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Posts Tagged ‘Mart Stam’

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee – Rundgang 2016

As East Berlin’s Art and Design College the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee was in many ways symbolic of East Germany’s difficult relationship with Bauhaus and the legacy of inter-war functionalism. On the one hand the DDR needed the reduced, cost effective, mass-market, industrial objects striven for during the period. On the other a need to define a new, socialist, tradition for the new, socialist, state meant an almost dogmatic rejection of everything associated with the pre-war “Germany”, of anything and everything considered “capitalist”. Including functionalism. But then Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis, many functionalists, whether Bauhaus alumni or not, were banned from working and thus many choose to emigrate, as such Bauhaus and functionalism had relevant, anti-fascist propaganda value.

Thus while in the immediate post-war years functionalists were positively encouraged in the DDR, with the start of the so-called Functionalism Debate in the early 1950s they soon found their work denounced as a “weapon of imperialism”1, before in the second half of the 1950s such resistance faded and ultimately gave way to the pressures of social and economic reality.

And so it came to pass that in 1950 the Dutch architect and designer Mart Stam was appointed Rector of the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee, before departing in 1952 under conditions which couldn’t exactly be termed as “friendly”, even terming them “hostile” would underplay the nature of the relationship which had developed between Stam and the DDR authorities by late 1952. However in 1955 the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee’s then Professor of Architecture, and holder of Bauhaus Diploma Number 100, Selman Selmanagić, created an extension for the college: an extension that remains in use today, and which is in many ways symbolic of East Germany’s difficult relationship with Bauhaus and the legacy of inter-war functionalism.

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee

Established in 1946 as a pure art school, the institution’s programme was extended in 1947 to incorporate applied arts and architecture and thus, effectively, establishing the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee, KHB Weissensee, we know today. During Mart Stam’s short tenure at the KHB Weissensee a further, key, component of the KHB Weissensee philosophy was established: a universal introductory course on the basics of art and design to be undertaken jointly by students of all disciplines, be that art or design. A practice reminiscent in many ways of Bauhaus and a practice that remains in force today, which constitutes the first two semesters of all courses and thus is the foundation of all studies at Weissensee. A further central feature of the KHB Weissensee is the workshops, workshops which range from traditional technical wood and metal workshops over modern technical workshops, for example, CAD, film and photo workshops and on to more applied workshops such as those for printing, bronze casting or textiles, workshops which exist independently of the departments and which students from all disciplines are free to use as and when required.

What this approach means for the contemporary product design education at the KHB Weissensee, and how the students respond to the cross discipline approach could be reviewed at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee 2016 Rundgang.

The presentation of selected Product Design Master & Bachelor Projects, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

The presentation of selected Product Design Master & Bachelor Projects, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee – Rundgang 2016

As a relatively small design school, the annual Rundgang semester exhibition at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee is traditionally a compact, concise affair and the 2016 edition was no different. In addition to presenting a selection of the most recent Master and Bachelor projects the 2016 Rundgang also presented the results of selected semester courses, from which we were particularly taken by Stab-il with Professor Susanne Schwarz-Raacke and which sought concepts for simple “bases” – for example for tables – which can be quickly assembled and dissembled, and a course which produced a couple of interesting positions. And one very, very interesting idea, an idea so pleasing it still causes us to wake up in the middle of the night smiling. Sadly we’ve yet to find out by whom, and so will say now more. For now.

Projects from the semester project Stab-il, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Projects from the semester project Stab-il, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Merging Loops by Bára Finnsdóttir

In addition, and neatly demonstrating that at such exhibitions one should always move outwith your comfort zone and explore subject areas that you wouldn’t normally dream of approaching, we were very taken with Merging Loops, the Textile & Surface Design Bachelor Project by Bára Finnsdóttir.

Essentially an acoustic panel/room divider concept Merging Loops does things we’ve, quite frankly, never experienced before, and does them in very competent, satisfying and practical ways. Conceived as being either a modular free-standing or a ceiling attached, curtain/blind, system, the Merging Loops panels are essentially flat, can however be folded in on themselves, merged one could say, and thus allow for the individual and ever variable definition and delineation of space, and thus creation of individual and ever variable room micro-architectures. Aside from the practicality of the functionality, and in the case of the free standing version the simplicity of the inter-panel connections, the free standing versions can be stored flat when not needed, a genuine bonus. We see a lot of such acoustic/divider/room-in-room solutions, Merging Loops is one of those that will remain with us for a while to come yet, one in which we see a lot of capacity for further development, and it is certainly to be hoped that Bára is able to take the project further.

All in all a very informative and entertaining presentation, if we did have one complaint it was the date. Traditionally the KHB Weissensee Rundgang takes place parallel to that at the UdK Berlin and FH Potsdam, thus allowing for a very pleasant couple of art and design days in Berlin and Brandenburg. This year the Weissensee Rundgang was a week before the other two. Not good. Not practical. Not something we hope is repeated next year.

