Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016
October 27th, 2016 by smow

When we spoke with Vitra’s Chief Sales Officer Josef Kaiser at NeoCon Chicago he told us that at “Orgatec 2016 we will be trying to be more interesting for architects, without losing the focus on the dealers, which will be challenge, but one we’re looking forward to, not least because this year we have our own hall”

What that meant in practice could be experienced in Hall 5.2 at Cologne Messe. Or in the Vitra Messe – Vitra Trade Fair – as we’ve taking to calling it, seeing how it was, effectively, a fair within a fair.

Vitra - Work @ Orgatec 2016

Vitra – Work @ Orgatec 2016

Orgatec 2016: Vitra – Work

Set in a scenography created by Pernilla Ohrstedt and Jonathan Olivares and presented under the title “Work” the Vitra Messe 2016 featured in addition to new and established Vitra products, selected Vitra partners including, and amongst others, Ruckstuhl, Wästberg and bulthaup.

If we’re honest ahead of the event we imagined something akin to a “Citizen Office 4.0”, that the whole exhibition hall would be transformed into a large office space presenting a range of scenarios for the (potential) office of the future.

The result was somewhat different, if not unenjoyable. In effect one half of the hall was Vitra, the other half their partners.Vitra furniture and accessories populating the partners stands, while the familiar Vitra Collage was extended by objects from the partners’ collections.

The formal presentation was complimented by a large cafe and what was known as The Garden, an installation by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec taken from their Rêveries Urbaines exhibition and featuring three large rings by way of public seating.

The overall experience of the Vitra Messe as a complete composition was perhaps best summed up by a German furniture producer popular in this parish as “Excellent but terrifying!”

Vitra - Work @ Orgatec 2016

Vitra – Work @ Orgatec 2016

Having acquainted yourself with the surroundings, and for all the scale, the first thing one noticed was how relaxed and easy everything was. Almost quiet. Sure it was busy, it was Vitra at Orgatec, but one wasn’t forced to play the involuntary game of Sardines that one knows from Vitra at Orgatec. One had space. Consequently the Vitra products were much more in the foreground, everything was less hurried, cocooned as one was in Hall 5.2, one could focus more easily. More happily.

And in terms of being of interest to architects, we haven’t spoken to any and so we can’t say how they found it; but in the partners one had a lot of companies who wouldn’t normally  exhibit at Orgatec, yet who offer products, solutions, services and materials which are important components of any office/construction project and thus of (theoretical) interest to architects, planners and interior designers. As such one had a sort of planning supermarket. How well stocked it was is for others to judge.

The Garden by  Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, it took the public a while to get the idea.....

The Garden by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, it took the public a while to get the idea…..

If there was one thing missing then for us it was free experimentation. From the late 1980s until the early 2000s Vitra ran the so-called Vitra Editions, a project which invited selected designers, architects and artists to develop experimental/conceptual projects and which in addition to various abstract artistic statements also led to one or the other product. We wouldn’t suggest going back to such per se, but there are a myriad of studios undertaking interesting, and genuinely realistic, use orientated, experimental research into materials, production processes, textiles, future scenarios, work flow processes and who could be brought together with a minimum of fuss to create a small showcase to complete the market ready solutions. Aside from cheering us up, such a presentation would also mean that while the retailers concentrated on the price points, delivery times and order conditions of the new products, architects, planners and designers could investigate the research and so start developing new realities. Potentially Vitra could commission an external designer/architect/agency to curate a presentation around a set theme. We’re sure the Vitra Design Museum have a couple of ideas as to who one could call.

...... but they got there

…… but they got there

Everyone we spoke to about the Vitra Messe was positively inclined to what was realised, sure everyone had some point to make or a criticism of some aspect, but they were all different and in general all found it a brave, well realised and for all logical step.

Which raises the obvious question, where to next?

In many respects the only answer is for Vitra to organise their own fair.

Certainly in terms of office furniture.

Do Vitra need Orgatec? Do Orgatec need Vitra?

The answer to both is potentially yes; but as 2016 beautifully indicates, both could also survive without the other.

In terms of the office and contract market Vitra need architects, designers, planners and in context of the contemporary European furniture industry it is questionable if a conventional trade fair is the best place to meet them. We know it has overtones of pretense to write such, but Vitra sell office systems, office environments, the individual elements are less important than the way the interact, contrast, support and communicate with one another to create a logical, unified composition. And that needs to be explained in situ. Not as individual objects on a trade stand.

And so their own event?

The most obvious weakness for us is that if organised along the lines of the Vitra Messe 2016 then all the partner companies would be fully dependent on Vitra’s patronage for their presence; one would be moving as it were inside a hermetically sealed Vitra Bubble, with all the problems and lack of creative tension that entails.

Once is OK. Regular repetition becomes dull.

But if a way could be found to ensure a challenging and dynamic mix of partners……..

Which only leaves the question of where to stage it?

We’d argue for Weil am Rhein, not least because it presents Rolf Fehlbaum with the perfect excuse to expand the Vitra Campus: The Vitra Expo by ???????

That, roughly, is our vision of Vitra’s future.

Much more concrete was Vitra’s vision of our futures.

Three project in particular caught our attention.

Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby

The office chair has been central to the development of Vitra: it was with the office chair that they started their move away from home furnishings, was with the office chair that they seriously began to develop their own products rather than relying on licensing Herman Miller products, and thus it was with the office chair that Vitra established themselves as a brand. And one must add that selling office chairs allows you to sell desks, cupboards, and all those other furniture items any office needs, and which help raise the bottom line.

In addition to further developments of the ID Chair collection by Antonio Citterio and the launch of the new AM Chair by Alberto Meda, the highlight for us of the new Vitra office chairs presented at Orgatec 2016 was without question the Pacific Chair by London based designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby a.k.a Barber Osgerby.

The commission from Vitra came shortly after the launch of Barber Osgerby’s Tip-Ton chair, and represents the pair’s first office chair project, and was as Jay Osgerby says “quite a scary thing. You take these things on and then as you start to understand the complexities of a project like this it is quite daunting.”

“But”, we venture, “presumably working with a company such as Vitra takes a lot of the technical stress from you as the company have the experience”

“Such a chair is less about the physics, we’re comfortable with that, but is more about the constraints the market demands”, answer Jay, “health and safety, how big are people, how much do they weigh, how much support is needed where, there is an encyclopaedic knowledge about what such a product needs to conform to, needs to do and Vitra have that and that helped us immensely”

“For us the biggest problem with an office chair is that it has to have so many options”, continues Edward Barber, “it has to do so many different things so that people can specify it and also so that it meets all these regulations, and this creates a contraption, a monster, because you’ve got all these things going on in one object. And so our concept was to keep the functions, because we had to, but to visually reduce the object so that you ended up with an object which was pleasing to both sit in and look at.”

“And so we approached the project with an ambitious naivety and tried to reduce what is normally a machine into something much calmer, something which looks more furniture like.”, concludes Jay Osgerby.

