smow Design Blog


No, it’s not all shoulder pads and garish colour clashes……. although……..

…….much more, with the exhibition 1980s – A new era in furniture design Stockholm’s Museum of Furniture Studies explore furniture design in that most politically, culturally, socially and economically fluid of decades, and, and not completely unrelated, a decade which not only brought fundamental changes to understandings of furniture design, but arguably brought more abrupt, more curt, more enduring changes than at any time since the 1920s.

Works by Olle Anderson and First Chair Michele de Lucchi, as seen at 1980s - A new era in furniture design, The Museum of Furniture Studies, Stockholm


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!!


It’s been 8 years since we last visited an exhibition by Stockholm based studio Färg & Blanche.

Then 2011, back in the days when we still had our own teeth, our own hair, dreams and aspirations which were in our control, it was the exhibition 20 designers at BIOLOGISKA, one of the most memorable locations we’ve ever viewed an exhibition in. And despite having been in many an impressive venues since, a multi-storey 360 degree diorama populated by stuffed animals in a range of habitats, remains a firm favourite.

Now 2019, the venue equally as memorable, Emma Marga Blanche’s paternal great-grandparents late-19th century flat on the site of, and next, to their former Knäckebröd factory. A space seemingly caught in time while all around Södermalm has evolved from a largely working class district into one of Stockholm’s hipper.

The principle difference between 2011 and 2019 is that then Färg & Blanche presented works by themselves and selected chums, now it is all their own work.

The wedge shaped component of Keyhole collection by Färg & Blanche, as seen at The Baker's House, Stockholm Design Week 2019


The exhibition Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938 at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden presents the biographies of 19 female creatives who despite being, to varying degrees, prolific in the early decades of the 20th century, became increasingly invisible post-War; and in doing so not only helps them to regain their visibility, not only ensures their contribution to the development of art and design in the first decades of the 20th century is recorded, but also helps us develop a more realistic, probable, understanding of the (hi)story of art and design.

Staged in context of Against Invisibility the symposium A Woman’s Work provided a platform for a wider discussion, wider considerations, on the visibility of female designers, historic, contemporary and future.

A Woman's Work Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden


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


Despite what some may have us believe, Bauhaus didn’t appear one morning from the slowly clearing mists of the Ilm valley; rather, and for all its lasting allure, Bauhaus ’twas but a moment on a longer, wider, international helix. One which began its twisting long before Walter Gropius and his merry band arrived in Weimar, and which continues, winding its way ever onwards, to this day.

With the exhibition From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus. Art and Design – A New Unity! the Bröhan Museum Berlin explore the helix as it approached and then, briefly, informed Bauhaus.

From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus. Art and Design - A New Unity @ The Bröhan Museum Berlin


“The role of the architect is one of organisation. The house is the considered organisation of our ways of life”1, opined the Austrian architect Margarete Lihotzky in 1921.

And in the course of a long, varied career, she repeatedly demonstrated what she understood by such; including most famously, if somewhat narrowly, in a kitchen design………….

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) (Photo Werner Faymann, source https://commons.wikimedia.org)


“…a new generation, a new age, must develop forms and tenors for their interior and exterior worlds which correspond to its desire for well-being and its ideals” wrote Frankfurt city mayor Ludwig Landmann in 1926.1

With the exhibition Moderne am Main 1919-1933 the Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt explore how such developments were approached and realised in Frankfurt and environs, and by extrapolation explore the contribution made by the region to the evolution of inter-War understandings of architecture and design, and the legacy that remains.

Moderne am Main 1919-1933 @ Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt


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!!


Fortune, we are told, favours the brave. Misfortune the reckless, but fortune the brave.

Thus, summing all the bravery we could muster, we descended into the unknown of the Bunker am Bahngleis and the exhibition Generation Köln…..*

Karoline&Klemens&Thomas&Tim. Generation Köln @ Passagen Cologne 2019


Although founded twelve years before Bauhaus Weimar, and despite overlaps in personnel and biographies, it would be incorrect to draw a direct line from the Deutsche Werkbund to the Gropius school, even if a line of sorts can, should, be traced between the two institutions.

A line which serves not only to connect the two but to underscore the role both played in the development of contemporary understandings of formal aesthetics in the first decades of the 20th century, and also the influence both retain over contemporary understandings of such a century or so later.

In context of such considerations, the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin are presenting throughout 2019 a series of four exhibitions under the title 111/99. Questioning the Modernist Design Vocabulary and which aim to explore various aspects of the development of, well, modernist design vocabulary.

The start being made with graphic arts and the showcase Commercial Design instead of Applied Art?

Commercial Design instead of Applied Art? @ the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin


The reason most of us fail to keep most of our New Year resolutions is, mostly, because we either resolve to give up things we enjoy or to do things we don’t.

Which is foolhardy in the extreme.

If you wanted to do more sport, you would.

If you wanted to eat less crisps, you would.

But don’t. And don’t. So don’t.

The wiser choice is to resolve to do more of that which you enjoy, and thereby not only setting yourself an achievable goal but one which through the genuine fulfilment it brings benefits you spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically; therefore, let us all, collectively, promise to visit more architecture and design exhibitions in 2019 than we did in 2018.

Agreed?

Our five starters for January 2019 can be found in Frankfurt, Malmö, New York, Berlin and Stuttgart……………..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for January 2019


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)


Following the #smowblogfact revelation from Vitra Work at Orgatec Cologne 2018 that the smow blog office is devoid of shelving, we were inundated with an e-mail asking why? why has the smow blog office no shelving….?