More information on the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee can be found at www.kh-berlin.de

1. Anne-Kathrin Weise, “Leben und Werk von Marianne Brandt” PhD Thesis, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, 1996

Merging Loops by Bára Finnsdóttir, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

Merging Loops by Bára Finnsdóttir, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Berlin Weissensee Rundgang 2016

smow blog Design Calendar: June 1st 1932 – Mart Stam Awarded Artistic Copyright for the Cubic Cantilever Chair

“…the strict, logical lines which avoid anything unnecessary and which with the sleekest form and through the simplest means embodies the modern objectivity”1, with this, glowing, description of his design the Supreme Court of the German Reich in Leipzig awarded on June 1st 1932 Mart Stam the artistic copyright of the cubic, quadratic, cantilever chair, and thus settled arguably the very first legal dispute over the copyright of the form of a piece of furniture intended for industrial mass production.

mart stam W1 weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart vitra miniature

Mart Stam’s “Weissenhofsiedlung Cantilever” (here in  the Vitra Design Museum Miniature version)

The story begins in Dessau in the mid 1920s and the development of tubular steel furniture, a process in which Marcel Breuer unquestionably played a major, if not the major, role. Aware of the commercial possibilities of the genre Marcel Breuer established in late 1926/early 1927 the company Standard-Möbel in Berlin with fellow Magyar Kálmán Lengyel, the first dedicated manufacturer of tubular steel furniture. 2

In early 1928 Standard-Möbel came to an agreement with a certain Anton Lorenz that he would manufacture the company’s chairs and assume the position of general manager. 3 Anton Lorenz was, somewhat inevitably, also of Hungarian origin, and had moved to Germany in 1919 when his opera singer wife took up a position in Leipzig. Although according to the popular Lorenz biography he had been a history and geography teacher in Budapest, in Leipzig he established himself as a locksmith before subsequently relocating his business to Berlin. Shortly after taking over at Standard-Möbel Lorenz persuaded Breuer to transfer the rights to his furniture to Standard-Möbel.

In July 1928 Marcel Breuer began cooperating with Thonet 4, by January 1929 Thonet were marketing the first Breuer works, and in the course of that year the first Thonet tubular steel furniture catalogue was published, a catalogue featuring exclusively Breuer’s designs5. Thus in early 1929 one had a situation in which both Standard-Möbel and Thonet were selling Breuer tubular steel furniture. Albeit different designs. Consequently, and in what must be considered the only logical option, in April 1929 the successful and globally active manufacturer Thonet bought the small, struggling Berlin manufacturer Standard-Möbel and thus secured the rights to all Breuer’s tubular steel designs, giving them what Mathias Remmele refers to as “the world’s largest and most diverse range of tubular steel furniture”6

And that is where the story really should end.

But it doesn’t.

mart stam house weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart

The houses designed by Mart Stam for  the Weissenhofsiedlung Stuttgart (1927) and where he first presented his cantilever chair design

Shortly before the sale of Standard-Möbel to Thonet Anton Lorenz registered patents for his own tubular steel chair designs and also secured the rights to all Mart Stam’s cantilever chair designs: Stam having famously presented his first cantilever chair design as part of the 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung exhibition in Stuttgart, since when it had had no producer. Anton Lorenz was however of the opinion that the cantilever represented the future of chair design and having failed to come to an agreement with Mies van der Rohe concerning his, equally at Weissenhof premièred, cantilever, Lorenz approached Stam.

According to Otakar Máčel, in the contract between Stam and Lorenz the latter received “the sole and exclusive rights to produce, allow to be produced, to distribute and make commercially available the cited “invented objects”, 7 and following the sale of Standard-Möbel Anton Lorenz established the company DESTA as a vehicle to achieve just that.

In addition, Lorenz was in possession of four prototypes which although built in Standard-Möbel’s workshops, he hadn’t handed over to Thonet with the rest of the Standard-Möbel inventory; Lorenz arguing that they related to his patent and the contract with Stam and thus were not part of the Standard-Möbel deal. Something Thonet blithely, if not naively, accepted.

Sadly the mists of time have closed in to shroud the exact dates of when what subsequently occurred, but in essence, in 1929 Thonet released the model B 33 and B 34 cantilever chairs by Marcel Breuer, his first cantilever chairs, and works which bare a formal similarity to Mart Stam’s Weissenhof cantilever chair; and in 1929 DESTA released the ST 12 and SS 32, both variations on Mart Stam’s 1927 Weissenhof cantilever chair and related to the aforementioned prototypes.

The B 33 and ST 12 are essentially the same chair.
The B 34 and SS 32 are essentially the same chair.

Lorenz sued Thonet for copyright violations.

In April 1930 the 16th Civil Chamber of Berlin County Court decided in Lorenz’s fvaour, Thonet appealed and in April 1931 the 10th Civil Chamber of Berlin County Court rejected the appeal. Thonet appealed, and on June 1st 1932 came the final decision of the 1st Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of the German Reich in Leipzig in favour of Lorenz 8

In essence there were two disputes.

In terms of the B 34 and the SS 32 the dispute involved a technical construction which Lorenz had developed and patented in 1929. In the interests of space we’ll leave that story here. Save to say, Lorenz won.

In terms of the B 33 and the ST 12 the question was the form, that which Alexander von Vegesack refers to as the “Gradlinigkeit der Form und den Kubismus”9– the  linearity of the form and its cubism – that rigid quadratic form we all know.

