Ettore Sottsass (Photo Barbara Radice, 1984 © and courtesy Studio Ettore Sottsass)
September 14th, 2016 by smow

“When I was very small, a little boy of five or six years old, I was certainly no infant prodigy, but I did do drawings with houses, with vases and flowers, with gypsy caravans, merry-go-rounds and cemeteries……..”1

Thus began one of the more interesting design journeys of the twentieth century.

Ettore Sottsass (Photo Barbara Radice, 1984 © and courtesy Studio Ettore Sottsass)

Ettore Sottsass (Photo Barbara Radice, 1984 © and courtesy Studio Ettore Sottsass)

Ettore Sottsass: From Architect to Designer

Born In Innsbruck, Austria, on September 14th 1917 as the son of an Austrian mother and an Italian, architect, father, Ettore Sottsass Jr was initially raised in Trento, South Tyrol, before the family moved to Turin in 1928, and where in 1934 he enrolled at the Architecture School of the Politecnico di Torino.

Arguably best known as the figurehead of and driving force behind the early 1980’s post-Modern Memphis Group, not only is there a lot more to Ettore Sottsass’s biography than Memphis, but in many ways Memphis was the culmination, or at least a next step, of that biography, and would have been unimaginable without the preceding biography.

Following his graduation from the Politecnico di Torino in 1939 Ettore Sottsass worked (very) briefly for FIAT before being enlisted into the Italian army where he served in Montenegro, Sottsass’s war ending in a prisoner of war camp in Sarajevo, in the then Yugoslavia. 2

Upon his return to Italy Ettore Sottsass discovered “a land in ruins, and where although there was obviously a need for a lot of building, it soon transpired that it should be done quickly and shoddily, for there was no money”3

A state of affairs which didn’t stop him at least attempting to make a contribution.

After initially basing himself in Turin Ettore Sottsass moved in 1947 to Milan where he opened an architectural practice and from where he won Marshall Plan competitions for projects in the northern Italian towns of Savona and Novara, and was commissioned to design 13 blocks of flats in context of various INA-CASA projects; projects conceived with the intention of providing simple, affordable, healthy flats as part of the national post-war rebuilding programme: and which by all accounts quickly became bogged down in the corruption and bureaucratic complexities which appear to have plagued public projects in Italy in perpetuity.

However despite such successes Ettore Sottsass remained largely overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, by the inabilities of the authorities, and his own, at least perceived, inadequacies for the task, and so turned his back on architecture in favour of writing, art and design.

Ettore Sottsass: From Designer to Industrial Designer

In 1954 Ettore Sottsass began a cooperation with the US retailer Raymour, a cooperation which saw them distribute a number of his vases, ceramics and similar applied art objects, and a cooperation which in 1955 brought him into contact, and business, with the Tuscan ceramics manufacturer Bitossi and subsequently in 1957 with the Tuscan furniture manufacturer Poltronova, with whom Sottsass released a first collection in 1958 and with whom he continued to cooperate throughout his active career; a cooperation that not only helped advance Poltronova’s reputation as one of the most single minded, and certainly most contemporary, furniture companies in Italy, but which gave Ettore Sottsass the freedom to express his understanding of design.

Equally as important in the biography of Ettore Sottsass is Olivetti. In 1958 Adriano Olivetti offered Ettore Sottsass a position as an advisor to the company’s electronics division. At that time Olivetti were Europe’s leading, and arguably most forward looking, office technology company; and in many respects Europe’s IBM, for all in terms of their adoption of a design led approach to all aspects of the company’s products, operations and identity. IBM had Eliot Noyes, Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson: Olivetti had Marcello Nizzoli, Mario Bellini and Ettore Sottsass. One could argue that USM had Fritz Haller, but that would be a little contrived. If only a little.

Ettore Sottsass’s collaboration with Olivetti is arguably one of the great success stories of the early years of European industrial design as a concious subject. In 1959 Sottsass’s first project with Olivetti, the Elea 9003 mainframe computer, was awarded the coveted Composso d’Oro, and was followed in the proceeding years by commercially and critically acclaimed works including the Tekne, Praxis and Valentine typewriter families, works which, or better put, because they introduced new formal and technological concepts became defining objects of 1960s Italian design.

