, entry, safety, hygiene, etc rules and systems. And during your visit stay safe and responsible. And receptive for new ideas, new opinions, new names, new perspectives, new connections, new understandings……

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for June 2020


On May 17th 1955 Charles Eames*, as assignor to the Herman Miller Furniture Company, was granted US patent 2,708,476 for a “Furniture Frame Construction”, specifically for, “a skeleton type metal furniture frame or shell construction” formed from “a plurality of lengths of wire arranged in crossed relation with another plurality of lengths of wire and welded thereto at their intersection…”1

A patent which although important and interesting in itself, is and was in many regards just as important and interesting for developments that arose on account of it. And for what its (hi)story can teach us about the work of Charles and Ray Eames……..

Eames US Patent 2,708,476 for "Furniture Frame Construction"


In a year in which the familiar glow of many a beloved cultural event is missing, one beacon continues to shine.

As a virtual, and in many regards virtual, event the smow Song Contest is one that can be staged regardless of prevailing physical social distancing regulations and physical travel restrictions.

And while virtual closeness and virtual travel can never, and must never be allowed to, replace the physical, the 2020 smow Song Contest does allow us all an opportunity to cross great distances, to come together, to stay safe, to stay responsible, but for all to stay dancing…..

smow song contest 2020


Back in the year 1 BCE, Before Corona Epidemic, we developed a plan to use 2020 to tour through contemporary office design, a tour to be undertaken both physically and theoretically.

A very simple plan developed in the knowledge that in October the Orgatec office furniture fair would be staged in Cologne, and that such a tour would, hopefully, allow us to approach Orgatec 2020 from differentiated and manifold perspectives.

And a simple plan, which, and as with all simple plans, proved more difficult than anticipated. And became all but impossible in the year 1 CE. Or at least the physical part did, the theoretical part remains unaffected. And as older, more loyal, readers will understand, we’re at our happiest with the theoretical components of life.

Thus in the coming weeks we will present a series of (desk bound) reflections and considerations on aspects of both the contemporary office and contemporary public/civic/commercial interiors, whereby our Design Calender post on the opening of the 1993 exhibition Citizen Office at the Vitra Design Museum can be considered an official unofficial first step….. one originally planned as a fourth or fifth step…….

By way of a fuller introduction, and an explanation that despite the unequivocal title the smow Blog #officetour isn’t limited to offices , the text we’d written as the original introduction…..

The smow blog #officetour, first the theoretical path, then the open road.....


Developed in the mid-1960s as an office furniture system, the inherent flexibility and variability of USM Haller’s modular system has allowed it to naturally evolve alongside office practices and realities; for example, alongside the shift in recent decades from rigid to more flexible office scenographies, alongside the rise in recent decades of home working, or, most recently, with the USM Security Screen which naturally, and quickly, allows any existing USM reception desk to be effortlessly updated and reinvented for our Corona age.

Similarly in the domestic landscape. A landscape USM Haller quickly inhabited and where over the decades the inherent flexibility and variability of its modular system has seen it naturally adapt to the ever evolving realities of domestic life: the domestic life of both the private individual with all its personal fluctuations, high, lows and unpredictability, but also of communal society and, for example, its ever increasing collective networked, digital structure.

But despite its indoor success, system USM Haller hasn’t found its way out of doors……

…..yet…..

USM Haller: Garden, Terrace, Balcony.....


Bauhaus Weimar’s centenary may now be behind us, but there remains a lot of discussion, consideration and reflection ahead of us. Not least in context of the rapidly approaching Bauhaus Dessau centenary.

By way of an accompaniment to those reflections, considerations and discussions, and of engendering a differing perspective on both the schools and the contexts in which they existed, a Radio smow playlist devoted to music of, from and associated with the Bauhauses.

radio smow A Bauhaus Playlist


With the exhibition Citizen Office the Vitra Design Museum staged not only their first conceptual, research based, exhibition, but also one of the first museal reflections on “the world of the office”.

Reflections which not only pointed towards new directions and understandings then, but which offer insights and lessons for today…….

Citizen Office as visualised by James Irvine


While we’d all much rather physically visit architecture and design museums, our current enforced virtual patronage does allow us all an excellent opportunity to begin to understand architecture and design museums as more than just an exhibition space with shop and café, and to begin to learn to interact with them, and for all their collections, in new, proactive, manners. To understand architecture and design museums as tools as much as institutions.