A very simple question, and one which for the first time caused us to pose ourselves a much more fundamental question, why? why, has the smow blog office no shelving….?

Considerations which quickly evolved and diverged to concern themselves with the more general questions of what, how, when and why shelving…….

Radio smow Shelving Playlist Skara Brae Orkney Furniture


While a Chair of Politics is a long established academic principle, the chair as politics represents a much more contemporary understanding of, not just chairs, but all those artefacts with which we share our world and our daily lives.

With the exhibition Friedrich von Borries. Politics of Design. Design of Politics Die Neue Sammlung Munich explore, or perhaps more accurately, give architect and design theorist Friedrich von Borries free hand to explore, the intersection(s) of design and politics.

Friedrich von Borries. Politics of Design. Design of Politics @ Die Neue Sammlung Munich


If you are planning visiting an architecture or design museum, anywhere in the world, in 2019, it will be staging a Bauhaus themed special exhibition. Guaranteed. There are literally millions of them lined up. If not billions.

Which is no complaint. Or at least not unless they are exhibitions based on formulaic, lazy clichés. Then it is very much a complaint. But if they are exhibitions which take open, honest and unblinkered views on either the institution as a whole or a specific, ideally, under researched, aspect of the institution, and of course remember that it is 100 years Bauhaus Weimar, and not 100 years Bauhaus Dessau, then it is no complaint.

Consequently, December 2018 could be your last chance to experience anything else for a goodly while.

Our Bauhaus free recommendations or December 2018 can be found in Vienna, Dortmund, New York, London & San Francisco……..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for December 2018


Much as ever increasing co-working is altering understandings of and relations to work practises and office spaces, so to is ever increasing co-habitation altering understandings of and relations to domestic practises and spaces.

Albeit domestic understandings that are altering without as much public discourse as afforded those occurring in the workplace.

With the exhibition Together. The new architecture of the collective the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig explore, and thereby allow for a focus on, contemporary communal living.

Poolhaus Vienna, as seen at Together. The new architecture of the collective the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig


Slowly but surely the temperatures across Europe begin to fall, along with the leaves and the hours of daylight.

Hibernation approaches.

And by way of an accompaniment to the imminent long sleep, a Radio smow beds playlist.

Radio smow bed playlist


Designer, grib magten! enjoined the 2018 Design School Kolding exhibition, Designer, seize the power!

Which not only sounds a bit more revolutionary than one is use to from Danes, but also implies designers should be in power. A position on which, and as we oft noted, we’re highly sceptical.

Intimately involved in power systems yes, but designers in charge…….

Consequently we thought it wise to set course for the Design School Kolding 2018 Graduation Exhibition.

Designer, grib magten! Design School Kolding 2018 graduation exhibition, Koldinghus


Atop bonny Killesberg, and beside Kochenhof, (the) Akademie der Bildenden Künste, ABK, Stuttgart has been nurturing a basic kernel within a bright kettle of students of numerous creative disciplines since 1761.

For their 2018 Rundgang the, we believe the word is, identity, was based on alternative resolutions of the initialism ABK, the central one being Alle brauchen Kunst – Everyone Needs Art.

But do we need that applied, functional art developed in the year past at the ABK Stuttgart……?

A visit to the 2018 Rundgang promised to supply us with a better knowledge, but also to bequeath the students a bit kudos…….?

Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart, Rundgang 2018


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


As we all learned from the exhibition Peter Behrens. The Practical and the Ideal at the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum Krefeld, the city was an important location in the development of the young Peter Behrens, not least through the role played by the museum’s founding director Friedrich Deneken in helping Behrens take his first steps from pure to applied arts; help which included not only giving Behrens’ work space in the museum but also mediating commissions with Krefeld manufacturers.

One of the more interesting projects discussed by Deneken and Behrens was creating the Damenzimmer – Boudoir – in Behrens’ house on the Mathildenhöhe Artists Colony in Darmstadt as a “Krefeld Room”, featuring exclusively, or near as makes no difference, works by Krefeld manufacturers.

Ultimately, for reasons of time, it wasn’t realised as such, but the fact that it was seriously considered underscores the depth of manufacturing and craft industries in Krefeld of 1901.

And the breadth of Behrens’ fledgling talents.

Krefeld of 2018 may not have the depth of industry it enjoyed in 1901, but do the current fledgling designers have the breadth of talent of a Peter Behrens?

The 2018 designkrefeld Werkschau provided a good opportunity to gather an impression.

 Bernhard Pfau Building, Hochschule Niederrhein, Krefeld


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


How many stories can a city tell? There are the public, collective, communal stories told by its buildings, by its peoples, by its industries, by the development of its cultural institutions and through the actions of famous/infamous citizens; but there are also the myriad private, individual stories, the scurrilous, the appalling, the romantic, the comic, the tragic, the improbable, and of course the secret, whispered, ones.

At the risk of sounding like a city marketing platform, a city is the sum of its stories. And is thereby always in flux.

For Waidblicke #3 smow Cologne invited selected professional and student architects, photographers and designers to reflect on Cologne’s Stadtgeschichte(n) – City (Hi)stories

The Cologne City Wall as imagined by Corporate Architecture students from Cologne Institute of Architectural Design (CIAD), as seen at Waidblicke #3: Stadtgeschichte(n), smow Köln