Valentine Portable Typewriter by Ettore Sottsass & Perry King for Olivetti, 1968. (Photo Commons Wikipedia)

Valentine Portable Typewriter by Ettore Sottsass & Perry King for Olivetti, 1968. (Photo Commons Wikipedia)

Ettore Sottsass: From Industrial Design to Radical Design

Then during the course of the late 1960s and early 1970s Ettore Sottsass began to increasingly question what he was doing, for whom he was doing it and for all why he was doing it.

Not that Ettore Sottsass was alone with such thoughts. Globally an increasing number of young(er) architects and designers, invariably caught up in the counter culture movement that was developing globally and which would boil over in 1968, were questioning their role in society, questioning the role of architecture and design, and suggesting alternative futures; alternatives perhaps most famously represented by the works of groups such as Archigram in London, Archizoom & Superstudio in Florence or Ant Farm in San Francisco. In Italy such thoughts saw the development of what is referred to as the Anti-Design movement, even if the term is far too easy to be correct. Anti-Design is still design, but the more technically correct “anti design for the sake of advancing commercial interests and serving a narrow elite regardless of any considerations as to if the work is formally relevant, and far less what it means for the environment or the fabric of the society into which we place it”, is just a lot less catchy. Sharing a lot of philosophical and visual components with the Pop Art movement, Anti-Design with its works such as the Sacco beanbag by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro or the Joe Glove Chair by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino and Paolo Lomazzi not only changed perceptions about design and household furnishings, but also created some of the most enduring classics of Italian design

Ettore Sottsass’s route to radical architecture and Anti-Design was arguably more a river with many tributaries than a clearly defined path.

Trips to America in 1951 and 1956 not only introduced him to the realities of post-war American consumerism and mass production – both of which were still to arrive in the largely artisan and unindustrialised Italy of that period – but also to leading protagonists such as George Nelson in whose office Sottsass worked for three months and with whom he remained in close contact. In addition those trips to America introduced him to then fledgling Pop Art movement, and the exposure to that new artistic thinking played an important role in the further development of his work.

A trip to India in 1961 brought Sottsass not only into contact with western hippy culture but also with Indian culture, where for example in the temples of the Pallava he understood the difference between constructing and creating, “the Pallava utilise large stones, and when they are building they work the surface such that the structure vanishes, and that annoys “modern” architects, and that’s why the modern architects are so fascinated by Japan, who only construct, the Indians are only sculptors”4

In addition the trip to India resulted in a serious case of nephritis; his search for treatment taking him to California where through his then wife, the translator and critic Fernanda Pivano, he met Beat Poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure, and thus individuals with whom he could share experiences and impressions of eastern culture, eastern philosophy and eastern aesthetics.

Such a “counter culture education” must however also be considered against the background of Sottsass’s youth in fascist Italy, his time in the army, experiences in the war and his unease with much of the regimentation, morality and mechanisation of Italian Rationalism. And his experience of the way the way the fascists had treated, and, in effect, silenced, the Rationalists; for although not approving of all aspects of Rationalism Sotsass wasn’t fundamentally opposed, indeed his father had studied in Vienna under Otto Wagner and had himself strong modernist leanings.

Ettore Sottsass: Humanising Functionalism

Sottsass’s response was to work at more intimate levels and with a focus on colours and materials, and as he puts it, “I made great efforts to design objects which generate as direct a sensory experience as possible”5. On the one hand Sottsass sought to counter a contemporary world where as he phrases it “civilisation existed in industrial culture”6 and give his works a character based more on vernacular and expressive parameters, and on the other to break what he saw as the very narrow and strict definition of design the inter-war functionalists, intentionally or not, had bequeathed society. For Sottsass we should engage and interact with objects not just on a physical level but also spiritually and emotionally, design must not just be functional but personal, those objects which surround us shouldn’t exist merely as a product of industrial production, but as part of our world and with whom we have a discourse.