And while a virtual visit can never replace a physical one, it can help us extenuate and expand our understandings and thereby allow us to take even more from that physical visit. And those physical visits will return.

Until then, volume two of our online recommendations takes you from your sofa to Berlin, Hamburg, Bloomfield Hills, Mumbai, München, and hopefully and awful lot further…..

5 Online Architecture & Design Exhibitions for May 2020


Throughout his numerous lives and careers Isamu Noguchi practised as an artist, set designer, garden designer, furniture designer, lighting designer, etc…. yet through all incarnations he remained one thing: a sculptor.

Isamu Noguchi’s most popularly known work is inarguably his Akari lamps, yet before Akari there came a lamp which in many regards exists more in context of the man and his art than its more famous relations…..

Lost Furniture Design Classics: Model 9 Table Lamp by Isamu Noguchi for Knoll Associates


“The work of the Dresden artist Margarete Junge is largely shrouded in darkness” noted the art historian Gert Claußnitzer in his introduction to the 1981 exhibition “Margarete Junge. Fashion sketches and flower studies”1

And while Margarete Junge’s 2D works may have been allowed to shine, if only briefly, in the early 1980s, her 3D works remained stubbornly shrouded: only in recent years being afforded the opportunity, if only partially, to radiate as they once did.

Thankfully. For the works, and the biography, of Margarete Junge are as interesting and important as they are illuminating……

Works by Margarete Junge, as seen at Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden 03.11.2018—01.03.2019


The 3316 Easy Chair by Arne Jacobsen a.k.a. The Egg is not only one of the most universally recognised works by Jacobsen, but also one of the most popular representatives of both the lounge chair and also of post-War furniture design. Yet, and as with the Easter egg, the Jacobsen Egg is an object whose simple, inviting charms often hide the much more complex, interesting, informative, instructive, realities of its origin and provenance.

And so in a year when many an Easter egg hunt will be extraordinarily localised, we take you an international hunt for the (hi)story of an egg-straordinary chair……

easter egg arne jacobsen fritz hansen


In context of the Radio smow Sofa, Couch, Settee Playlist we briefly discussed the settle as an early forebearer of the settee.

Existing in a myriad expressions and forms, one variation on the settle was a pleasingly multi-functional, multi-talented, culinary adept, object.

And one that has, sadly, vanished from the contemporary furniture landscape…….

An early 19th century English Bacon Settle


The museums may be closed, travel restricted and leaving your home, when possible, unadvised….. but that’s no reason to restrict your cultural uptake, far less neglect the development of your architecture and design understandings.

Or put another way, if you can’t get to the museum….. let the museum come to you.

Five online architecture and design exhibitions and museum collections to explore from your sofa, bed, garden, balcony, wherever…..

5 Online Architecture & Design Exhibitions for April 2020


In these days of uncertainty one thing is indubitable: we will all become much better acquainted with our sofa, our couch and our settee.

To accompany us all, a Radio smow playlist dedicated to the sofa, couch, settee and an invitation to reflect on the symbolic, figurative and cultural role of the sofa, couch, settee…

Radio smow: A Sofa, Couch, Settee Playlist…….


Back in the days of the Roman Republic Martius was the month in which troops mustered in preparation for the coming battle season, to prepare, as it were, to March into war.

Please don’t! The world’s out of control enough as it is!

Rather use the coming spring as your incentive, to (a) make up for some of those New Year’s Resolutions you’ve long forgotten you’d made and (b) to march into a future of new impulses, new understandings, new perspectives, a new world. To march into an architecture and/or design exhibition.

Our five recommendations for new showcases opening in Martius MMXX can be found in Ulm, Gent, Vienna, Kobe and Dresden…..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for March 2020


It’s not just the presence, or lack of, female designers in the contemporary furniture industry, nor just the presence, or lack of, female designers in museum exhibitions that informs and influences understandings of the contribution of female designers to contemporary furniture design and the (hi)story of furniture design, it is also the presence, or lack of, female designers in design museum and applied arts museum collections, those depositories and reserves of furniture design’s history and sources of inspiration for furniture design’s future.

With the exhibition Female Traces the Museum of Furniture Studies Stockholm reflect on the gender mix of their own collection.

Female Traces, the Museum of Furniture Studies, Stockholm


“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