The phrase “ambitious naivety” is now firmly ensconced in our all-time top five phrases. Expect to find it repeated regularly in these pages in the coming months.

The result of this ambitious naivety is a chair which while unmistakably an office chair has more than a hint of domesticity, and certainly no hint of either contraption nor monster……

Through moving the armrests from their normal central location to the back of the seat Barber Osgerby have not only combined the functional elements in one location,and thus created a construction advantage and reduced the number of elements required, but have also opened up the seat, making it a very clear defined and thoroughly welcoming object. Almost lounge. But with just enough tension between comfort and functionality to keep it in the office.

A central feature of the Pacific Chair is the height adjustable backrest, as in the whole backrest can be moved up or down. A mechanism which takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you have understood the very simple principle, it makes almost as much sense as the design thinking that led to it, “you need to have some form of lumbar support and so rather than add an extra piece that moves up and down why not just move the whole back up and down?” explains/asks Edward.

It would certainly appear to be the elegant solution.

And further proof that design isn’t a profession but a way of thinking.

With the backrest in its lowest position one has an underhang, as if the chair is wearing a tailed dinner jacket, and is thus visually very reminiscent of the pair’s Pilot Chair for Knoll. A favoured new signature style for Barber Osgerby? The chair tailcoat?

“The Pacific Chair has got a long back because we wanted to hide the mechanism, keep everything visually clean”, answer Jay, “with the Pilot Chair it was the case that we had to clamp the backrest onto the Y-shaped bracket which is below the seat. However both are chairs that are mainly seen from the back and with the long backrest one brings in a certain visual calmness.”

For us the Pacific Chair is not only a very well realised and executed office chair design but also a valuable addition to the Vitra Office chair programme, offering as it does a pleasingly graphic, easily accessible and universally applicable chair which brings a new dimension and atmosphere into office spaces.

And for Barber Osgerby, having completed their first office chair have they tasted blood, are they keen to do more?

“Definitely, answers Jay Osgerby, “it was really tough but we really enjoyed it”

“And the work isn’t finished yet”, adds Edward Barber, “we are still working on for example a netweave backrest and various other features, and so although it is being launched here the chair programme and the work will continue”

Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016

Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby, as seen at Vitra – Work, Orgatec 2016

Cyl by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

“I was bored by office development, or the direction office is going”, says Ronan Bouroullec, “for me office is going in directions I don’t like, it is becoming ever more complicated, and so while there are obviously different needs in the office I thought it would be quite interesting to develop something that goes back to a certain primitivism.”

The result is Cyl a project which Ronan initially considered as a potential Artek project but which ultimately developed into a Vitra project. Presented at Orgatec 2016 as an advanced prototype of a potential office system Cyl presents itself in a very paired down, rustic optic: wooden cylinders linked to wooden verticals, horizontals and diagonals supporting wooden panels. The sofa elements are upholstered, the unseen connectors metal, otherwise Cyl is a wooden system.

Ronan Bouroullec speaks of Cyl as being akin to a workshop, a description that is valid both in terms of the visuals as well as in that as a platform based system it presents a series of areas in which you can work as you wish, rather than the system defining what is to be done where. In a similar vein, what we particularly like about Cyl is that it is uncompromisingly, almost hardcore, analogue. Office furniture is by its nature very technical, and by our nature becoming ever more. Cyl ain’t. Cyl resists. And we like that. You want a sit-to-stand desk? Build it! No electric motors here.

“Modern technology means we need less objects in order to be connected, to be able to work, and so we can come back to and concentrate more on the simpler aspects of things”, adds Ronan, “we don’t need a solution for everything and I think it is a question of reducing the number of things which surround us, to consider what is important and in a way to tidy up a bit”

In addition a further aspect is important for Ronan Bouroullec, “personally I need calm”

And with Cyl one has that calm, one isn’t distracted by high-tech. Yes some will no doubt argue that Cyl is step backwards, that the toned wooden optics of the system hark back to the early 80s while the rigidity of the desk surrounds is dangerously reminiscent of the much maligned “Dilbert” cubicles

That however would be to confuse the visuals for the essentials of the concept.

Being as it is a Bouroullec project Cyl is essentially about the connector, Ronan refers to its a “knot”, and one which is hidden in the construction but which allows the construction to grow and develop in various directions and thus realise all manner of furniture typologies. Some of which are very obvious Bouroullec, the wooden Alcove Sofa for example is unmissable, others more general. And others not yet developed, including more domestic solutions. The formal language of the system allowing as it does an easy transfer from office to home. Or indeed to shop to hotel to hospitality to education to wherever.

And being a system Cyl can obviously be extended, reduced, reconfigured as and when required. And that in perpetuity

As already noted Cyl was presented at the Vitra Messe 2016 as an advanced prototype, if it enters production will ultimately depend to a degree on the feedback received. However as a study, a proposition, a position on contemporary office furniture systems Cyl is a nicely conceived and valuable contribution.

Cyl by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016

Cyl by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, as seen at Vitra – Work, Orgatec 2016

Stool-Tool and Chair Table by Konstantin Grcic

Among a series of office scenarios created by Konstantin Grcic two objects particularly caught our attention Stool-Tool and Chair Table, both playful, almost impudent, objects which play with ideas of furniture office genres and which for us are primarily about bringing a degree of spontaneity and flexibility to the working day and process. And thus when viewed in context of the 2014 Hack table, raises for us the question as to if Konstantin Grcic sees the future office as involving a move away from the large, rigid, office system?

“For me the office of the future is very heterogeneous”, answers Konstantin Grcic, “featuring fixed structures, but then also freer, changeable areas and there is increasingly a dynamic in that the layout, the arrangement of offices constantly changes and so while one still needs the large systems, one also needs small, flexible individual objects which form specific areas and meet specific requirements”

And so can we understand Stool-Tool and Chair Table as arising from the research that led to the Hack system?

“Hack arose as a result of a journey to the American west coast where we spent time in Silicon Valley and with tech start-ups” replies Konstantin, “as an idea Hack was very simple, and as a project it became quite complicated, heavy and time-consuming. And in a way the new objects are a reaction to that and the result of a review and revaluation of how we work as an office and how I work Vitra. Vitra is a fantastic company with very high demands and expectations on projects, and who utilise the highest quality engineering, but that means projects can become slow, complicated, cumbersome. And among the things I took from my trip and the people I met there was that they work quicker and in a less complicated manner. Risk doesn’t exist. You try something and it works or it doesn’t. With a large project we can’t work like that, because the risk is real and large, but with smaller projects one can try it, do it and see what happens, as it were “put ideas into discussion””

Both of Konstantin Grcic’s new discussion pieces have, at least for us, historical models. And at least in context of Chair Table our assumption is correct. Doing pretty much what the name implies Chair Table is both a chair that can be transformed into a table and a table that can be transformed into a chair. In one object. And an object which as with much of Konstantin Grcic’s oeuvre arose from a reinterpretation and repositioning of an historic furniture typology.