A position which explains how someone so closely associated with radical and Anti-Design could at the same time design consumer objects for a global concern such as Olivetti.

“The work that I have done and continue to do for Olivetti” wrote Ettore Sottsass in 1976, “extends a long standing interest in research on the problems of existence and survival in the artificial spaces on this earth. It is said I was one of the first designers who found new ways, ways which led out of the school of so-called “functionalism” and towards the notion of a more sensory, less moralising and more humane environment”7

A position which has many parallels to, for example, Charles and Ray Eames’ concept of “functioning decoration” which saw them employ “homely”, humanising, textiles, folk art and contemporary art in their otherwise strictly functionalist realised home in Los Angeles. Or indeed a generation earlier with Alvar Aalto and his move away from the coldness of steel tubing to the warmth of moulded beech for his furniture designs.

The Z9R typist chair by Ettore Sottsass for Olivetti, as seen in an original 1970s advert (Photo © and courtesy - Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy)

The Z9R typist chair by Ettore Sottsass for Olivetti, as seen in an original 1970s advert (Photo © and courtesy – Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy)

Ettore Sottsass: The Language of Design

In context of Ettore Sottsass’s work such a position can be understood in objects such as the Z9R typist chair from the 1973 Sistema 45 collection for Olivetti. Bright yellow and expressing a child-like, almost naive, enthusiasm for the world around it, the Z9R arose from a holistic design process that considered the object in terms of the users complete working day rather than simply in context of a specific function, and in which Sottsass sought to “exercise a sort of “yoga” on design, liberating the shape as much as allowed by our condition in time and space, and stripping from it every attribute, every sex-appeal deception”8

An essentially pared down modernist work inspired by eastern culture and intended to bring a little friendliness and humanity into the work place.

The latter being something Ettore Sottsass himself needed.

In his 1973 essay “When I Was Still a Very Young Boy”, with which we began this post, Sottsass describes his ever increasing dissatisfaction with the design industry and the place of the designer in that industry. From those innocent childhood days in South Tyrol Sottsass became a young designer and “everything we did was entirely absorbed in the act of doing it, in wanting to do it, and everything we did stayed ultimately inside a single extraordinary sphere of life. The design was life itself….” however the rise of the Italian design industry and the commercialisation of design meant that “now they only let me design furniture that ought to be sold, furniture they say, that is useful to society, they say, and other things that are sold “at low prices” they say, and in this way they can sell more of them, for society they say, and now I design things of this kind”9 yet that under conditions which for him were artificial, almost inhuman, and certainly far removed from the ultimate end user, and which led him to see himself, and by extrapolation all designers, as servants of commerce and industry rather than society

“I would like to break this strange mechanism I’ve been driven into”10, he exclaims.

Memphis can be understood as just an attempt to break that mechanism, an attempt to investigate what happens when one transposes the emphasis in “industrial design” from “industrial” to “design”, and then tries to find new approaches to design, when one re-evaluates the semantics of materials, explores new forms, new typologies, new expressions which are not about value and status but about people.

And thus a continuation of Ettore Sottsass’s search for a new vocabulary and linguistic order for design.

As with Poltronova, as with Olivetti, Memphis isn’t about the object.

Or as Ettore Sottsass wrote in 1976,

“What I designed, that was not so important to me. For me it was never so important …. I [have] never made a big difference between small and large things, between handmade things and things that are produced with subtle technology. For me it was not a matter of writing a novel, or a manifesto or recommendations, for me it was always more important to work on the words, their meaning and their implications, because you have to use different words when you want to say things, which [bring] changes in a world which is itself changing.

I don’t know if I have made myself understandable”11

Neither do we.

But that is part of what makes Ettore Sottsass so fascinating, makes his works and texts always worth going back to and exploring, regardless that they may occasionally irritate and offend, for every time you explore them you understand a little more. And not just about the object, but about the relationship between us and our objects, between design and society.

Happy Birthday Ettore Sottsass!