Lorenz’s argument was that as a work of creativity the form of the cubic cantilever which Stam had developed for his Weissenhof chair, and on which Breuer’s B 33 was clearly based, was protected by the 1907 Kunst-Urhebergesetz, [Artistic Copyright Law], KUG. According to Sebastian Neurauter the 1907 KUG covered “not only the typical manifestations of the high arts, so paintings and sculptures, but also objects of the decorative arts”10, including works of architecture and appled arts. This addition of architecture and “design” works representing an extension of the scope of the act in comparison to the previous version from 1876. And thus is an obvious indication of the importance already attached to architecture and decorative arts at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s all too easy to think Art Nouveau and Art Deco just concerned the, relatively few, artists involved, but clearly the politicians, lawyers and businessmen were also heavily involved. And were actively shaping laws to reflect the new/coming reality.

Not that everyone appeared to have grasped that.

As Neurauter notes, Lorenz’s use of the KUG stood in direct contrast to Bauhaus who made no use of the law in respect of their workshops’ products; Lorenz, so Neurauter, should have been an excellent example for Bauhaus in such respects.11 He was about to demonstrate why.

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine mart stam gas pipe chair

A recreation of Mart Stam’s Gas Pipe Chair, as seen at 2012 exhibition Stühle ohne Beine in the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

The decision to sue on the basis of artistic copyright rather than a technical patent almost certainly has its origins in the number of patents for various forms of cantilever chairs which existed at that period. Proving technical originality could have been difficult. But, and more importantly, Stam hadn’t actually developed anything technical. Just bent a piece of steel tubing of appropriate thickness in appropriate places. Stam’s cantilever chair is a classic example of a design process, of taking a material, a concept and developing something through the intelligent combination of the two. Stam designed something, he didn’t invented anything. Or as the Supreme Court phrases it:
“Mart St… [in the court publication all names apart from Marcel Breuer’s are redacted] has created with this chair an independent, idiosyncratic, creation. There is no technical necessity which prescribes an object of tubular steel furniture such a specific form. For the construction of a chair from tubular steel, many possibilities are conceivable”12 – the decisive in the chair is the form, and while it may have followed function it didn’t follow material necessity, rather Stam’s understanding of design.

In addition, and in a remarkable demonstration of an openness for and understanding of contemporary culture that we would never have assumed a German court would or could posses in 1932, they noted that, “at present an art form is considered as being especially valuable, which presents its purpose in a very clear, simple form. For a product of the arts and crafts it corresponds that an object of daily life is given an aesthetic form which is pleasing on the eye.”13

Further the court rejected as wholly irrelevant the Thonet defence that the two chairs were of different materials and also a submission on behalf of Breuer by Walter Gropius that Mart Stam’s Weissenhof cantilever was simply a further development of Marcel Breuer’s, non-cantilever, B 5, “St..’s chair represents at most a free interpretation of Breuer’s models, in the course of which an idiosyncratic creation was realised.”, so the court, continuing, “Mart St.. has thus acquired for his chair as a handicraft product an artistic copyright”14. Later the court would rub some salt into the wound with the assertion that “In artistic development the way from Breuer’s model B 5 to the defendant’s model B 33 leads over Mart St…’s chair”.15 Or put another way – without Mart Stam Marcel Breuer wouldn’t have been in a position to develop his B 5 into the B 33.

That’s gonna hurt.

What the court, and obviously Thonet’s lawyers, didn’t consider was the very clear difference between the B 33 and ST 12: although very, very, similar, and both clearly a further development of Stam’s Weissenhofsiedlung chair, with the DESTA ST 12 the backrest is angled slightly backwards, running in a straight line, the backrest of the Thonet B 33 is angled slightly backwards, but has a “knick”, and thus, theoretically, a higher level of seating comfort. Otakar Máčel argues that such would have made no difference16, the case being about similarities with Stam’s original work not directly between the ST 12 and B 33. With all respect to Otakar Máčel, we beg to differ, and consider that the formal development of the backrest through the “knick” is a design development in its own right. And with all respect to Thonet’s 1930s lawyers, we see it as little more important than the “nickel plated tubes” argument with which they hoped to win.

They didn’t, and the outcome of the case was not only that Mart Sam was formally credited with the artistic copyright of the cubic cantilever chair, and thus became the first designer of the modern period to be awarded “ownership” of a form rather than a technical innovation, but owing to his contract with Stam Anton Lorenz was awarded the rights to those cubic cantilever chairs designed by Breuer.

Thus giving Anton Lorenz a monopoly position as regards cubic cantilever chairs.

A month after the judgement Anton Lorenz licensed his newly acquired rights exclusively to Thonet. Which you kind of get the impression was his intention all along. Much like with today’s hip young Start Ups, one has the unmistakable feeling that Anton Lorenz’s motivation was the well paid “exit”

And that is where the story really should end.

But it doesn’t.

S32 by Marcel Breuer for Thonet (Artistic Copyright since 1932, Mart Stam)

S32 by Marcel Breuer for Thonet (Artistic Copyright since 1932, Mart Stam)

In addition to licensing the DESTA and the Stam rights to Thonet, and in a truly epically, grotesque, textbook, example of poacher turning gamekeeper, in July 1932 Anton Lorenz was appointed head of Thonet’s, we presume newly formed, “Abteilung für Gewerblichen Rechtsschutz” – Department for the Protection of Commercial Right- a position he held until 1935 and from which he vigorously and consequently oversaw the protection of Thonet’s rights, which were of course in effect his rights, and thus played a key role in helping strengthen Thonet’s position and reputation in and with tubular steel furniture.

And that is where the story really should end.

And does.

Except for the unanswered questions.

