Category: Producer


Milan Furniture Fair 2018, at least amongst those more design led manufacturers, is/was largely about consolidation, largely about new materials, new colours, slight changes to existing objects, with one or the other family proudly presenting their latest members. Which is no complaint, far from it, Milan’s speciality traditionally being the new for the sake of the new, that misguided belief that one has to present something new every year. You don’t. Present something new when you’ve got something new to say, something new to contribute, something meaningful.

Largely ≇ exclusively and there were a few new projects to be found which did have something new to say, did have something new to contribute, were something meaningful. If not enough for a handful. Sure we could have added another project just to compete the quintet, there being no shortage of candidates to choose from, but then just as we don’t expect manufacturers to publish for the sake of the new rather for the quality, so we don’t publish for the sake of the five….

As ever we didn’t see everything, have without question missed things we shouldn’t have missed, things we will regret missing later, apologies all round, but, and with that in mind, our Milan Furniture Fair 2018: High Four!!

Milan Furniture Fair 2018 High Five

Whereas exhibitions in which designers show prototypes and discontinued projects by way of explaining who they are, where they come from and how they work, are a, relatively, regular occurrence, exhibitions in which manufacturers do such are much, much rarer: with the exhibition Typecasting Vitra make a very rare and very welcome exception

And in doing so don’t just present an image not only of Vitra past, but also take a look into the future…..

Vitra -Typecasting, as seen at Milan Design Week 2018

While it is generally the case that the development, evolution, of product design is dependent on the development, evolution, of technology, such is particularly the case in context of lighting design: ever since a burning stick was first employed to create a relaxing evening atmosphere in a neolithic cave, technological developments have been the driving force behind the development of lighting design, be that formally, functionally or technically.

The nature of Light + Building Frankfurt, the fact that it is much more of case of “Light in and around Buildings”, means that the majority of the projects presented are about technical lighting in architectural contexts, and in terms of technical evolution most manufacturers are atop of the game: demonstrating technical competence being a key element in any lighting manufacturers’ self-image. Does however by necessity mean that often the required functionality is largely pre-defined by the very specific nature of the usage, while the form is in many cases irrelevant.

A small section of Light + Building does however present objects of more freer nature, and there one does/could find a few design led projects which in addition to adopting technological innovation approach new formal and functional solutions and thus new understandings of what lighting can/should be. As ever we’ve not seen everything, have invariably missed one or the other gem, apologies all-round, but with that in mind, and in no particular order, our Light + Building Frankfurt 2018 High Five!!

Light + Building Frankfurt 2018: High Five!!

Following three years of renovations and redesign the principle house of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich is once again open for visitors.

Three years which have not only seen the physical structure renovated and redesigned, but also the presentation concept and foci.

Museum für Gestaltung Zürich

With the exhibition Hans J. Wegner: Designing Danish Modern the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot explores the oeuvre of one of the Grand Doyens, and arguably one of the most widely misconstrued protagonists, of 20th century Danish design.

Hans J. Wegner: Designing Danish Modern, Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot

One of the most striking aspects at Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair is the way the various Scandinavian manufacturers try to impress how old they are. Arguably on account of the sheer concentration of Scandinavians at the region’s premier furniture and lighting trade fair, you will rarely find so many in one place at one time, all seem locked in a battle to claim the status as oldest, to lay claim, as it were, to being the elder statesmen of the guild.

Established in 1964 screams one stand. Founded in 1907 another. Since 1869. Etablerad 1724. Constituted in 1079 in the reign of Harald the Soft. Et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. Further and further back into the ether of time.

One suspects the reason is that given the relative similarity of the products on display, each is keen to show that they have been doing it longer than the rest.

Yet the question isn’t who has been doing it the longest, but who is doing it best.

Or perhaps better put, elsewhere the question wouldn’t be who has been doing it the longest, but who is doing it best; but we’re talking about the furniture industry, an industry which in its heart has always been about taking inspiration from others. Something which increasingly means a focus on a few universally accepted archetypal “Scandinavian” forms: and not just amongst Scandinavians, we also spotted a few non-Scandinavians trying their utmost to claim a northern heritage.

Which shouldn’t be taken as meaning that all the stands were carbon copies of one another, that all had identical portfolios and nobody was trying new things. Nor that there weren’t objects of merit on show. It doesn’t. Far from it. Such isn’t our intention. Should however be taken as meaning that throughout the fair one is and was regularly greeted by variations on a very small number of basic forms. If you will by the fundamental geometry of understandings of Scandinavian design.

Yet, and much as we argued in our post from IMM Cologne on the 118 by Sebastian Herkner for Thonet, for us things get difficult when the object, the form, becomes the main focus of attention, rather than the thinking, processes and traditions which led to the object, the form, achieving its exalted position. And considerations on such were, for us, too infrequently on display. Or at least drowned out by the shouting

As ever we may have missed things, we’re certainly not claiming totality, not least because our list is by necessity limited, with that in mind, and in no particular order, our Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair 2018 high five! six!