1. Ettore Sottsass, When I Was a Very Small Boy, Accessed 13.09.2016

2. Ronald T. Labaco (ed.) Ettore Sottsass, architect and designer, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Merrell, 2006

3. Kontinuität von Leben und Werk: Materialsammlung zu der Ausstellung Arbeiten 1955 – 1975 von Ettore Sottsass, Internatationales Design-Zentrum Berlin, 1976

4. Zdenek Felix (ed.) Ettore Sottsass, Adesso però: Reiseerinnerungen, Hatje Katze, Stuttgart, 1993

5. Jan Burney, Ettore Sottsass, Trefoil Publishing, London, 1991

6. Emily Zaiden “Instruments for Life: Conversations with Ettore Sottsass” in Ronald T. Labaco (ed.) Ettore Sottsass, architect and designer, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Merrell, 2006]

7. Kontinuität von Leben und Werk: Materialsammlung zu der Ausstellung Arbeiten 1955 – 1975 von Ettore Sottsass, Internatationales Design-Zentrum Berlin, 1976

8. Jan Burney, Ettore Sottsass, Trefoil Publishing, London, 1991

9. Ettore Sottsass, When I Was a Very Small Boy, Accessed 13.09.2016

10. Ettore Sottsass, When I Was a Very Small Boy, Accessed 13.09.2016

11. Kontinuität von Leben und Werk: Materialsammlung zu der Ausstellung Arbeiten 1955 – 1975 von Ettore Sottsass, Internatationales Design-Zentrum Berlin, 1976

Posted in Design Calendar, Designer, Product Tagged with: , , , ,

Studio Daphna Laurens present Prototipi @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016
May 3rd, 2016 by smow

Unbelievably, Eindhoven based design studio Daphna Laurens have never, ever, participated at Salone Satellite, that section of the Milan furniture fair devoted to young design talents.

Unbelievably because they are unquestionably talented, and are equally unquestionably young.

Even if the works displayed in Milan suggested a maturity beyond their years.

Studio Daphna Laurens present Prototipi @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Studio Daphna Laurens present Prototipi @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Presented under the title Prototipi Daphna Isaacs and Laurens Manders a.k.a Daphna Laurens used the opportunity presented by their Salone Satellite début to showcase the full spectrum of their creativity and capabilities. Presenting works such as, and amongst others, the Inutile Lights collection created in context of the 2015 Dutch Invertuals’ Body Language exhibition, Stool 01 and Chair 01 created for the 2012 Vienna Design Week Passionswege programme or the Greta Light, an object we first saw as a, more or less, working model in Daphna Laurens’ Eindhoven atelier in 2014, and one which greatly impressed us then and continues to greatly impress today now that it has been further developed and refined, Prototipi perfectly underscored the graphic purity of Daphna Laurens work, how they imbue their work with a tenacious fragility that only very few manage with such consistency and how their work is often more about the development of a shape than product design in the classic sense, yet invariably results in a functional object.

Something very neatly demonstrated by objects such as the Art Deco-esque Cirkel Wall Light or the new Tre Stool. Crafted from powder coated steel Tre unquestionably makes more than a passing formal reference to Sori Yanagi’s 1954 Butterfly Stool; yet whereas the Butterfly began with a (mass) production question and owes its endearing organic form to the chosen plywood moulding process, Tre began with an economic question (the brief called for a design with limited, as in basically no, production costs) and owes its deceptively geometric form to a graphic investigation by Daphna Laurens into simple, easily produceable, stool forms: an investigation which came to the conclusion that a stool need be no more than three lines. Three lines became three components became Tre, all you Italophones will have worked it out by now, and in the subsequent, physical, development phase Daphna Laurens realised a very simple, very intelligent construction principle which allows the two upper seating elements to be stored within the lower base element and thus allowing for a compact parcel size and associated optimised shipping. A solution which very nicely reminds of Charles Eames assertion that the details are not the details, they make the design.