“It is a furniture type I’ve known for a long time, mainly in an American context, and which has always fascinated me, but which I could never classify, could never place where one would use such”, explains Konstantin, “and here to transport it to the new office world, to raise the table to standing height as a meeting island, and then the chair as a high sided box where one is a little ensconced that was then for me so somehow an very logical, coherent solution.”

Logical and coherent as the work and concept unquestionably are, we remain unconvinced that people actually use such objects. Even in the new office. Just as we don’t believe people use QR codes, so to we don’t believe that people will regularly switch from one form to the other. Believe much more that such an object will stay as a chair or a table. Except at the office Christmas party. We could be wrong, we’ve done no research. It is a gut feeling. But one we trust. We’re sure Vitra will do more grounded research before deciding how to progress with the project.

And decide they must. The object presented at Orgatec 2016 is to be understood as a prototype, not only in terms that materials and technical solutions aren’t fixed, but as Konstantin Grcic explains neither is the final concept, “maybe presenting the project here will help us to discuss more generally about what we want to achieve and that may then lead us somewhere else.”

Much more definite is that Stool-Tool will soon be released as a product. Featuring sections at two different heights and thus numerous surfaces for sitting, leaning, writing, placing, Stool-Tool has for us its origins in the so-called “reading chairs” of the 18th century, essentially a lounge chair with a foldable shelf on the backrest and which could be used either sitting or standing. And one of our favourite 18th century chair typologies. We know, we know. Other people have friends, families, hobbies, lives. We have favourite 18th century chair typologies.

The background to Stool-Tool is however very different, and from outwith the furniture world per se, “the basic idea was very simple we wanted an object that had two heights, a small footprint, and was stackable, and the form more or less arose from such considerations. In effect it is comparable with a step, a wall or wherever one sits where one has two heights available and uses them spontaneously, freely and as the situation demands, for me and the object is essentially architectural”, explains Konstantin Grcic, “and is more pragmatic than designed.”

And statement which could just as easily be applied to the Pacific Chair, the Cyl system …. and indeed the Vitra Messe 2016.

If we’re honest we’re already looking forward to the next Vitra Messe.

Wherever and whenever that might be……

Chair Table by Konstantin Grcic, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016

Chair Table by Konstantin Grcic, as seen at Vitra – Work, Orgatec 2016

Stool-Tool by Konstantin Grcic, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016

Stool-Tool by Konstantin Grcic, as seen at Vitra – Work, Orgatec 2016

Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016

Pacific Chair by Barber Osgerby, as seen at Vitra – Work, Orgatec 2016

Cyl by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, as seen at Vitra - Work, Orgatec 2016

Cyl by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, as seen at Vitra – Work, Orgatec 2016

Vitra - Work @ Orgatec 2016

Vitra – Work @ Orgatec 2016

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, orgatec, Producer, Product, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Clown optic - Not good. Textile - very good.
April 20th, 2015 by smow

Upon seeing Rui Alves’s Bridge armchair prototype at IMM Cologne 2015 we commented on the unfamiliar, and for us not instantly accessible, overproportioned upholstered seat and backrest…… Before realising in context of both the Pocket Chair by Jesper Junge and the Lenz Lounge Chair by Bartmann Berlin, Silvia Terhedebrügge & Hanne Willmann, that possibly Rui was just riding the Zeitgeist a lot better than us and that the overproportioned aesthetic had a contemporary relevance we were unaware of.

Since Cologne we’ve befriended the concept of the oversized backrest, fortunately: for the Pilot chair by Barber Osgerby for Knoll would tend to indicate that we should all get used to backrests as voluminous and unapologetic as an Edwardian wig.

A delightfully reduced, uncomplicated and unhurried object the Pilot chair is based around a simple T-shaped aluminium frame onto which backrest, seat, (optional) armrests and base are attached – the latter via an excellently conceived slanted bar construction which both bestows the chair a very pleasing and well proportioned cantilever optic and also allows for the very slightly feathered, and comfortable, sitting experience.

Much less satisfying however is the decision to clothe some of the chairs in clown garb…… but what you gonna do? Other than hope that was just a very poor joke from the Knoll marketing team and in future the Pilot chair will only appear in the understated, and appropriate, leather and textile versions.

Otherwise an excellent chair and an object which for us stole the show from the intended star of the Knoll Milan presentation, the OMA Tools for Life Counter.

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Fuorisalone Milan Design Week, Knoll, Milan Design Week, Producer, Product Tagged with: , ,

Vitra Charles and Ray Eames EA 101, 102 104
April 9th, 2014 by smow

Older readers will remember how last year one of the Vitra Senior Manager’s quoted from this blog in his pre-fair pep talk to the assembled Team Vitra.

Having reached the zenith of our careers we contemplated retiring.

Fortunately we didn’t.

For at Milan 2014 Vitra have re-issued objects from a collection of Alexander Girard furniture designs that featured in our July 2012 “Lost Furniture Design Classics” post.

OK not the furniture pieces we referred to, but objects from the same collection. And while we can’t prove a connection……

Created in 1967 in context of his legendary design work with Braniff Airlines, Alexander Girard’s furniture collection was produced by Herman Miller. But only for a year.

Vitra’s re-issue sadly doesn’t include the sofa and armchair that so moved us to pen that particular post, but does include the Colour Wheel Ottoman. A joyful piece of well thought through and perfectly proportioned furniture design, the Colour Wheel Ottoman features the same base and leg structure as the sofa and side chair, but is a much more approachable, cuddlier, domestic item. And an item that has lost none of its charm over the intervening four decades since its conception.

For us the decision to re-issue is not only very welcome but also very sensible; not least because it gives Vitra a new product genre that beautifully complements and extends the existing Vitra Home Collection.

Parallel to the Colour Wheel Ottoman Vitra have also released some of Alexander Girard’s side tables from the same collection, tables of which in 2012 we wrote “The tables don’t rock our boat quite as much. A little too restrained, don’t really look fully thought through. Look a little too much like a necessary, unloved afterthought.” Sentiments we stand by.

In addition Vitra have also launched re-edition of the  Aluminium Chairs EA 101, 103 and 104 by Charles and Ray Eames. Originally marketed as the “Aluminium Dining Chairs” the EA 101, 102 and 104 are somewhat more compact than, for example the  EA 105 or EA 107 and as such more suitable for domestic settings. Be that a dining table or not. Complimenting the new chairs and their domestic suitability is a palette, a veritable pastel rainbow, of new tones developed by Hella Jongerius for the Kvadrat fabric Hopsack as used in and on the aluminium chair collection.

We know such colour schemes are more about lifestyle than design. But they are most alluring.

New products by Barber Osgerby, Jasper Morrison, Hella Jongerius and a re-launch of the legendary Landi Chair by Hans Coray together with the Davy Table from Michel Charlot – a new product inspired by the Landi Chair and intended as an accompanying piece – complete a fascinating collection of new products.