Stockholkm Furniture & Light Fair 2018: High 5

It’s probably fair to say that no object at IMM Cologne 2018 confused us quite as much as the new 118 chair by Sebastian Herkner for Thonet.

Not in bad way. Just in a confused way.

We know, we know, what sort of being gets confused by chairs.

Us. Regularly. It’s why our lives’ are such a mess.

118 by Sebastian Herkner for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2018

Aside from the chance to catch up with, and following the development of, familiar manufacturers and designers, one of the (all too rare) joys of a fair like IMM Cologne is being introduced to the previously unknown.

Among our new discoveries at IMM Cologne was Münster based manufacturer Caussa.

Wedge table/stool Andreas Kowalewski for Caussa, as seen at IMM Cologne 2018

While Georges-Eugène Haussmann is associated with the radical and unrestrained, Atelier Haußmann prefer the understated and reserved. Yet applied with the same level of conviction, self-confidence and appreciation of a well considered line.

Following a couple of years absence 2018 saw Atelier Haußmann return to IMM Cologne….

Atelier Haußmann @ IMM Cologne 2018

The English playwright and composer Noël Coward is widely attributed to have once opined that, “a perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy”

We can’t confirm if Munich based StudioFaubel employed the grand raconteur’s advice in the development of their Martini Sessel for Müller Möbelfabrikation. The result is however equally as satisfying…..

Martini Sessel by StudioFaubel for Müller Möbelfabrikation, as seen at IMM Cologne 2018

One of the early highlights of our 2017 #campustour was the Arc Collection by Marie Hesseldahl & Nanna Neergaard created in context of their Diploma project at Design School Kolding.

Consequently it was a particularly pleasing mødes igen with the Arc Collection at IMM Cologne 2018 where it was launched as a product family by Danish manufacturer Le Klint.

Arc Pendant Lamp by Manér Studio for Le Klint, as seen at IMM Cologne 2018

In his 5th century BC text “The Art of War”, the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu notes:

There are roads, not to take.

There are armies, not to attack.

There are towns, not to besiege.

There are terrains, not to contest.

There are ruler’s orders, not to obey.1

Were Sun Tzu’s metier the furniture fair rather than the warfare, we feel certain he would have added:

There are objects, not to produce.

IMM Cologne 2018 is awash with such. It’s not IMM’s fault; rather is endemic of an industry which supplies utensils of human need, objects which surround our every waking and sleeping moments, accompany the trials, tribulations, triumphs and temporality of existence, but which all too often do so not with the aim of improving our immediate environment, be that aesthetically, functionally or morally, but of generating profit.

The inevitable result is innumerate brands all desperately trying to prove they can do exactly the same as everyone else, can all do what the t**** soothsayers tell them the market(s) want.

Yet as George Nelson teaches us, don’t produce for a perceived market, produce for yourself. Your customers will find you. And those who don’t, aren’t your customers.

As we say, its not IMM’s fault, IMM is one the major furniture industry platforms, and consequently its visitors are exposed to a very concentrated dose of the unnecessary and unseemly

However it’s not all soulless pastiche, lazy appropriation or “cocooning” at IMM Cologne 2018, there are also works which demonstrate as Sun Tzu reminds us, and despite what we may believe in any given moment, “Anger can turn to pleasure.”

As ever, we’re not claiming to have seen everything, have invariably missed some gems, while there are a few projects which may in retrospect have earned a place in the following list, but on which we are still in the process of forming an opinion.

With that in mind, and in no particular order, our IMM Cologne 2018 High Five!

1. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, translated by John Minford, Penguin Books, 2002

IMM Cologne 2018 High 5

One of Germany’s leading post-war architects and architectural theoreticians, Egon Eiermann was also one of post-war Europe’s most important chair designers, not just in context of what he realised, but also in context of what he worked towards realising and the reasons why. With the exhibition Cologne celebrate that legacy.

Der Stuhl des Architekten - Sitzmöbel von Egon Eiermann @ Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft CologneDer Stuhl des Architekten - Sitzmöbel von Egon Eiermann @ Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft Cologne

When we spoke with designer Patrick Frey in context of our #campustour, the plan was quite simply to discuss contemporary design education; however, the natural flow of the conversation took us in a raft of interesting directions, including his experiences as a freelance designer, the question of development payments in the furniture industry and the background to his and Markus Boge’s joint diploma project, a project in many regards personified by the tables Kant and Marketing.

Kant by Patrick Frey & Markus Boge for Nils Holger Moormann

Although as an event Dutch Design Week has always had a focus on presenting design in context, design in practice, our feeling is that of late that focus has intensified, something we thoroughly approve of as it helps make tangible that design is, can be, more than pretty objects; does however mean that you increasingly need to take more time with you to Eindhoven. Or accept that you are going to miss a lot of, potentially, interesting and thought provoking presentations.

Necessity meant that this year we followed option two.

But that still left us more than enough time to discover projects to get cross about, be confused by or simply quietly admire.

Or indeed vocally admire: our Dutch Design Week 2017 High Five!!

Dutch Design Week Eindhoven 2017: High Five!!