As we believe we’ve said before, quite aside from the aesthetic and functional qualities of Daphna Laurens work, one of the things that has always attracted us to them is the fact they take the conceptual approach of Design Academy Eindhoven and use that to create very practical, logical, almost too obvious, designs which rarely, if ever, betray their conceptual genesis. The result is products which are freed from any temporal, contemporary, context, and thus timeless. And of course ageless.

Full details on Studio Daphna Laurens and their work can be found at:

A few impressions from Daphna Laurens – Prototipi at Salone Satellite 2016 Milan.

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

Low Chair and Stool by Kaspar Hamacher with Tannerie Radermecker, on the wall Bag on Wall by Mathias van de Walle with Ralph Baggeley, as seen at Belgian Matters, Milan 2016
April 26th, 2016 by smow

As we believe is now traditional at this time of year…..

….. every year at Milan Design Week the Belgian Design authorities proclaim that Belgium is Design. And every year we respond, that it isn’t.

But is a country with an awful lot of very talented designers………

The “Belgium is Design” claim is however the principle reason we decided to investigate contemporary Belgian creativity in a little more detail, to investigate as it were how much truth stood behind it, and to be able to better comment on it. Our interviews with Jean Angelats a.k.a. Ateliers J&J and Thomas Lommée are already online, others are on tape and in processing if not, yet, in print.

Amongst the numerous Belgian showcases at Milan Design Week 2016 was “Belgian Matters”, a project which paired seven Belgian designers with one of seven Belgian companies and asked them to develop a joint project: the sort of design project of which we invariably approve and which equally invariably produces some very enjoyable results.

As was the case with Belgian Matters.

For us the true stand out work at Belgian Matters was the Board Sofa and Board Chair by Brussels based designer Julien Renault in collaboration with the Walloon furniture manufacturer TimberGroup. We first came across Julien Renault’s work when he contributed to the exhibition Objects for the Neighbour during Passagen Cologne 2013, his Park Chair, we noted, “genuinely impressed us with its very self-confident form language”, and the Board family left a similar impression on us. Self-confident and very well proportioned objects, with both the Board Sofa and the Board Chair all the lines flow in logical directions, the curves make sense, the joints are implied more than proven, and all-in-all they emit a very harmonious, untroubled aura. If there was one slight irritation about the project it is that the wood used is salvaged wood from Canada. Obviously using salvaged wood is an eminently sensible idea. But why from Canada? Why can’t we leave salvaged Canadian wood in Canada for Canadians, and use salvaged European wood in Europe? It would appear to be not only the elegant, but for all the environmentally responsible, solution. The comments in the exhibition catalogue concerning the “…charm and warmth of the natural colour, matured with age…” remind us of all those European restaurants who proudly boast that their steaks come from Argentina. Obviously. Because there is such a shortage of cows in Europe! We don’t need Argentinian beef, southern hemisphere wine or salvaged wood from Canada; we do need to think a lot more about how, where and for all why we use our finite resources. Apart from that an absolutely inspired project and one whose subsequent development we are thoroughly looking forward to following.

In addition we very much taken by Thomas Lommée and Christiane Högner’s OS Plumbing system and by Kaspar Hamacher’s Low Chair and Stool realised in cooperation with Tannerie Radermecker.

Devised as an extension/further development of the OpenStructures concept OS Plumbing is a family of metal tubes, both straight and with a variety of curvatures, which thanks to a specially developed connecting system can be effortlessly and quickly combined into a myriad of forms and thus used as the basis for an equal myriad of furniture objects. And disassembled and reconfigured as, when and if required. In Milan the presentation was a table, but that should be considered more a suggestion than an instruction. With a diameter of 2 cm and the fixing points separated by a distance of 4 cm, the OS Plumbing tubes remain true to the dimensional ideals of the OpenStructures system and thus, we assume, are compatible with all other OpenStructures components. Aside from being a very elegant system in its own right what is perhaps most interesting about OS Plumbing is that it offers a more market orientated variation of the OpenStructures system than was hitherto the case, it is an a way less conceptual, more tangible, universally accessible, and thus would appear to offer what Thomas Lommée referred to as a way “to bring it from research to realisation, to produce parts so that it can spread, as a project it needs to spread to exist.” For our part we certainly hope they find partner who has the good sense/bravery/blind faith to allow it to do just that.