A  few impressions.

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Fuorisalone Milan Design Week, Milan Design Week, Producer, Product, smow blog compact, smow in Milan, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Jens Risom Lounge Chair Knoll
December 30th, 2013 by smow

Those still looking for a New Year’s Resolution could do worse than to promise to try to maybe visit more design exhibitions this year.

And January 2014 offers a few wonderful places to start.

That January is once again IMM Cologne and the accompanying Cologne Design Week we make no apologies for having selected two Rhein-side exhibitions, in addition we have an investigation of the production process and a brace of exhibitions devoted to Denmark’s more important design “old masters”…..

“BKULT Featuring Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Konstruieren statt Konsumieren” at AIT Architektursalon Cologne, Germany

Older readers will be aware that we long had huge problems with Berlin architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s decision to call his “breakthrough” project Hartz IV Furniture. Delightful project. Appalling name. Having spoken to Van Bo on a couple of occasions over the past couple of years we now at least understand why the project is called what it is called.

We still find the name truly appalling.

We still find the background thinking behind the project truly delightful.

And from Thursday January 16th the AIT Architektursalon Cologne is giving you the chance to make up your own mind. In collaboration with Berlin based platform BKULT the AIT Architektursalon is hosting an exhibition, workshops but for all a discussion around Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s central theory – Build More Buy Less. Can we create a better, fairer society if we kill off consumer culture? Does building your own furniture make you happier? Is Hartz IV Furniture a good name? What is Karma Economy?

Answer to none, some or all of these and similar questions will be searched for and discussed in the course of the event(s)

BKULT Featuring Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Konstruieren statt Konsumieren opens at the AIT Architektursalon Cologne, Vogelsanger Strasse 70, Barthonia Forum, 50823 Cologne on Thursday January 16th 2014 and runs until Thursday February 20th 2014.

Van Bo Le-Mentzel Hartz IV Moebel - Build More, Buy Less

Hartz IV Moebel - Build More, Buy Less. The book.

“Rolf Sachs “typisch deutsch?”” at Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne, Germany

For their major winter/spring 2014 exhibition Cologne’s Museum für Angewandte Kunst will present London based designer and artist Rolf Sachs’ take on popular German stereotypes. A take that if we’ve correctly understood the accompanying press material promises to be a little more humourful than your average design exhibition. Tackling traits such as industriousness, tidiness, sociability or wistfulness “typisch deutsch?” promises to present a series of objects and installations intended to not only reflect on the truth about the nature of “Germanness” but which also encourage us to view the objects around us in a new light. And so by extrapolation ourselves.

Rolf Sachs “typisch deutsch?” opens at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, An der Rechtschule, 50667 Cologne on Monday January 13th 2014 and runs until Monday April 21st 2014.

Rolf Sachs typisch deutsch Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Rolf Sachs' interpretation of industriousness....

“”In the Making” an exhibition curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby” at Design Museum London, England

One of the curious aspects of the design world is that for the designer the finished, on the shelf, ready to buy product is thunderingly uninteresting.

The creative process, the prototyping, form-giving and the production process(es) are what really interest designers. And if most could get away without ever having to produce anything sellable they probably would.

For the London Design Museum Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have curated an exhibition presenting 20+ familiar objects in various stages of production. Ranging from a coins over tennis balls and onto Thonet chairs, “In the Making” aims to make the charm and wonder of the production process visible, and so the designer’s fascination with production processes comprehensible. In addition there is nothing like getting to know a production process to make you appreciate a product – and of course the difference between a diligently produced product. And cheap tat.

“In the Making” an exhibition curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby opens at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD on Wednesday January 22nd 2014 and runs until Friday May 4th 2014

Auf Biegen und Brechen Thonet

The hot wood bending process developed by Michael Thonet. And still practised today.

“The Answer is Risom” at Silvermine Arts Center, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA

Although the story, and indeed success, of Knoll International is without question closely associated with Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia and Eero Saarinen, it all began with a Danish designer who came to America looking to understand contemporary American design. And ended up helping to define it.

Born in Copenhagen Jens Risom studied at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts under teachers such as the great Kaare Klint before in 1939 he travelled to America. In 1941 Jens Risom was introduced to Hans Knoll and in the same year created the first commissioned pieces for Hans Knoll’s fledgling furniture company. And so the very first Knoll Collection. A collection that confirmed Knoll’s commitment to modernism and on which the early success of the company was unquestionably based. In 1943 Jens Risom was drafted into the US Army and post-war established his own Jens Risom Design studio.

Always one of the more underrated proponents of mid- 20th century design Jens Risom’s importance goes far beyond the works he created and can be found in his approach to design and his understanding of his materials.

The exhibition in New Canaan promises to present not only examples of Jens Risom’s furniture but also of his advertising/graphic design work. And will hopefully help a lot more people understand the true majesty of Jens Risom.

“The Answer is Risom” opens at the Silvermine Arts Center, 1037 Silvermine Road, New Canaan, CT 06840 on Wednesday January 8th 2014 and runs until Sunday February 16th 2014

Jens Risom Lounge Chair Knoll

Jens Risom's 1943 Lounge Chair for Knoll

“Børge Mogensen” at Trapholt – Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture, Kolding, Denmark

On April 13th 2014 Børge Mogensen, one of the true giants of Danish furniture design, would have celebrated his 100th birthday. And to mark the occasion the Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture in Kolding have organised an exhibition devoted to the man and his singular approach to the problems of his age.

As one of the first Danish designers to adopt industrial production Børge Mogensen was able to combine his fine understanding for the traditions of Scandinavian, English and American furniture with mass production to create cheap, affordable furniture.

And in doing so unwittingly played an important role in helping define the ubiquitous as it is mythical concept of “Danish Design”

In our 2012 introduction to Børge Mogensen we wrote that he “…has never reached the same level of public fame, far less acknowledgement, as a Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen or Verner Panton.”

And while the show at Trapholt wont substantially change that, it will hopefully introduce a lot more people to Børge Mogensen’s life and work.

“Børge Mogensen” opens at Trapholt – Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture, Æblehaven 23, DK-6000 Kolding on Wednesday January 22nd 2014 and runs until Sunday October 5th 2014

Børge Mogensen FDB Chair Desk

A 1944 FDB catalogue featuring Børge Mogensen's chair and desk designs.

Posted in 5 New Design Exhibitions, Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Knoll, Producer Tagged with: , , , ,

barber osgerby olympic torch
May 4th, 2012 by smow

As reported elsewhere in these pages, there is a great deal of hope in the UK that the 2012 Summer Olympics will provide fresh impulse for the UK design industry.

Something we doubt.

But then, what do we know. No honestly. What do we know?

And so we’ve taken the opportunity in recent weeks to talk to some people who are much better placed than us to asses the situation, not just in terms of the opportunities presented by the Olympics, but more generally about the state of the UK design industry in 2012.

