Category: Producer


“Beware the Ides of March” Julius Caesar was, allegedly, advised by the soothsayer Spurinna. And he probably wished he had. March 15th seeing his death at the hands of some 60 Senators, a death which led to civil war as opposing forces sought to control Rome’s destiny.

“Beware the 5th of the Calends of April” a modern day Spurinna would no doubt warn the good folks of the United Kingdom. March 29th looking as it is like being an equally fateful day.

But while Caesar could have taken steps to prevent his demise, the fate of the good folks of the United Kingdom is out of their hands, they must wait and see what an ideologically driven group of some 60 Conservative Senators MPs have in store…….

And while we all wait, what could be more enriching than that which helps set the temporality of politicians’ decisions against the irrepressible force of social and cultural evolution; a force parliamentarian laws can delay but never stop, and a truth one finds elegantly mirrored in architecture and design.

Our five recommendations for new exhibitions opening in March 2019 can be found in Frankfurt, Brussels, Chemnitz, London and Magdeburg.


“On, on, on, cried the leaders at the back….”

As regular readers will be aware, in these dispatches we, very, very occasionally, quietly bemoan a certain monotony at furniture trade fairs, protest that, if you will, we regularly find ourselves wading through an homogenous mass.

On this occasion we will however let someone else make that observation on our behalf.

In his 2015 book Swedish Design: An Ethnography the American anthropologist Keith M. Murphy notes of a visit to the 2006 Stockholm Furniture Fair, “[T]he only problem was, so much of the stuff here looked so similar, and I had a difficult time anchoring myself in the exhibition’s plan”, continuing later that, “[T]he place is predominantly suffused not with a variety of different kinds of objects, but rather with a variety of different objects of the same general kind.”1

So 2006. So 2019.

Though interestingly he does also note that, “one cannot evade the impression that Sweden endures under a tyranny of simple forms and solid bright colours”. These days it’s more solid pastel tones, but…..

Such isn’t exclusive to Stockholm, but can be experienced wherever the furniture industry meet to display their wares. Clearly there are a host of varied, arguably inter-related, causes for such a situation, but here is neither the time nor the space to discuss them; the consequence, however, is that walking through the halls of any give trade fair one finds that while many objects do speak to you, they all tend to do so with a repetition of the same limited vocabularies, often in a very forced, insecure, equivocal manner, and which thus, very quickly, becomes tiresome.

However as Keith M Murphy also notes, “not everything fit [sic] the model” and there are not only always objects to be found with something interesting to say, but which say that in an intelligent, literate and engaging fashion.

And so, and as ever, with the understanding that we have inevitably missed and/or not properly understood several gems, a smow blog Stockholm Furniture Fair 2019 High 5!!

Stockholm Furniture Fair 2019: High Five!!

According to US gonzo journalist, Hunter S Thompson, “the human animal needs a Good Reason to get out of bed on a wretched morning in February.” 1

May we humbly suggest…….

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for February 2019

According to the posters to be found liberally distributed throughout the city, IMM Cologne 2019 promised to present “1000 furnishings ideas for your home”

And it may very well have done. We didn’t count. Not least because….

What interest the number, if the ideas themselves ain’t meaningful?
What interest the number, if the ideas themselves ain’t logical?
What interest the number, if the ideas themselves ain’t justifiable?

Or reducing the thought to its essence, what interest the idea if it ain’t meaningful, logical and justifiable?

1 meaningless, illogical and unjustifiable idea being every bit as undesirable and harmful as 1000.

As Brexit so poetically underscores.

And so while we can’t confirm there were a 1000 ideas, we can confirm that the principle idea at IMM Cologne 2019 was “consolidation”, the presentation of familiar lines in different colours, materials, heights, widths, etc….

Which, yes, is a comment we make a lot about furniture trade fairs, one we get the impression we’re making ever more often, one we feel will ultimately see us stop attending such; but a comment that, as ever, isn’t a complaint, far from it. It needn’t, shouldn’t, always be new, new, new. If it is it becomes fashion, not furniture. And thoroughly awful.

Whereby one must add IMM Cologne featured some very intelligent, meaningful, logical, justifiable, consolidations. Consolidation ≢ bad.

But there does also need to be new. Because on the one hand technology and materials are ever new, and furniture designers and the, and for want of a better phrase, designer furniture industry, have a duty to respond to those changes; on the other society is ever new, and by extrapolation so are the demands we place on our furniture, be that functionally, aesthetically or environmentally, and furniture designers and the designer furniture industry have a duty to respond to those changes; and on the rare, and especially valuable third hand, in order to advance we need that which we didn’ know we needed, that which we could never have imagined being without, even though we could never imagine being with, that which questions the accepted. Responding to such new realities, challenging conventions, presenting solutions based on a singular understanding of the reality, is the basis of what ultimately became the designer furniture industry and the furniture designer, and the future of both can only be found in the same.

Or put another way, the balance between the established and the new needs to remain healthy if the, for want of a better phrase, designer furniture industry, is to remain relevant.