The biggest and most important of which for us is who designed the DESTA ST 12? The chair which, effectively, started the process, a process which somewhat paradoxically was actually about Stam’s 1927 cantilever and in which the ST 12 played only a cursory role. We can’t find any evidence that Stam himself developed the ST 12, Remmele considers it unlikely that Breuer was involved17, Wilk in contrast sees the B 33, and so by extrapolation the ST 12, as “deriving logically from Breuer’s earlier work”18, Máčel goes further and opines that the ST 12 was “probably the work of Breuer or Lorenz”19. But if Breuer was involved, why does he appear to have remained silent in court? Where are the sketches and plans? And if Breuer wasn’t involved with the ST 12. Was he aware of it? The question is important because on account of the backwards leaning backrest the chair represents a clear break with the strict geometry of Mart Stam’s earlier work. It’s still quadratic, but makes a concession to sitting comfort. The B 33, as already noted, even more so. The answer to the question may have played no role in the case, but is important for completing the (hi)story of post-war chair design.

Despite the central role Mart Stam’s Weissenhof cantilever chair played in the proceedings and thus in the (hi)story of contemporary furniture design it was never really produced and marketed. For all its aesthetic elegance, formal innovation and cultural relevance it was a very rigid piece of work, cumbersome to produce and by all accounts very uncomfortable. Thus today it is survived by more technologically advanced, arguably more elegant and certainly more comfortable works such as Mart Stam’s S 43, or Marcel Breuer’s S 32.

What does remain however is the leading position in terms of steel tube cantilever chairs, and tubular steel furniture in general, which Thonet acquired through the process. A position which is arguably justified. In the late 1920s there were numerous companies producing tubular steel furniture – a great irony of the period is that although the Weissenhofsiedlung marked a high-water mark in the public acceptance of tubular steel furniture, and presented works by several manufacturers, Thonet were represented with their bentwood furniture, and doubly ironically most famously thanks to the Grand Modernist Le Corbusier who used Thonet wooden chairs for his interiors – however Thonet were the first company to invest heavily in the necessary machines and infrastructure, both in Germany and France, and the first to hire a designer of Breuer’s talents to complete a collection and this all despite, as Mathias Remmele notes, the “initiative was comparatively risky because there were no relevant market for this type of furniture, and none which could guarantee a speedy profit”20. Thonet took a huge chance on tubular steel furniture. And it worked out. Even if some dilettantish legal work meant it cost them a lot more time and money that it really should have……

A Mart Stam Cantilever Chair before the Supreme Court in Germany, and not for the first time......

A Mart Stam Cantilever Chair before the Supreme Court in Germany, and not for the first time……

1. Gewerblicher Rechtschutz und Urheberrecht. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für den Schutz des gewerblichen Eigentums, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932

2. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

3. Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: furniture and interiors, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY, 1981

4. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

5. Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: furniture and interiors, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY, 1981

6. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

7. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

8. ibid

9. Alexander von Vegesack, Deutsche Stahlrohrmöbel : [650 Modelle aus Katalogen von 1927 – 1958], Bangert Verlag, Munich, 1986

10. Sebastian Neurauter, Das Bauhaus und die Verwertungsrechte : eine Untersuchung zur Praxis der Rechteverwertung am Bauhaus 1919 – 1933,Mohr Siebeck Verlag, Tübingen, 2013

11. ibid

12. Gewerblicher Rechtschutz und Urheberrecht. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für den Schutz des gewerblichen Eigentums, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932

13. ibid

14. ibid

15. ibid

16. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

17. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

18. Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: furniture and interiors, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY, 1981

19. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

20. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

(smow) blog compact: aed Stuttgart present Zukunftslabor Weißenhofsiedlung

Erected in 1927 in context of the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition “Die Wohnung” the Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart aimed to achieve “…. a reduction in house construction and running costs, in addition to a simplification of housework and a general improvement in living standards

But did it?

Or is it just a collection of buildings by Max Taut, Hans Poelzig, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Mart Stam, Peter Behrens and their ilk? A chance for a close connected group of modernists to show off?

On Wednesday September 17th in the course of a specially organised tour through and around the estate and museum art historian Carola Franke-Höltzermann and Anja Krämer from the Weißenhof Museum will elucidate on the history, impact and legacy of both the Weißenhofsiedlung and “Die Wohnung” in general before Jonathan Busse from Stuttgart based heating system developer alphaEOS and Dr Christian Bergmann from Werner Sobek Design introduce the Weißenhofsiedlung’s latest addition: the B10 Active House. A construction which for us stands very much in the tradition, and indeed hope, of the original exhibition.

The aed Stuttgart tour “Zukunftslabor Weißenhofsiedlung” takes place on Wednesday 17th September at 7pm. All are welcome, but advance registration is requested. It goes without saying the tour will be in German.

Full details can be found at www.aed-stuttgart.de

weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud

Contributions from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (l) and Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud (r), Weissenhofsiedlung Stuttgart

weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart mart stam

Houses by Mart Stam, Weissenhofsiedlung Stuttgart

B10 Active House by Werner Sobeck Stuttgart

B10 Active House by Werner Sobeck, Weissenhofsiedlung Stuttgart

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special: Thonet

Our coverage of IMM Cologne 2014 may be reaching its conclusion, but we still have a few gleaming gems to bring you, the brightest of which was to be found on the Thonet stand: the new S 1200 desk by Randolf Schott from and with the Thonet Design Team.