Kaspar Hamacher was one of the first contemporary Belgium designer’s to attract our attention, seeing his wooden shelf “Das Brett” at the 2009 [Les Belges] showcase remaining one of our defining Milan moments, and for Belgian Matters Kaspar Hamacher once again did that which he does with an unnerving and unassuming grace, implicitness and consistency: carved wood. And then added a very pleasing second dimension in the form of a leather sling seat, or in the case of the stool a leather sling seat/foot rest/table top. Brutal and imposing objects, both the Low Chair and the Stool also have a propriety about them which quietly whispers to you that the brutality is just show, invest a few minutes and you’ll get to know my real character. Sadly we didn’t get to try them and thus cannot confirm if they deliver the comfort promised. But let’s just assume they do.

As was to be expected Belgian Matters didn’t prove that Belgium is Design. Because it isn’t. But Belgian Matters did ably demonstrate that Belgium Matters, and that as a country Belgium has a very pleasing and unexpected depth of creativity.

Something we are planning to continue to explore, chart, but principally enjoy. And a journey we can heartily recommend.

Full details on Belgian Matters and all the projects realised can be found at

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

Modular bicycle bag/briefcase by Silvio Rebholz and Louis Michel, from the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart project Più di Pegoretti (Photo courtesy AKB Stuttgart)
April 25th, 2016 by smow

Every time we are in Milan, be it for the Design Week or simply to enjoy the city without the inconvenience of the Design Week, we invariably find ourselves strolling past the Rossignoli bicycle shop on the Corso Garibaldi. An emporium with a history stretching back to 1900, and which positively oozes such, the Rossignoli store has long fascinated us, long fired our imaginations, and yet remains an address we have somehow never managed to enter: this year the perfect excuse was delivered by students of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, ABK, Stuttgart with their showcase Più di Pegoretti.

Realised in conjunction with the Verona based master bicycle constructor Dario Pegoretti, Più di Pegoretti saw students from Professor Uwe Fischer’s Industrial Design class and Professor Hans-Georg Pospischil’s communication design class develop 15 cycling related products, products which during Milan Design Week 2016 were presented in context of, and in the windows of, Rossignoli Milano.

As with all student projects the works realised represented a healthy mix of hit and miss, and also as ever with such student projects the end results are much less important than the way the individual students approached the brief, how they researched the subject and subsequently developed their idea into a product. And of course the experience of doing such.
Despite such considerations there was obviously one or the other product which particularly caught our attention, perhaps most notably, the handlebar bag by Louis Michel and Silvio Rebholz, the handlebar lock by Leonie Schimmeyer and Patrick Nagel and Marvin Unger’s Bike Stand, an object which brings a delightfully overblown aura of post-modern monumentalism to the simple, uninteresting, and thoroughly trivial process of storing your bike.

As older, more dedicated, readers will be aware, we don’t buy into cycling cult; a bike is neither fashion accessory nor trend. A bike is a mode of transport, and one that has not only been around for centuries but which has been democratising society for almost as long.

Thankfully that also appears to have been the way the ABK students approached the brief and thus the result is and was a collection of clothing and accessories which yes, while all aiming to be contemporary and to be objects cyclists would desire to own, were, or at least largely were, primarily about improving the cycling experience, be that through improved functionality, through the use of contemporary technology, or in the case of David Gebka and Freia Achenbach’s Wind Jacket through bringing a touch of humour and showmanship to the daily commute: and an object which magnificently takes the wind out of the cycling fetishists’ sails, “No”, it screams, “you don’t look cool. I do!!”

Full details on Più di Pegoretti and all the resulting projects can be found at:

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

Design is 10 Years Old - Lamp/Side Table by Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan
April 20th, 2016 by smow

It’s been a good long while since we last posted about the Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe’s kkaarrlls collection, and thus ambling down Milan’s Via Palermo towards the kkaarrlls 2016 Edition showcase we inevitably found ourselves querying why that should be……. Not least because ever since we stumbled by chance across the first kkaarrlls showcase at Milan 2009 it has been a project we have liked, enjoyed and followed. If latterly only from afar.