And so, and as ever with the assumption we have missed one or the other delight, and/or not fully understood something we did see, a smow Blog IMM Cologne 2019 High Five!!

IMM Cologne 2019: High Five!!

On December 10th 1869 Gebrüder Thonet voluntarily relinquished their 1856 Privilege in respect of “The manufacture of chairs and table legs made of bent wood, the bending facilitated by the action of steam or simmering liquids”; thereby ending not only a thirteen year monopoly during which time Thonet became a firmly established global brand, but also the culmination of a neigh on three decade story which highlights the importance of patent protection in the furniture industry.

Biegen oder Brechen. Michael Thonet (1796 - 1871)

French designer Ionna Vautrin first reached a broad international public with her Binic lamp for Italian manufacturer Foscarini, a design which, it’s fair to say, is/was one of those genuinely, gloriously, joyous moments in the (hi)story of lighting design, a work full of character yet devoid of vanity, universally applicable yet always individual.

Ionna Vautrin is however more than Binic: before Binic Ionna had enjoyed a varied, international career working with a diverse roster of studios and across an equally diverse range of design genres. Since Binic Ionna had enjoyed a varied, international career working with a diverse roster of manufacturers and across an equally diverse range of design genres.

Keen to know more we met up with Ionna Vautrin in Paris…….

Ionna Vautrin

At Orgatec Cologne 2016 Vitra staged, in effect, their own trade fair, renting an entire hall and inviting family and friends along to share the space and their ideas on the future of work.

And obviously had a lot of fun and/or success with the concept.

For at Orgatec Cologne 2018 they once again staged the Vitra Fair……. Work

Vitra - Work, Orgatec Cologne 2018

History is not only written by the winners, and re-written by those who can’t accept the facts of their defeat, but history is also the story of the visible, those who are invisible having nothing to contribute.

With the exhibition Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938 the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden not only re-introduce nineteen, largely, forgotten female creatives, and therefore allow their contributions’ to history to be recorded, but in doing so allow for new understandings of the development of design in the first decades of the 20th century, the (hi)story of the Werkstätten Hellerau, and also reflections on today’s contemporary furniture design industry.

Works by Lilli Vetter, as seen at Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938, Japanisches Palais Dresden

As previously, and repeatedly, noted, one of the defining aspects about an office furniture fair such as Orgatec Cologne is that wherever one looks one sees a similar vista. Whereas in terms of domestic furnishings there are enough genres of furniture and interpretations of those genres to allow for a, at least relatively when not necessarily satisfyingly, varied landscape, office furniture is much more limited, not only doesn’t have the variety of genres, but has a few that are essentials; consequently every manufacturer has very similar product lines, every manufacturer has, for example, a height-adjustable desk, a sofa with high sides, a desk height rocking stool, a modular bench system, and an office chair with flat, slightly organic quadratic armrests that resemble cutlery Georg Jensen may have produced in the 1960s. The differences are, generally, to be found in terms of mechanisms, connection systems, interfaces, materials or textiles, so very technical aspects. Very important aspects, very fundamental aspects, but things that aren’t necessarily instantly visible. Hence the visual monotony. And aspects which when explored in detail aren’t always that interesting/innovative/engaging/sensible/relevant/practical/functional/etc. It’s a tiring, thankless, business working your way through such a landscape.

Particularly a landscape such as Orgatec 2018 which was, at least as we experienced it, largely about consolidation, about manufacturers extending existing product families or presenting existing products in new materials, new textiles, new colours, new fragrances, etc, etc…..

Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a thankless and fruitless task, just thankless, and thus, and with the standard disclaimer that we have invariably missed numerous genuine highlights, a smow blog Orgatec Cologne 2018 High 5!!

Orgatec Cologne 2018 High Five

The top story from Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 is that use of the toilets is free. Jubilation all round!! Much as we like to think our campaign against the previous 50 cent charge was responsible, we suspect the answer lies elsewhere. But we made a stand, and that’s what’s important.

As is the fact that freed from our rage at the intolerability of the charges, and the thus ensuing intolerable bladder pressure, we could concentrate freely on the objects on show.

Accepting, as ever, that we missed one or the other genuine delight, a Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5!!

Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5

Whereas today the term “design” is regularly understood as an adjective or a noun, its origin is as a verb. It is something one does.

The interesting and relevant being that everyone does it differently.

With the exhibition Process the centre d’innovation et de design au Grand-Hornu explore Belgian designer Benoît Deneufbourg’s definition of that verb.

Benoît Deneufbourg. Process, CID - centre d'innovation et de design au Grand-Hornu

It is a universal rule of life that some of the most pleasing things occur unplanned, and that is certainly the case when visiting a design week, events where the disappointment that invariably arises visiting shows you intended to, is quickly offset by something you stumble across per chance.

So too was it as we turned into the Rue des Coutures-Saint-Gervais, our thoughts less concerned with where we were or where we were going as with where we had been and for all why we’d been where we’d been, then we passed number 14. Stopped. Went back…..

Plateau Lamp by Ferréol Babin for Daniel, as seen during Paris Design Week 2018

The advantage the autumn edition of Maison et Objet has over the spring edition is Paris Design Week, a chance to not only explore French creativity in a wider context than can be found in the trade fair halls, but also to explore the French capital without the distraction of the city’s history.