While classic Thonet desks such as Marcel Breuer’s S 285 can work very well in a contemporary home office and/or as an informal place of work in a living room, they do bring with them a certain formal heaviness owing to their abstraction from the more traditional, quadratic, wooden furniture that Marcel Breuer and his Bauhaus cohorts were moving away from, but couldn’t quite free themselves from.

With the S 1200 Thonet and Randolf Schott have moved the genre on and developed an object that bequeaths bent steel tubing a new lightness, a new informality.

While unquestionably owing its provenance to Marcel Breuer’s innumerate bent steel tube tables, the S 1200 is much more accessible, largely we feel on account of the gentle gradient of the inward leaning front leg, a feature that makes the S 1200 less rigid, less dominant. Warmer. Coupled to the practical foot rest bar and even more practical double level desk top, this formal accessibility make the S 1200 a very inviting place to sit and work. Or, if you’re like us, to just sit. Looking out the window. Dreaming your brilliant career away.

Although the S 1200 frame could, theoretically, have been bent from one single piece of steel tubing, it has been formed from two. The simple reason is that chrome-plating one massive piece would have been all-but infeasible. The foot rest, somewhat naturally, was always intended as an extra piece and has been attached to the frame via a specially developed joint – not welded as we initially thought, but carefully and exactly attached.

All in all a very impressive object and a very welcome addition to the Thonet family.

Complimenting the desk Thonet have created a series of accessories; a bookrest, filing tray and what Thonet refer to as a pencil box, but which in reality is a multi-purpose storage box that has been designed to ensure that should you want to use it to store your phone while charging it, the cable passes unobtrusively and neatly through a slit the corner. And in terms of cable management a special mention must go the – patented – magnetic clip cable management system that attaches to legs. For who wants to ruin the simple beauty of bent steel tubing with the wires that haunt our modern, oh so mobile, reality.

Being a contemporary product the S 1200 comes in a range of pastel colours; as now do further bent steel tube objects from the Thonet portfolio including Mart Stam‘s S 43 classic chair and Marcel Breuer’s B 9 and the Thonet B 97 side table series. Not available in coloured steel tubing, yet every bit as appealing, are the new glass versions of the B 9 and B 97 series – objects that add a dignified decadence to the reserved charm of the wood versions.

Elsewhere a more than notable mention must go to the new S 290 programme by Sabine Hutter from and with the Thonet Design Team. A free standing, steel tube, sideboard system, the S 290 programme is composed of four base elements which can be used individually or joined to create an extended unit. That the units cannot be stacked vertically the S 290 is not modular in the formal definition of the term, but is if you prefer a more relaxed interpretation. And regardless how one defines it, as a flexible sideboard system for home or office the S 290 is an important, and worthy, addition to the Thonet programme.

Its not easy being Thonet. Having revolutionised furniture design twice, everyone is waiting for the next. IMM Cologne didn’t provide that, but did delightfully show that in design further development is always possible. And often desirable. In our Orgatec 2012 interview with Antonio Citterio he told us that he likes to continually develop his projects, to tinker as it were, create something new from something existing, however he emphasised, “I don’t want to develop something so that the previous version becomes old or outdated. It should just be another option.

This spirit was very much in evidence on the Thonet stand at IMM Cologne 2014.

And we liked that.

A few impressions:

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet S 1200 desk Randolf Schott Thonet Design Team

The S 1200 desk by Randolf Schott / Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet Mart Stam S 43 colour

The S 43 Classic by Mart Stam through Thonet – in colour, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet S 290 by Sabine Hutter Thonet Design Team

The S 290 programme by Sabine Hutter / Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

(smow) blog compact IMM Cologne Special Thonet S 290 Sabine Hutter Thonet Design Team

The S 290 programme by Sabine Hutter / Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at IMM Cologne 2014

Celebrating 5 years (smow) online. Thonet join the party…..

There are only very few furniture manufacturers who can claim to have been major players in two fundamental furniture design revolutions.

Thonet is one of them.

And if we’re honest, the only one we can currently name.

Although the Thonet story begins in 1819, the story only really begins to “pick up steam” in 1859 when Michael Thonet perfected his warm wood bending process. The result of over twenty years development, heartbreak, experimentation, bankruptcy, fleeting success and brutal failure, Michael Thonet’s steam based process allowed him to bend solid beech to produce straightforward, every day, wooden chairs simply and at an affordable price.

And so initiate the industrial production of furniture.

Michael Thonet’s most famous model is without question his Chair 14, today called Chair 214, an object universally known and admired as the archetypal Viennese Coffee House Chair. And as an elegant example of how uncomplicated good chair design can be.

Just as ingenious as the wood bending process was Michael Thonet’s decision to sell and ship Chair 14 as a flat pack system, as six elements that could be assembled by any fool, regardless of technical competence – in effect the prototype of all contemporary flat pack furniture distribution models. Swedish or otherwise.

The ability to pack 36 dismantled chairs into a 1 sqm crate allowed Thonet to ship his chairs around the globe and so establish a business that in 1912 was producing some two million items a year.

Today the frames of Thonet classics such as the Chair 214, Michael Thonet’s 209 from 1900 or his 233 from 1895, are still bent by hand, one at a time, in a machine in the company’s Frankenberg (Eder) base that looks more like a relic of some especially unpleasant medieval torture ritual than something for creating some of the most exquisite and important chairs ever developed.

