Much as we moan, moan, and moan about Milan Furniture Fair, it is a rare opportunity to get a snapshot of where individual designers are currently at: differing products for differing manufacturers being displayed in relatively proximity allowing for a nice overview. A few considerations on the latest projects by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra, Magis, Flos and Mattiazzi.
A further development of the Bouroullec’s 2008 Softshell Chair, the Softshell Side Chair is for us a much more logical, rational and complete work. So much so that we initially didn’t make the connection between the two. Which we see as a compliment.
Sitting in the Softshell Side Chair, quietly contemplating its merits and shortcomings, the name W-O-R-M-L-E-Y started forming in our in collective mind. We got to “M” and paused. A defensible comparison? Deciding it probably is we continued on to “Y”: classical in a thoroughly contemporary way, the Softshell Side Chair undeniably has numerous historic forebearers, yet has a lightness of touch which distances it from them, and a formal understanding that is very much its own, and thus is comparable in spirit and character with the, general, canon of Edward J Wormley, if not necessarily formally.
Featuring a plastic base with upholstered seat and backrest the Softshell Side Chair is a nicely proportioned and reserved design which has none of the volume, yet all the understated grandeur, of the armchair, and which for all is an eminently comfortable chair: ultimately the most important factor in such a dining, occasional and/or function chair.
Released as both a lounge and chaise longue version Quindici confuses on a number levels. In the positive sense of the word.
While monumental objects the Quindici chairs have a wonderful visual lightness, there is nothing overpowering about them, apart from the feeling that they should be. But they aren’t. If it wasn’t for the armrest there would be nothing there.
Similarly on first impressions Quindici is a very, very Unbouroullec-esque project, all sense of reduction, scale and unity apparently missing. Yet look closer, and the Bouroullec’s are there, in the armrests which negate the need for a frame, in the intelligent use of material, in the well thought through proportions and for all in the way seat and backrest are joined, a connection that owes more than a passing nod to the Bouroullec’s Copenhague Collection.
Although of the same family, and essentially constructed from the same components, the two chairs are very different beasts, and of the two the lounge version impressed us the most. Formally it is an absorbing object, there is something especially satisfying about the silhouette with the exaggerated foot/armrest and the sweeping seat/backrest, and is also a supremely comfortable object, which was also the negative for us with the chaise longue version: we really struggled to get properly comfortable in it, had the feeling our legs were trapped underneath us, felt restricted in our movements. But then we’re not “lounger” people, and so would never of our own volition sit in such a chair. Thus perhaps not making us the most reliable of commentators.
Particularly interesting for us is that in many respects both Quindici fit very well into popular American chair typologies as defined by objects such as the Westport/Adirondack Chair, and so it will be interesting to compare the reaction to chairs “over there” with “over here”.
As previously noted, for us Verticale is an object which could just as easily have been created in the late 19th/early 20th century, as the architects and designers of the day sought to use the latest technologies and materials to free us from the shackles of historicism. Then it would have been carbon-arc lamps and a steel frame, today it’s 1000 lumen, 2700K, LEDs and an aluminium frame. Verticale also reminded us of the hanging baskets our medieval predecessors kept witches in. But that somehow seemed less positive a comparison. So we discarded it.
Despite the scale of the individual modules, far less that when combined as groups, Verticale is a reserved, unassuming if uninhibited object, whose luminescence is as elegant and pleasing as its form: the form having the good grace however to cede primacy to the luminescence.
Although we do have a space in the smow blog flat where we could hang a module or two, we suspect it wouldn’t do it any favours; for us Verticale is an object which needs space in which to unfold to its true potential, an object whose character is a manifold of its physical form and thus needs a space who’s volume is on a par with that character.
If, and again as noted earlier, we only saw Verticale illuminated and so cannot comment on its unilluminated character. Are assuming all will be well. But don’t know.
And we’ll say this now, get it out the way, so that everyone is clear: we will take a very dim view of, and be extremely disappointed in all concerned, should at any point in the future Flos & the Bouroullecs release Orizzontale, Diagonale and/or Ondulazione.
The Officina family for Magis is one of our favourite Bouroullec projects, not just because as one of their edgier projects it stands a little more exposed than their other works, nor because it succinctly describes much of what we appreciate in the Bouroullec’s work, but for all the way the objects reunite the user with the production process and forces you to reflect on the the hows and wherefores.
Milan 2017 saw a further expansion of the Officina collection including the release of an armchair and sofas. From which the armchair is the clear weak point of the collection, for us it appears lost in the mix of wrought iron and upholstery, not especially confident in its own abilities, far less happy in its form. Up the scale to the two seater sofa and you have a much more balanced composition and by the three seater the raison d’etre of the Officina sofa and a wonderfully proportioned and crafted object.
Even if for us the Officina concept makes much more sense without upholstery.
If one assumes, as we do, that the wrought iron is the essence and the soul of the project, then it needs to be exposed. Fully. And not used, more or less, as a form of decoration, as in the sofas. We know it isn’t, but it will become understood as such. A comparison of the two seater sofa and the new two seater bench, we would argue, supporting our position. The bench makes a lot more sense. Is in many ways a more dignified object. We’d argue more honest. We’re not against the upholstery, the two and three seaters are genuinely very pleasing objects, we would just question if it is a necessary extension of the programme?