Following on from our discussion with Gareth Williams, we caught up with Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in Milan where, in addition to our standard question about the sense of launching new products in Milan, we discussed their views on the current state of UK design… and why their Olympic Torch isn’t included in the exhibition British Design 1948-2012 at the V&A. Something that’s been bugging us greatly since late March.

(smow)blog: One of the hopes in the UK is that the Olympics will have a positive effect on the UK design industry. Do you expect the Olympics to bring anything positive for UK designers?

Edward Barber: I don’t really think there is any need for a huge revolution in UK design, because it’s already very strong. There is a brilliant design industry in the UK with British designers working behind every important company in the world, and so if anything happens it will more about adding impetus to that movement. But I don’t think it’s that we need to start anything, its already there.

Jay Osgerby: There’s a lot of invention in the UK and Britain is at the forefront of, for example, Formula One or aeronautical engineering. But in terms of production, it is way behind just about everyone else. And that is a shame.

(smow)blog: Which leads nicely to the next question. The majority of the manufacturers with whom you co-operate are based overseas. As UK based designers do you have to look overseas for producers, would you rather there were more UK producers, or is it irrelevant….?

Jay Osgerby: About 90% of the time we have to look overseas for a partner. And of course it would be great if there were more manufacturers here doing contemporary design, but there are only a very few and none who can compete on the scale of the German, Swiss or Italian manufacturers.

Edward Barber: Britain is a post-industrial country, there is no industry left; we’re a nation of estate agents and bankers. There is a great deal of excellent small niche producers in the UK; at one end of the spectrum nanotechnology and specialist engineering and at the other end potters, weavers and other crafts. But the middle is simply no longer there. And so we have to go overseas, which is a great shame.

(smow)blog: One has the impression that at least in terms of furniture design, such isn’t really taken seriously in the UK and that every time, for example, some government institution spends money on designer furniture the press reaction is one of appalled indignation. Is furniture design taken seriously in the UK? Do you yourselves feel that you are taken seriously?

Jay Osgerby: Definitely. And there is great tradition in the UK of government and institutions sponsoring arts and design to create long lasting projects that become important to the nation. Where there is maybe a problem today is that because of all the home makeover shows on TV a lot of people think you can “do” design for tuppence. And so not everyone understands the difference between real design and what they perceive as being design. And so in that respect nipping down to IKEA to get a couple of benches for a government minister is perhaps not really the most helpful way to go.

(smow)blog: And so despite the lack of manufacturers you’re not planning leaving London and setting up a studio overseas.

Edward Barber: Definitely not! I’d rather work in London than anywhere else!

(smow)blog: Turning briefly to Milan, we’ve not seen any lists and so how many new works are you launching here?

Jay Osgerby: Not much really, we’re saving most of our new projects for the London Design Festival….

(smow)blog: Good, so we can skip neatly to the more important question! Is it still worth launching projects in Milan, or is it all just too big?

Edward Barber: It depends on the company, but generally yes. Milan however has become so huge and there is so much noise that you have to have an incredible voice, or a real PR grabbing product, to be heard. As a consequence a lot of designers are now starting to launch products in Cologne, London or Paris, where you can generate a lot more interest.

(smow)blog: Which means your decision for London was then deliberate, or were the products just not ready to be presented?

Jay Osgerby: We thought with the Olympics it would be a good opportunity to launch products in London this year….

Edward Barber: … also London is becoming more important as a design location. The Design Festival in September is very well established and 100% Design are making changes for 2012, and so I think London is becoming a much more interesting place to show.

(smow)blog: And to finish. The V&A exhibition, effectively, ends with the 2012 Olympics, but your torch isn’t in it…

Edward Barber: I know. They didn’t want it…

Jay Osgerby: …said it was too obvious.

Now we know.

And OK it is obvious, very obvious. But would still have been nice.

Or maybe the V&A are saving it and the other Barber & Osgerby works from their permanent collection that aren’t in the exhibition for a special retrospective…. Who knows.

barber osgerby olympic torch

Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby with their, now award winning, Olympic Torch. Looking positively to the future. Like all good Olympians...

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Interview, Milan Design Week Tagged with: , , ,

V&A Museum London British Design 1948-2012 Innovation in the Modern Age architecture
April 12th, 2012 by smow

At the end of March the V&A Museum London opened the exhibition “British Design 1948-2012. Innovation in the Modern Age”, their major summer exhibition and a central pillar of their celebration of all things British throughout 2012.

Documenting the story of design in the UK since the last London Olympics, “British Design 1948-2012” begins in an era when Britain as a nation was recovering from the trauma of the Second World War, yet understood that in the rubble of the war lay the chance to renew its society and economy and so build for a brave new future.

And walking round “British Design 1948-2012” one is confronted by the inescapable truth that it was this process of renewal that was to lay the foundations for the story of modern British design.

For through the social re-organsiation, massed immigration, youth unemployment, et al the first youth sub-cultures emerged and as the exhibition makes very clear it is culture, specifically youth culture, that has been the biggest definer in the story of British design since the war.

A few years ago John Major famously spoke of Britain being about long shadows on cricket grounds and warm beer. There is no reference to such aspects of the British psyche in “British Design”, save a fleeting if heartfelt appeal from Laura Ashley and a few contemporaries who were obviously struggling to come to terms with the decline of the empire, erosion of social boundaries and uncouth brutalist architecture sweeping the nation.

Their flirtation with a historical revival however is nothing more than an interesting blip on an otherwise uninterrupted trajectory. As Leith’s leading cultural commentator would no doubt put it.

We’re not saying that all British design episodes have had their origins in youth culture.

Nor are we saying that Britain’s best designers were even influenced by the island’s youth. Jasper Morrison, for example, became the designer he is because he visited a Memphis Group exhibition in Milan and then spent time in Berlin with Andreas Brandolini, Axel Kufus and other members of the “Neues deutsches Design” movement.

However what is unmistakable is the thread of youth culture that runs through the story of British design right up to the present day.

Well, no that’s not entirely true.

Somewhere in the late 1990s the thread vanishes, but we’ll come to that….

V&A Museum London British Design 1948-2012 Innovation in the Modern Age london john piper the englishmans home

A section from "The Englishman's Home" by John Piper greets visitors to "British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age" @ the V&A Museum London

Taking a very wide definition of “design” and then squeezing as much as they can out of the sub-categories “British Design 1948 -2012” is reminiscent of an Essex Plaice – much wider than it is deep.

A fact that doesn’t necessarily harm the exhibition or the visitor experience. It is after all a special thematic exhibition.

In a soon to be published interview, the director of a major European design museum tells us that, in effect, the role of museums is to use their collections to tell stories; they just need to decide which stories they want to tell. The V&A has decided to delve into the depths of its British collection to place post-war British design in its social, cultural and historical context

And has done that very well.