Auf Biegen und Brechen Thonet

Bending solid beech. Just as Michael Thonet once did.....

Some sixty years after the breakthrough with the bent wood, Thonet achieved a parallel success through bending a new material: new for Thonet and new for furniture design in general. Steel tubing.

Through close contact with designers and architects including Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Thonet were perfectly placed to observe the new mood sweeping 1920s Europe. And through their experience in bending wood, equally perfectly placed to help this new generation of designers transform their new ideas into a new reality.

After acquiring Marcel Breuer’s Standard Möbel Furniture Company in 1929, Thonet set about developing the first industrial methods for bending steel tubing, and after an initial period of public distrust – think about, for example, the views expressed in How to live in Flat by W. Heath Robinson and K. R. G. Browne – objects such as Mart Stam’s S 43 cantilever chair and S 33 cantilever chair or Marcel Breuer’s S 285 desk and B 9 stacking tables established themselves as popular classics. Or perhaps better put, as enduring popular classics.

And confirmed Thonet’s position as one of the most important, innovative and reliable furniture manufacturers in Europe.

Today the company, thankfully, doesn’t rest on it laurels and through co-operations with designers of the calibre of Stefan Diez, Delphin Design or Jehs+Laub remains one of Europe’s premier contemporary designer furniture producers.

They may not have been responsible for a third revolution. But we’re not ruling out that they will be.

And as part of (smow)’s fifth birthday celebrations you can benefit from a 5% discount on all Thonet orders placed between Friday October 25th 2013 and Thursday October 31st 2013 inclusive.
Full details can be found at smow.com

And should you need inspiration, check out our Thonet pinterest board.

Auf Biegen und Brechen Michael Thonet

Biegen oder Brechen. Michael Thonet the father of all wood benders.

 

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine: Interview with Prof. Dr. Florian Hufnagl

On March 20th the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin opened their spring exhibition “Stühle ohne Beine – Chairs without legs”

Dedicated to the development and diversity of the cantilever chair, Stühle ohne Beine is a fairly simple exhibition concept with an equally simple message: designing a chair without legs doesn’t mean limiting your possibilities. Less is more not being just a design maxim but also a design challenge.

Featuring 25 chairs from the collection of Die Neue Sammlung – The International Design Museum Munich, Stühle ohne Beine is not only the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin’s first co-operation with Die Neue Sammlung but also, if we understood correctly, the inaugural exhibition in a new “As Guest at Bauhaus Archiv Berlin” series that will see various international museums invited to present a specially curated show in the German capital.

At the exhibition opening we spoke with Florian Hufnagl, Director of Die Neue Sammlung about the history, development and importance of the cantilever chair.

(smow)blog: Starting as it were at the beginning. There was, and is still, disagreement over who “discovered” the cantilever chair. Is the dispute still relevant or is the only relevant point that it was discovered?

Florian Hufnagl: I believe it is still important today because it was the first dispute over design to be dealt with by a court. And not only did they categorically decided in favour of Mart Stam, but also clearly defined Marcel Breuer‘s role. And such a definitive and clear resolution of such a dispute is still important for today’s designers as, at least here in Europe, it brings them a degree of security.

(smow)blog: And for you was the decision the correct one?

Florian Hufnagl: Yes, yes the decision was conclusive and correct.

(smow)blog: The first cantilever chairs were very much a product of their era….

Florian Hufnagl: … yes and that was the major change. The big incision. In the 20th century there were only three major breaks: once at the turn of the century with Josef Hoffmann, then, very generally speaking, the second half of the 1920s and again from 1968-70. These were the moments in design when one detached from what had come before and set off on new, brave, paths which in terms of cantilever chairs meant a few broken chairs and, literal, hard landings for some designers, but then “no risk no fun”. And so it took a bit of time before developments moved on, but if you don’t go to the limits you won’t proceed.

(smow)blog: And so specifically with the cantilever chair, can one identify a moment when it became a successful mass market concept?

Florian Hufnagl: As with many objects from Bauhaus era the popularity really took off after the second world war, and especially during the 1960s.

(smow)blog: In that context there are a couple of plastic cantilever chairs from the DDR in the exhibition. Was the development of the plastic cantilever chair timeous for the DDR. So cheap, mass producible….?

Florian Hufnagl: There is a whole series of DDR cantilever designs and the aim was always cheap production, which of course was no different to the situation in West Germany, or for example Italy.We shouldn’t forget that firms such as Kartell were more or less forced to turned to plastics. And so it wasn’t just in the DDR that there was an ideological background to the decisions to produce value for money, bright, furniture for the modern youth. The DDR designs however always suffered in that the the shortage of raw materials was a ubiquitous problem and so whereas many products were conceived in the DDR only very few reached the public. Many products were produced instead in the West or in Russia.

(smow)blog: The original cantilever chairs were very much of their day in terms of materials. In how far do you think the cantilever chair offers designers today a platform with which they can experiment?

Florian Hufnagl: I think MYTO by Konstantin Grcic, created as it was in cooperation with BASF, a global concern who worked in a very focused manner in cooperation with a designer to take the development of a new material even further, that for me that is an excellent example of what is possible because today it’s a question of new materials. We need new materials not just in the context of producing certain products but in terms of solving the problem of sustainability because the products we produce must also be responsibly produced.