Given how much we admire kkaarrlls, we reasoned, our (un)enforced absence from their annual Milan exhibition couldn’t possibly be attributed to us, and thus we choose instead to blame the pressure of time during Milan design week. One simply cannot see everything!

A cowardly excuse, and one which kkaarrlls 2016 Edition quickly reduced to shreds………

Established in 2009 as a platform to promote both the students capabilities and the school’s strengths, kkaarrlls presents selected projects by Hochschule für Gestaltung, HfG, Karlsruhe students either as prototypes or as limited edition series, however as kkaarrlls co-founder and HfG Karlsruhe Professor for Product Design Volker Albus was keen to underscore in our 2013 interview, “we call the objects “Editions” but the gallery market isn’t our aim”, much more the aim is “to present the school and for all the students work better and in a more professional manner”

Something the 2016 showcase did with particular finesse.

The swing As High As Best by Oliver-Selim Boualam & Lukas Marstaller, table Traum by Max Negrelli & Dip LED lamp by Anne-Sophie Oberkrome, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

The swing As High As Best by Oliver-Selim Boualam & Lukas Marstaller, table Traum by Max Negrelli & Dip LED lamp by Anne-Sophie Oberkrome, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Selected, as ever and as only, by Volker Albus and kkaarrlls project manager Stefan Legner, the 2016 kkaarrlls collection presented twelve student projects, and a selection of objects from the Old World – New World cork collection as previously exhibited at Tendence Frankfurt 2015, a slightly cheeky decision in our opinion, but we see where they are coming from. And given the overall quality of the cork pieces eminently sensible.

As ever with such student showcases, they ain’t no beauty pageant, there ain’t no winners, there ain’t no egos, that said there were a couple of projects which particularly caught our attention.

The Bockbank project by Max Guderian takes the familiar trestle but rather than use it as the basis for a table, uses it as the basis for a bench and a chair. Particularly pleasing is the way that has been achieved, namely two wood panels are joined with a hinge, hung between two trestles and fixed with rope, thus creating a collapsible, easily storable, formally elegant and unchallenging seating solution which has something of the feel of a porch swing, albeit without the false graces. For us just as applicable for indoors as out, in addition to the obvious use as garden furniture, in the catering/hospitality/event branch or as an informal office bench, we don’t see any reason not to use it in a domestic situation: a few cushions and/or throws and Bockbank would work in any kitchen, bedroom or, and assuming there is space, hallway. All in all a very well conceived and realised project.

Bockbank by Max Guderian, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Bockbank by Max Guderian, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Normally we’d hurry past an object such as Fetter Schrank by Anne Tönsmann, invariably muttering something unrepeatable about student flats, that we didn’t isn’t because there wasn’t any space to, but because something about the construction, or perhaps better put, the composition, appealed to us; it posses an unexpected and charming harmony and controlled authority. And then having noticed it, we began to appreciate its functionality. We wouldn’t necessarily insert an umbrella at that angle chosen in Milan, but otherwise as an object for the permanent storage of plants, as demonstrated, or temporary storage of newspapers, clothing, books, umbrellas (vertically), mail, info flyers, flags, dog leads, etc, etc, etc… why not? Particularly as an alternative to a coat rack/shelf system in an office or shared work space. Yes, we’re also sensing a potential long-term dust problem, but that is then a question of the chosen textile and cleanliness routine.

Fetter Schrank by Anne Tönsmann, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Fetter Schrank by Anne Tönsmann, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Only post Milan did we discover the background to the Fetter Schrank project: works by the Finnish photographer Iiu Susiraja in which she unashamedly exploits her excessive weight, and exaggerated figure, to transform her body into a multi-functional storage system.

Proof that design needn’t always start with a problem.