From the brutalism of the 1950s over the swinging sixties onto seventies punk, eighties rave, nineties Cool Britannia, and beyond the exhibition presents over 350 exhibits that wonderfully explain the development of design in the UK.

And ultimately poses one very obvious question. The 1948 Olympics and subsequent Festival of Britain kick-started the post-war British economy. What will the 2012 Games bring?

There is a great deal of expectation on the British Isles that the 2012 Olympic Games will also herald a brave new age.

They wont.

All the objects in the early decades of the exhibition were produced in the UK. We suspect largely out of necessity; there was no alternative. Today goods can be produced abroad. And the creations of the leading contemporary designers largely are.

Barber Osgerby currently work with Vitra, Magis, ClassiCon, flos. Benjamin Hubert with De Vorm, De La Espada, &Tradition. Doshi Levien with Moroso, Cappellini, Richard Lampert.

We approve. That’s good. And is a situation that, if we’re all honest, is unlikely to change. But does mean that regardless how successful British designers become, their contribution to the UK’s GDP will remain negligible.

Then there is the nature of British design, for as the exhibition beautifully illustrates, Britain’s “contemporary design tradition” is largely based on creating iconic, stylish and attractive objects. “British Design 1948-2012” doesn’t feature any objects that one could say are truly innovative or started any particular global design movement.

“What about Concorde?” We hear the Daily Mail readers at the front of the class cry.

“Co-developed with the French and while unquestionably an iconic symbol of luxury air travel, what did Concorde actually contribute to modern aviation?” We reply.

And Jonathan Ives may have been knighted for his services to design: but he of course doesn’t create what happens inside apple products. Just ensures that they look good. Or, put another way, creates iconic, stylish objects in the finest British design tradition.

As we’ve often stated, in the decades after the war increasing disposable incomes and social security created a market for consumer goods of the sort the likes of Mary Quant or Terence Conran were producing.

And the British youth with their unfaltering ability to transform harsh social reality into creative energy provided the musical backdrop. British design became part of a British style that was the envy of the world.

First punk and later rave may have superficially torn up the rule book; were in reality still based on standardised iconic symbolism underscored by new genres of music and literature.

Which means that to remain truly distinctive and desirable British design needs its yoof.

Oh, hang on…..

As we said, sometime in the mid 1990s one loses track of the youth culture thread. And while we’d love nothing more than to blame Damien Hirst and his YBA cronies. We can’t

The problem is the internet, a medium that by its very nature snubs out youth cultures before they have a chance to establish themselves. The increased pace of our digital world meaning a mass movement like rave, arguably the last great youth culture and one which catapulted designers such as Tom Dixon into the limelight, will probably never again be possible.

And without the youth sub-cultures….

The “British Design 1948-2012” exhibition design was created by Ben Kelly. Who designed Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood’s Kings Road boutique SEX. And the interior of the Hacienda.

We can’t think of a more appropriate example for the importance of youth sub-cultures in guiding the fortunes of British designers.

V&A Museum London British Design 1948-2012 Innovation in the Modern Age FAC 51 Hacienda Ben Kelly

Part of the Hacienda interior as created Ben Kelly. And as displayed at British Design 1948-2012 Innovation in the Modern Age. Exhibition design by .... Ben Kelly.

We’re not saying the situation is hopeless. British designers will undoubtedly remain very much in demand. But their careers will become increasingly dependent on foreign producers, producers whose commissioning decisions are based on global marketing and sales strategies rather than the organic, grassroots movements that established British design’s reputation. As such the “British” in “British Design” will become increasingly difficult to define. But that is a question of national pride. Not design theory.

Consequently, “British Design 1948-2012. Innovation in the Modern Age” can either be viewed as the documentation of the past sixty years of British design combined with an attempt to place British design in a global context as the curators intended. Or as the first major retrospective of the Golden Age of British Design.

Either way it is an important exhibition and definitely worth viewing.

British Design 1948-2012. Innovation in the Modern Age runs at the V&A Museum London until August 12th 2012.

V&A Museum London British Design 1948-2012 Innovation in the Modern Age concorde

Getting ready to sail off into the sunset? A scale model of Concorde at British Design 1948-2012 Innovation in the Modern Age

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

The London 2012 Olympic Torch by Barber Osgerby
July 27th, 2011 by smow

London based design studio Barber Osgerby stands as a testament to the fact that high quality work will always win through, with or without the media status “star designer”

While its fair to say that many of their contemporaries have been placed on international glossy magazine pedestals, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have remained largely in the shadows, quietly producing consistently high quality work for both international producers and private customers.

That is however slowly changing and Barber Osgerby are now getting the public recognition they unquestionably deserve.

The pair first achieved a wider public with their award winning De La Warr Chair through Established & Sons in 2005; however in the course of their career Barber Osgerby have built up strong relationships and delivered highly individual collections for companies as varied as Capellini, Magis or ClassiCon.

In 2010 Barber Osgerby completed their first project for Vitra – the Map Table and Tip Ton Chair.

The launch of Map Table and Tip Ton Chair in Milan came shortly after the announcement that Barber Osgerby had won perhaps their most prestigious contract thus far: the commission to design the Olympic Torch for London 2012.

In July 2012 Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s torch will light the Olympic Fire – but here and now in July 2011 you can light your own fire with Jay Osgerby’s Caipirissima

And if you share your favourite cocktail recipe us you could win a limited edition Dark Lime Panton Chair from Vitra.

Full details on how to enter our summer competition can be found here.

Good Luck!

Jay Osgerby’s Caipirissima

2 measures of White Rum

1 measure of Sugar Syrup

1 Lime

0.25 measure of lime juice.

Cut the lime into eigths.

Muddle the lime and sugar to release the juices and oils in the skin of the lime.

Pour rum and extra lime juice into glass, add crushed ice and stir.

The London 2012 Olympic Torch by Barber Osgerby

The London 2012 Olympic Torch by Barber Osgerby

Tip Ton by Barber Osergby for Vitra

Tip Ton by Barber Osgerby for Vitra

Posted in ClassiCon, Design Competition, Designer, Magis, Producer, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

July 25th, 2011 by smow

Until July 31st we are giving readers the chance to win a limited edition Dark Lime Panton Chair.

In effect we are swapping a Dark Lime Panton Chair for a summer cocktail/mixed drink recipe.

The best wins!

In order to give you some ideas and inspiration we have asked several Vitra VIPs for their favourite recipe.

Today Vitra Chief Design Officer Eckart Maise shares his Caipirinha recipe

He obvioulsy can’t win – but he can share a recipe!!!

As the man who commissioned works such as Tip Ton by Barber Osgerby or Waver by Konstantin Grcic, Eckart Maise obviously has taste. And we can assure you his Caipirinha is no exception.

If you want to be in with chance of winning the Limited Edition Dark Lime Panton Chair, simply tell us your favourite summer cocktail/mixed drink recipe.