(smow)blog: In your opening address you said, in effect, that the chair has already been invented, but that wont stop producers presenting a few thousand “new” ones in Milan. As a museum director, director of a collection, what makes you stop in your tracks and take notice of something ?

Florian Hufnagl: For me the initial connection is always emotional. The same as with any other person observing the world around them. The emotional reaction can be because it is new, is different, does something that was until now unknown. And such objects are the overwhelming exceptions. Maybe half a chair from every 100.

(smow)blog: Which means you always travel to Milan with high hopes but return with an empty suitcase?

Florian Hufnagl: Yes, that happens often, although there are also occasional surprises. Which is all completely normal because the consumer world is getting bigger, the need for consumer goods is shrinking and real invention is rare. But that was also the case in the 20th century, it was the case in the 19th century and that’s why we have museums who pick out the best parts and so try to give us an orientation.

Stühle ohne Beine can be viewed at the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin until June 10th 2012.

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin: Stühle ohne Beine

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine Alexander Begge

Children's Chair by Alexander Begge as seen at Stühle ohne Beine in the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

 

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine mart stam gas pipe chair

Gas Pipe Chair by Mart Stam as seen at Stühle ohne Beine in the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat … gift ideas from House Thonet

If Christmas is a time for family, then Christmas is also surely a time to buy your gifts from a family business.

Currently being run by the 5th generation, Thonet have not only been responsible for the introduction and development of bent wood and steel tube furniture – two of the most important genres in the history of furniture design – but continue to support and develop young designers and so may just also discover the next big genre…..

The S 333 Thonet sledge by Holger Lange

The S 333 Thonet sledge by Holger Lange

Thonet S 333 by Holger Lange

Back in February while the (smow)boss was in a meeting with Nils Holger Moormann and his Moormänner in Aschau, we snuck up a near-by hill for some sledging fun with the Thonet S 333.

An experience we will never forget.

Not just because Holger Lange’s sledge goes like a rocket being chased by a pack of ferocious rocket powered dogs – but because steering is the Thonet S 333 is an art form that has to be learned before the first bend.

Fun, thrills and a genuine joy to use.

A sledge for adults the S 333 is proof that there is nothing boring and conservative about Thonet bent steel tubing.

S 43 by Mart Stam through Thonet - available in a range of colours

S 43 by Mart Stam through Thonet - available in a range of colours

Thonet S 43 Classic by Mart Stam

A further development of Mart Stam’s classic cantilever chair design the Thonet S 43 mixes plywood with steel tubing to produce an unmistakable, reduced design that works just as well at a desk as at a dinning table. The S 43 is not only one of the most recognised works of the Bauhaus era, it is also one of the most copied. In 2009, however, a court in Düsseldorf decided that being a work of visual art rather than a piece of industrial design the S 43 was still under copyright and consequently could only be (re)produced by the license holder: Thonet. There are cheaper illegal copies out there, however none posses the quality of craftsmanship nor the visual unity of the Thonet original. The Thonet S 43 by Mart Stam is available in a range of woods and colours.

Thonet B 117

Thonet B 117

Thonet B 117 by Thonet

The thing that one must always remember about Thonet is that they began producing and trading in an era before furniture designers and industrial designers. As such a lot of the products in the Thonet archive were created by the Thonet in-house design team. Such as the B 117 side table. With its “floating” drawer unit and reduced form the Thonet B 117 is not only a classic example of early 1930s design but is a design that remains as contemporary and relevant today as then. Created from tubular steel and stained beach the B 177 can be beautifully employed , for example,  as a bedside table, hall table or an additional IT office table.

The Thonet 214 Minature by Vitra

The Thonet 214 Minature by Vitra

Thonet 214 by Michael Thonet (Miniature) from Vitra

The Thonet 214 is not only the chair that initiated commercial furniture production, nor is it only the chair that paved the way for Swedish gentlemen to open large warehouses next to every motorway in Europe, nor is it only the chair that almost broke Michael Thonet. The 214 is all of these things. And the Vitra Design Museum Thonet 214 Miniature is all of these things in 1:6 scale. And as such is the perfect gift for all connoisseurs of good design.

Garden Furniture: Top 5

On several occasions in the past month we have repeatedly seen a similar scene.

A scene that has made us cry.

Lovely houses, truly wonderful, carefully considered constructions in idyllic locations – and then in the garden, furniture that the owners have obviously bought, possibly as an after thought, from their local garden centre.

Just looking at some of the chairs made our upper thighs go numb from discomfort.

And as for that recliner yesterday in Berlin!!!!

People, gardens are there to be enjoyed.

Gardens are there to serve as dens of tranquility from the harsh realities of life.

Gardens should not cause injury, far less resemble a middle ages torture chamber.

Good quality designer garden furniture is available. And isn’t hard to find.

Here is our top five for summer 2010.

Tivoli Chair by Verner Panton through Montana: the colours of summer

Tivoli Chair by Verner Panton

Tivoli chair by Verner Panton

Panton’s fist commercially successful product may owe much of its success to Verner Panton’s father installing it in his restaurant; but that is not to detract from the the quality of the Panton’s design nor that of Montana’s construction. Available in a wonderful range of colours Tivoli chair by Verner Panton is guaranteed to brighten up any garden or terrace.

S 43 teak by Thonet

S 43 teak by Thonet

S 43 teak from Thonet

Mart Stams classic steel tube chair in an outdoor version. Available with or without armrests the S43 teak from Thonet allows you to take your Bauhaus living and dining room out into the garden.