A central component of Paris Design Week is Le Off, a platform for young designers and which for its 2018 edition was based in the Ground Control event and creative centre, tucked away behind Gare du Lyon.

Although for us it quickly became much more Gare du Nord…….

Friche au pied du ballot umbrella stand-flower box by Benjamin Helle through Aequo Edition, as seen at Paris Design Week 2018

The biggest disappointment at Maison et Objet Autumn 2018 was that Announcement Lady wasn’t broadcasting across the halls, and so this year there was no continual “Mesdames, Messieurs”, and so we had no continual Sash soundtrack to carry us though our visit.

We just hope Announcement Lady’s absence wasn’t on account of us, we hope she didn’t quit because she felt we were mocking her, being cheeky, or otherwise making fun of her. We weren’t. It was genuinely one of our highlights at Maison et Objet Autumn 2017. One of the reasons we went back.

Fortunately, and as much as we missed her, there were a few other highlights to distract us in Paris this September.

And so with a hearty Encore une fois for auld lang syne, a Maison et Objet Autumn 2018 High Four!

Maison et Objet Paris Autumn 2018 High 5

On the train to Cologne the signs were unmissable, the sun may have been gloriously, victoriously, shinning, as it has done since Easter, from a clear azure sky: but autumn is definitely approaching. And while it may be a bit premature to start planning for next summer, at the annual spoga+gafa garden, freetime and equestrianism trade fair in Cologne, manufacturers presented what they expect us to sit on next summer in our gardens, on our balconies, while camping, the accessories they expect us to have around us while we do such and the ludicrously testosterone charged names of the barbecues they expect us to cook with.

But will we? Should we? Can we?

spoga+gafa Cologne 2018: High Five

The building which Central Saint Martins calls home was erected in 1852 as store for grain arriving from Lincolnshire and awaiting its further distribution to London’s bakers.

Was, if you like, a transfer point, a hub, a location where general ideas became specific solutions, a place industry and trade called upon when needing raw materials for their latest project, a source for those whose work helped support and nourish the populace, a central institution in the development of the city and one, thereby, directly related to the immediate needs and interests of society.

We’re sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, somewhere, but where…….? Would a visit to the 2018 Central Saint Martins’ Degree Show help us locate it…….?

Central Saint Martins, London

In his Ron Arad monograph Restless Furniture Deyan Sudjic notes that the Sticks & Stones furniture crusher Arad developed for the exhibition Nouvelles Tendances staged by the Centre de Creation Industriel Paris in 1987 was itself only saved from the crusher through the post-exhibition “intervention of a friendly Swiss furniture manufacturer.”1

While all Swiss furniture manufacturers are friendly, one particularly friendly Swiss furniture manufacturer springs to mind whenever the discussion turns to furniture design as being more than the shape of a chair, furniture design as a cultural imperative or the preservation of furniture design heritage.

As if confirmation were needed, the Sticks & Stones crusher greets visitors to the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot exhibition Ron Arad: Yes to the Uncommon!

Ron Arad. Yes to the Uncommon! @ the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot

“Monsieur, with these Rocher you are really spoiling us!”

Ever since Ferrero brought a touch of self-congratulatory kitsch to the savoir-faire of international diplomacy, we’ve felt a great empathy for the concept of the Embassy.

And while the years since we first heard those words may not have seen us follow an illustrious, freely debonair, diplomatic career, we do have as a substitute the embassy design exhibition.

3daysofdesign Copenhagen 2018 offered such a wealth and variety of embassy exhibitions we simply couldn’t resist donning a metaphorical morning coat and taking a flânerie through the diplomatic quarter.

But would that which awaited us also be an ultimate “sign of good taste”……..?*

3daysofdesign Copenhagen 2018: #embassytour

Established in 1897 as an institution for pure and applied arts the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld was, for all through the person of its founding director Friedrich Deneken, an important protagonist in the discourse concerning the relationships between art, craft and industry at the turn of the 20th century

With the exhibition From Idea to Form. Domeau & Pérès: Design and Craftsmanship in Dialogue, the contemporary Kaiser Wilhelm Museum Krefeld continue this discourse.

From Idea to Form. Domeau & Pérès Design and Craftsmanship in Dialogue at the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum Krefeld

Any anthology of 20th century design would by necessity feature a very, very long chapter on Italy. With Storie. Il Design Italiano the Triennale Design Museum Milan sketch out how the narrative of such a chapter could develop, highlight key moments in the plot development and introduce the most important protagonists.

Storie. Il Design Italiano @ Triennale Design Museum, Milan

By way of celebrating designer Achille Castiglioni’s centenary Italian lighting manufacturer Flos used Milan Design Week 2018 to launch re-editions of two Castiglioni designs: Ventosa and Nasa.

Objects which in their own, small, ways allow for an insight into Achille Castiglioni’s approach to, and understanding of, design.

Flos present Achille Castiglioni - If you are not curious forget it, Milan Design Week 2018

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