Full details on how you can enter can be found here

Eckart Maise’s Caipirinha Recipie:

– 6 cl Cachaça
– White cane sugar
– 1 Lime,  unsprayed, unwaxed


Wash the lime and remove the ends. Quarter the lime and place in a long glass.

Add 2 or 3 teaspoons of sugar and mash the sugar and limes together.

Fill the glass with ice and pour in the Cachaça.

Stir and serve with a straw.

Win a Vitra-verner-panton-chair-dark-lime

Win a Dark Lime Panton Chair from Vitra


Perfect for the balcony or garden

Posted in Designer, Producer, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , ,

Waver by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra
April 13th, 2011 by smow

At the 2011 Milan Furniture Fair Vitra are presenting a range of new products from designers including Konstantin Grcic, Antonio Citterio and Barber & Osgerby. Ahead of the official launch we caught up with Vitra Chief Design Officer Eckart Maise to discuss the new products and the Vitra Home Collection in general.

Jill by Alfredo Häberli for Vitra

Jill by Alfredo Häberli for Vitra

(smow): Herr Maise, before we discuss the new products, and maybe as a little helpful background. How does a company like Vitra develop a collection? Do you go to a designer and say “There’s a gap in our collection, can you fill it?” Or how do new projects develop at Vitra?
Eckart Maise: In essence it all comes together as a consequence of our long-term relationship with the designers. With, for example, Antonio Citterio we’ve been working together for 25 years. Or with the Bouroullecs we’ve now been co-operating for 12 or 13 years. And although there are obviously phases where more happens and phases where less happens we are always in contact with one another. And so most projects arise from a concrete briefing from us that such or such a project would be good, for example a large sofa family or a lounge chair, and then we consider who would be the correct designer. And often we speak to several designers about the same project, and then see who reacts in which way and where what develops. The designers obviously all have their own agenda, have their own mission as it were, and so we need to find projects where there is an overlapping of interests, because that is the best conditions for a successful cooperation. It hardly ever occurs that a designer comes to us and says “So here’s a finished project, do you want it?” It’s always a co-operation and a joint development.

(smow): And in this context, this year you are presenting several products in Milan by, let’s say, “new” Vitra Designers. Are they also the result of long term contacts?
Eckart Maise: Exactly. With Barber & Osgerby, for example, we’ve been in contact for around 6 years and have discussed various projects that then never got further than the very early stages. Which isn’t to say that they are better designers now than for 6 years, rather it simply didn’t come to this overlapping of the interests. With the Tip Ton chair that was different. Similarly with Alfredo Häberli we’ve been in contact for a long time, we already worked on one project together that was quite well developed but never completely clicked and so it was stopped. Which incidentally is something that both Vitra and our designers are always prepared to do: namely even in the later phases of the development to say, no this isn’t right or we’ve not achieved our goal or whatever the reason – let’s stop. The public obviously don’t see that. But it happens. And finally with Konstantin Grcic we first worked together four years ago in the context of a Vitra Editions project, and since then we’ve remained in contact and there are further co-operations with Konstantin in preparation that will come in the future.

Tip Ton by Barber Osergby for Vitra

Tip Ton by Barber Osergby for Vitra

(smow): Which brings us nicely to the next question. From what we know of Vitra we can’t imagine that you’d enter into new projects without planning a longer co-operation?
Eckart Maise: Yes, and in all cases there other projects in development. But it can also develop other than one expects and sometimes it remains with just the one project. But we always enter into a designer cooperation with the aim of it being a long term cooperation.

(smow): Which is perhaps a good moment to discuss Hella Jongerius and the Bouroullecs. Our impression is that up till now they have played the central role in the development of the Vitra Home Collection. Is that so, and if so why?
Eckart Maise: Every designer naturally stands for one position and has their own voice. The Boroullecs are good for the Vitra Home Collection because they think in terms of systems, in terms of collections, plus they have highly poetic expression and they are very good at combining technical solutions with a poetic expression which is very important in the home. In the home you don’t want a product that is purely functional because the decision for a product is never a rational decision alone, rather emotion also plays an important role.
And with Hella Jongerius, for us Hella embodies the decorative, and also the importance of haptic, of the material, the colours. Also she also represents a return to handwork, which obviously plays an important role in the home.
But of course it’s not just the Bouroullcs and Jongerius, also Jasper Morrison plays an important role or Antonio Citterio and then of course we also have the design classics. And so one has altogether this collage.

Grand Repos and Panchina by Antonio Citterio for Vitra

Grand Repos and Panchina by Antonio Citterio for Vitra

(smow): You spoke earlier about soft seating and in that area Vitra is currently well represented, can you say where the Vitra Home Collection will develop in the future?
Eckart Maise: We will continue in the same areas as now but also in smaller objects, accessories such L’oiseau by the Bouroullecs or in dining but it’s not our intention, for example, to move into, as we say in German “Kastenmöbel, so shelving and sideboards. In that area there are other producers who are better equipped.  We have our experience and our competence in seating and in Milan we have, for example, a reclining lounger by Antonio Citterio where he has used his experience in office chairs to develop a lounge chair with a synchronizing technology in which the back tilts and at the same time the seat moves so that you maintain the same comfort regardless of seating position. And that in a very restrained style where the mechanism is not visible, it’s all incorporated in the legs and under the seat.  And in such areas is where we have our strength.

(smow): And a final question. Is the Vitra Milan Collection 2011 a good vintage? As Vitra Chief Design Officer are you confident it will positively received?
Eckart Maise: For us it’s a good year, not least because it is always exciting when you present new co-operations, that is always a large step to take as a producer. But the co-operations are also important as they enrich us, as if the family has enlarged, or the choir has grown and we can now sing new songs. And we’re confident because we have a wide variety of products from a broad range of designers; in comparison to last year where we had a very strong focus on the Suita from Antonio Citterio. This year we’ve got Vitra’s first plywood seat shell from Alfredo Häberli; we’ve further developed the HAL range with Jasper Morrison; we have the new lounger by Antionio Citterio – from our perspectiveve finally a real alternative to the Eames Lounge Chair! And that with a comparable comfort quality. Then with the Tip Ton chair from Barber & Osgerby a chair that is a real innovation in terms of the sitting experience. And in Waver from Konstantin Grcic we have a chair that is something truly new and fresh for Vitra and is an uncomplicated, young form of seating. And so we are looking forward to the reaction.

Jill by Alfredo Häberli for Vitra

Jill by Alfredo Häberli for Vitra

Tip Ton by Barber Osergby for Vitra

Tip Ton by Barber Osergby for Vitra

Grand Repos and Panchina by Antonio Citterio for Vitra

Grand Repos and Panchina by Antonio Citterio for Vitra

Waver by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra

Waver by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra

Posted in Awards, Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Milan Design Week, Producer, Product, smow, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Fire & Swedish design: Simple, natural and functional
October 5th, 2010 by smow
Swedish.Light.Design.2010 Lamino by Yngve Ekström from swedese

Swedish.Light.Design.2010 Lamino by Yngve Ekström from swedese

Ask most people to name a Danish furniture designer and they will probably reply Verner Panton or Arne Jacobsen.
Ask them to name a Swedish furniture designer and the answer will probably have four letters – three of which are vowels.