Vegetal from Vitra

Vegetal from Vitra

Vegetal by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

Four years of development with all the resources an established designer furniture company such as Vitra can provide has to produce something a little extra special. Despite appearances to the contrary Vegetal by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec is a delightfully comfortable seat: comfortable as in terms of seating comfort and comfortable as in terms of stability.

Shadylace by Chris Kabel for droog

Shadylace by Chris Kabe

Shadylace by Chris Kabel

Although, curiously not available in oranje Shadylace by Chris Kabel for droog is one of the better ways to ensure that you always have a shady corner from which to spy on your neighbours and envy their garden architecture talents.

Cobb Grill

Cobb Grill

Cobb Grill

And once you’ve got the furniture you need to be able to cook: otherwise you’ll need to go back indoors. With it’s cool outer walls and large range of accessories the Cobb grill is not a classic barbecue grill but a complete enclosed cooking system. With which you can also grill. Or cook pizzas. or bake a cake.

new at (smow): Müller Möbelfabrikation

Trolley RW 103 from Muller Mobelfabrikation

Trolley RW 103 from Muller Mobelfabrikation

As you know we here at smow(blog) aren’t fans of complicated designer furniture.

Really aren’t.

Less is more – so the grand theologian of post-war European design Dieter Rams – and let form follow function.

That’s us.

A side table or bedside unit need, normally, do nothing more than support a cup, glass or magazine.

Now you could add numerous extras to your table or you could – as with Müller Möbelfabrikation – bend some steel into the shape you want.

In 1926 Mart Stam bent some steel and got a chair.

In 1953 Egon Eiermann welded some steel and got a table frame.

Muller Mobelfabrikation - hand crafted steel furniture

Muller Mobelfabrikation - hand-crafted steel furniture

And today Müller Möbelfabrikation bend steel and produce wonderfully, elegant and practical tables and units.

Available in a fantastic range of colours, the mobile range from Müller Möbelfabrikation is produced in Germany from 3mm thick steel plate, come with lockable castors and are sturdy enough to be used a seat.
Should the need arise.

Full details can be found at the (smow) Müller Möbelfabrikation page.

Happy Safer Internet Day 2010 – Think before you Post

Safer Internet Day 2010

Safer Internet Day 2010

9th February 2010, Brussels

Under the motto “Think before you Post” the from the EU funded  Safer Internet Day 2010 is focused primarily on how one deals with privacy in the internet, especially as concerns young people, photos, social networking sites and chatrooms.

Which is naturally a positive thing.

In essence one of the core reasons that people for all kids, run into problems on the internet is because they blindly believe everything they read.

Previously “the camera never lied”, we know now they can; and so we have transferred our faith in the internet.

But it does as well.

And not just children are naive in their relationship with the internet.
Many adult internet users are, psychologically, at an earlier development stage than most children when it comes to computers and modern technology.

Alone the regularity with which users are taken in by so-called “phising” emails illustrates how many adults simply do not understand the risks that can hide behind a little bit HTML or a clever flash graphic.

The webpage looks nice – it must be genuine.

Mart Stam copies awaiting collection... Bauhaus era products are amongst the most copied designer furniture classics

Mart Stam copies awaiting collection... Bauhaus era products are amongst the most copied designer furniture classics

One of the areas that has blossomed over the internet is the trade in illegal copies of designer furniture classics; for all Bauhaus classics and the works of Charles and Ray Eames.

And regardless how often warnings are given thousands of consumers waste their money – and all too often risk their health – by purchasing the cheap copies.

There are however a few pointers that can help you identify who is genuine and who is only looking to make a quick buck at your expense.

As a general rule the copies are described as being “inspired by” or “in the tradition of” the actual designer: That is assuming that the designers name or the producer is even named; for if the crooks don’t use names, it’s more difficult for the license holder to press charges.

Generic names provide safety for the criminals: but also a large clue for the consumers.

The second big clue is the price.

If the price is too cheap to be true – it’s probably an illegal copy.

There are reasons that some designer furniture pieces cost what they do – and they’re not all to do with greed.

In addition to the investment in the development process necessary to bring such a product on the market; designer furniture is made from durable, expensive, materials. Which is also your guarantee of a quality product that should outlive you and possibly even your children.

The cheap copy may not even see the week out.

The third test is the answers you receive from the customer service department. If the retailer is selling officially licensed products they can prove that and will have no problem providing full answers to questions. The crooks will duck and dive and assure you that all is OK…without being able to back it up.

(smow) only sells officially licensed products from producers such as Vitra, Kartell, Artemide, ClassiCon or Tecta.

Beware of illegal Eames Lounge Chair copies

Beware of illegal Eames Lounge Chair copies!!! (these are however legal artworks, made from Vitra originals....)

And have no problem answering questions and providing proof that the products are genuine.

An interesting side-project of Safer Internet Day is the cooperation with INHOPE, the International Association of Internet Hotlines.

INHOPE acts as a central registration point for reporting websites with illegal content.
Again principally geared towards protecting children in the internet, there is no reason why users cannot report websites offering illegal copies of designer furniture.

Or perhaps better, tell us.
Should you discover a website offering illegal copies of designer furniture classics let us know, and we’ll not only report them to the responsible authorities but also build a databank of such sites to help consumers shop safely.
And then hopefully we can all have an even happier Safer Internet Day 2011


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