As regular readers will be well aware, here at smow blog HQ we’re very much of the opinion that fashion isn’t design. Never was. Never will be. Design, and without wanting to wade too deep into the definition quagmire, arose from applied craft/applied art, fashion is applied craft/applied art. And so while unquestionably a creative discipline, isn’t design. Neither is Graphic.

Design can however inspire and influence fashion, past decades recalling numerous occasions of fashion houses being motivated by designers’ works, a particularly apposite recent example being the news that Swiss fashion house Akris have based their Spring/Summer 2018 collection on the works of Alexander Girard, news which motivated us to retrieve a few classic items from the smow blog wardrobe……

Just as the Eamsien adage proclaims that “the details are not the details; they make the product”, so too are a design school’s teaching staff not the teaching staff, they make the school.

Consequently, it follows that to better understand not only an individual institution, but also both the wider contemporary condition, and possible future directions, of design education, it is important to talk to, and understand, design school teaching staff; both those full-time Professors, and also those practising designers who have accepted the responsibility of instructing future generations.

Practising designers such as Patrick Frey, Assistant Professor at the Hochschule Hannover.

Patrick Frey. Designer and Assistant Professor, Hochschule Hannover

With their 1997 exhibition The Work of Charles and Ray Eames the Vitra Design Museum staged one of the first major Charles and Ray Eames retrospectives

Twenty years later they return to two of the 20th century’s most important creatives with An Eames Celebration: less of Charles and Ray, and more of the diversity, depth and continuing relevance of their work.

Charles & Ray Eames. The Power of Design, Vitra Design Museum

If Milan marks the start of summer, Paris marks the end: the gentle warmth of the Lombarden sun and the fresh alpine breeze blowing over the Saloni ceding as it invariably does, nay must, to the brisk crispness of Maison et Objet.

C’est la vie!

The September 2017 edition of Maison et Objet was a disconcerting mix of baroque revival and picturesque, fantasy, Scandinavian, as if late 1980s Philippe Starck discovered hygge.

And over large stretches Maison et Objet 2017 is/was just as terrifying as that sounds. Our only consolation being the certainty that those responsible are but blindly chasing the shadow of a fashion, ’tis but a trend, and trends always, but always, fade.

Fortunately some objects on show arose from more honest origins. As ever we didn’t see everything, apologies to all we missed, but here our Maison et Objet Autumn 2017 High 4!! And some poppy, late ’90s dance…

Designers are prone to spending inordinate amounts of time shaving a millimetre of a surface thickness. Or trying to increase the distance between two points by a couple of millimetres. Occupations which to the uninitiated can appear just a tick obsessive. In how far however relatively small changes of scale, differences of a few millimetres, can alter not only the physical appearance of a product, but the very character of a product, was elegantly explained by Danish manufacturer Houe at spoga+gafa Cologne 2017.

And that such changes can also have an aural impact, a Click becoming a Clip.

Clips Rocking Chair by Henrik Pedersen for Houe, as seen at spoga+gafa Cologne 2017

German designer Klaus Hackl’s understanding of design is one based on the principle of evolution not revolution, of understanding the context in which a project arises, and of the value, and logic, of craft processes and craft scale production. And of the value, and logic, of craft processes and craft scale production augmented by digital technology.

Keen to learn more, we met up wit Klaus Hackl in Munich….

Flare by Klaus Hackl for Hausgenossen (Foto Eva Jünger, courtesy Klaus Hackl)

With the exhibition Panorama. A History of Modern Design in Belgium, the ADAM, Brussels Design Museum present an exploration of design in Belgium from the 1880s until the 1980s: and in doing so not only explain the development of design in Belgium, but provide for new understandings of that development.

"The Golden Age, as seen at Panorama. A History of Modern Design in Belgium, ADAM Brussels

Dear Judge Tessin:

I will herewith express our delight to have Florence with us this summer. I am sure that it will be good for her to see a little more of the world. We are going to Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and Holland. We will take good care of her.

Most sincerely yours,

Eliel Saarinen1

And take good care of Florence, Eliel Saarinen did: so much so that she advanced to become one of the most important protagonists in the development of post-war furniture, textile and interior design.

Hairpin Stacking Table by Florence Knoll for Knoll produced 1948-1966. Reintroduced by 2017

When we first viewed the exhibition Full House: Design by Stefan Diez at The Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne, it was was still being assembled. Objects were missing, set-ups not in their final composition, lights not yet properly positioned. As such we didn’t get to form an opinion on the final, complete, intended exhibition. Did however mange to take some truly awful photos.

Fortunately we have now had a second chance to view the exhibition.

And it is every bit as good as we assumed it would be from what we had seen.

Prototypes of the 404 collection by Stefan Diez for Thonet, as seen at Full House: Design by Stefan Diez, The Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne

There is one song missing from the smow blog playlist: missing for the simple, regrettable, and thoroughly avoidable, reason that it isn’t on spotify.

For din skyld by the Danish singer Birgit Brüel. Denmark’s entry for the 1965 Eurovision Song Contest. And featuring lyrics by Poul Henningsen.

Yes, that Poul Henningsen.

Poul Henningsen