Flat pack furniture is in itself no bad thing, but it is a little bit sad when a country that has so much furniture design talent to offer, is represented in the public consciousness by a universal brand.

Sweden are the partner country at this year’s Vienna Design Week and so naturally the store with the blue and yellow logo is omnipotent in the Austrian capital.

But not only them.

Aside from Stockholm architecture and design agency Claesson Koivisto Rune’s contribution to “Barock Splendour and Stainless Steel” one of the principle forum for Swedish designers was the Swedish.Light.Design.2010 showcase at the Swedish Embassy.

During his speech at the opening ceremony the Swedish Ambassador to Austria Hans Lundborg defined Swedish furniture as being simple, natural and functional.

Fire & Swedish design: Simple, natural and functional

Fire & Swedish design: Simple, natural and functional

Swedish.Light.Design.2010 demonstrated that it can also be innovative.

Karl Andersson & Söner, for example, were represented by amongst other items their ponoq and strip coat hanger systems. Two different approaches to the same concept – coat hooks that “vanish” when not needed.

With ponoq the trick is that the hooks lie flat in their mounting and can be flipped out when needed; with strip the hooks are revealed by bending the metal bar downwards and outwards- which not only releases the hooks from their housing but also gives strip a dynamic character and variable form.

Swedish.Light.Design.2010 also showed that Sweden does have a classic furniture tradition every bit as strong as Denmark.

Karl Andersson & Söner @ Vienna Design Week

Karl Andersson & Söner @ Vienna Design Week

In 1999 Lamino by Yngve Ekström was voted the 20th century’s best Swedish furniture design. Originally released in 1956 Lamino is a wonderfully light, elegant bentwood easy chair that belongs in the canon of great mid-20th century scandinavian design. Not only is Lamino a true scandinavian design classic, but it is still produced in Vaggeryd by swedese, the company Yngve Ekström founded together with his brother Jerker in 1945. And as any fool know, tradition is the best guarantee of quality.

And through collaborations with designers as varied as BarberOsgerby, Marina Bautier or Claesson Koivisto Rune, swedese also echo a central Vienna Design Week theme; remaining contemporary and competitive without losing sight of your roots and tradition.

As a brief aside, Yngve Ekström was once quoted as saying “To have designed one good chair is not such a bad life’s work” Although we can agree wholeheartedly having created our (smow)chair, we find naming your company swedese in an era before the internet existed is infinitely better. Sadly the URL “” was not registered early enough to secure the masters legacy.

A further highlight of Swedish.Light.Design.2010 for us was the chance to experience a couple of Nola’s “urban furniture” pieces in such refined splendour – a mix that worked wonderfully and once again underlined our belief that what this world needs is a little more bravery in interior design and a lot fewer “trend experts” telling us what looks good.

All in all Swedish.Light.Design.2010 provided a nice introduction to the variety of Swedish designer furniture producers; but more importantly for us it was a lovely warm up for February’s Stockholm Furniture Fair – another favourite on the (smow)blog calendar.

Swedish.Light.Design.2010 Wimbeldon from Nola

Swedish.Light.Design.2010 Wimbeldon from Nola

In the foreground Crusier by Marina Bautier in the background Olive Wood Chair by Claesson Koivisto Rune both from swedese

In the foreground Crusier by Marina Bautier in the background Olive Wood Chair by Claesson Koivisto Rune both from swedese

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Karl Andersson & Söner, Producer, Product, Vienna Design Week Tagged with: , , , , ,

Saturn by
January 22nd, 2010 by julius
ClassiCon at IMM Cologne 2010

ClassiCon at IMM Cologne 2010

On Wednesday a tweet fluttered into our (smow)twitter from @imm_cologne with the information that the Munich based producer ClassiCon had decided to return to IMM Cologne.

Which in the wake of the shock we received on our first day here in Köln didn’t go unnoticed among the thousands of invites to cocktail parties and sumptuous buffets at some of Cologne’s finer addresses we’re forced to deal with.

Established in 1990 from the dying embers of the 1898 established “Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk” (for the sake of convenience lets just call it a collective of designers) ClassiCon inherited the rights to produce the works of designers such as Eileen Gray or Otto Blümel. Not content to rest on their laurels however, ClassiCon were quick to cooperate with young, emerging talents such as Konstantin Grcic or Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby.

ClassiCon at IMM Cologne - Party!!

ClassiCon at IMM Cologne - Party!!

And it is this mix of established classics and modern innovation that has seen ClassiCon develop and expand over the last 20 years.

And is also one of the reasons a trade fair such as IMM Cologne needs companies like ClassiCon as a counter balance to the mediocre tat being peddled in other halls by men who think an expensive suit and an iPhone somehow makes them important and their products more valuable.

It doesn’t.

It’s not a second hand car show!

But back to quality designer furniture and ClassiCon.

Adjustable Table by Eileen Gray through ClassiCon - detail

Adjustable Table by Eileen Gray through ClassiCon - detail

To celebrate their 20th anniversary ClassiCon are now offering a 20 year guarantee on the Adjustable Table by Eileen Gray. One of the true classics of 1920s design, Gray originally created the Adjustable Table – as with the chair Roquebrune and the Petite Coiffeuse – for her own house in Roquebrune on the Cote d’Azur. With it’s chromium-plated steel tubing frame the adjusting of the Adjustable Table functions via a simple slot/rod mechanism; all beautifully set-off by a small chrome chain.

For such a product one really doesn’t need a 20 year guarantee – an Adjustable Table will outlive it’s owner –  but it is still nice to see ClassiCon standing so squarely behind their craftsmen.

Elsewhere on the ClassiCon stand we were delighted to finally get to see Saturn by Barber Osgerby; and would have loved to have compared it to Otto Blümel’s Nymphenburg, only that was far too high up.

And as ever, there are an awful lot of cheats, crooks and bandits out there and so before investing in design furniture always check that you are buying an officially licensed original. The designs of Eileen Gray, for all the Adjustable Table, the Bibendum Chair or the Non Conformist chair are globally among the most illegally copied furniture designs.

Only ClassiCon however are licensed to produce the works.

And only ClassiCon offer a 20 year guarantee on their craftsmanship.

Below is a small promotional video made by the IMM Cologne team in which ClassiCon boss Oliver Holy explains a little about the company and their relationship to IMM. Clever cats that they are the IMM marketing team have released it on sevenload: and so we’ve not got round to ripping and subtitling it yet… but we’ll get there. But possibly not until we’re back in Leipzig with the better software. And so for now it is only available in German.

Posted in Designer, imm cologne, Producer, Product, smow am rhein Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,