Or indeed a qualified designer, as eloquently proven by Clemens Lauer and his project “Design is 10 Years Old”, in which a group of ten year olds were asked to sketch a piece of furniture, four of which Clemens subsequently realised.  The results range from an abstract door handle, over a curious, almost baroque, lamp/side table and onto a dining table with legs at but three corners.  You’re thinking “nice playful take on classic table design”, we’re saying “barrier free table for unproblematic wheel chair use or ease of access for vacuuming. If, on account of the necessary counterweight, not so mobile.”

The highlight of Clemens Lauer’s project however was without question the Peanut Coat Rack, an object which transports the eternal “My child could do that!!!” criticism of Modern Art into the world of Readymades and Post-Modern misappropriations. Which is of course more or less the genre(s) where Volker Albus’s professional career began. Which kind of amuses us. As in, a lot.

Design is 10 Years Old - Peanut Coat Rack by Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Design is 10 Years Old – Peanut Coat Rack by Clemens Lauer (and an unidentified child), as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

The truth behind the old adage “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is questionable, the Irish band The Corrs, for example, recently announced a comeback following a ten year hiatus, our collective hearts barely missed a beat at the news; that said, having not seen a kkaarrlls showcase for a couple of years we had forgotten what an excellent platform it can be and what a good example it is of what can be achieved when a design school curates their students’ projects rather than simply exhibiting them.

And also made us understand that if you don’t do something, you’ve not only got no-one to blame but yourself, but ultimately it is you who misses out……..

More information on the kkaarrlls 2016 edition, all previous editions and the project in general can be found at

And for all who missed it first time round, here our 2013 interview with Professor Volker Albus on five years of kkaarrlls

Design is 10 Years Old - Lamp/Side Table by Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Design is 10 Years Old – Lamp/Side Table by Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Pong lamp by Simon Diener & Yurt Market 800 chair by Max Guderian & Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Pong lamp by Simon Diener & Yurt Market 800 chair by Max Guderian & Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Design is 10 Years Old - Table by Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Design is 10 Years Old – Table by Clemens Lauer, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Bockbank and Bocksessel by Max Guderian, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

Bockbank and Bocksessel by Max Guderian, as seen at kkaarrlls 2016, Milan

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

New Order by Stefan Diez for HAY, as seen at Milan Design Week 2016
April 18th, 2016 by smow

Established in 2002 Danish label HAY have quickly risen to become an important player in the European furniture and home accessories market, and in many ways have also served as the archetype for the innumerable new labels that have sprung up across the continent in the last five to six years. Yet to judge by the scale, breadth and obvious cost of their presentation at Milan 2016 HAY are clearly not planning resting on their laurels any time soon: here is brand, we were informed, moving up a level and prepared to throw everything at the expansion.

For us they may be throwing a little too much, trying too hard to be all things to all men at all times; however, regardless of such considerations there were a few absolute gems to be found in the depths of Milan’s former La Pelota swimming pool where HAY launched their new 2016 collection.

Dapper and New Order from HAY, as seen at Milan Design Week 2016

Dapper Lounge Chair by Doshi Levien and New Order shelving system by Stefan Diez for HAY, as seen at Milan Design Week 2016

For us the genuine highlight of the 2016 HAY collection is and was without question the Can sofa and armchair by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Sold as a flat pack kit to be assembled at home, both the Can sofa and armchair feature a steel tube frame with fulsome, inviting, cushions held in place by exterior textile walls, in addition the Can sofa doubles as a makeshift bed. Very easy, accessible objects, the Can family are contemporary yet conservative, casual yet disciplined and for us formally, constructionally and in terms of the underlying spirit of mobility, lightness and temporality are very reminiscent of the Cuisine désintégrée kitchen or Lit clos room-within-a-room concept from early in the Bouroullec’s careers. A state of affairs we thoroughly approve of.
Aside from such formal aspects an important factor behind the Can concept is the, relatively, low price, something achieved largely through a concentration on and optimisation of the number of components and production steps, and something which for Ronan Bouroullec lies at the heart of the brothers cooperation with the company, “With HAY you have passionate people who want to succeed between IKEA and more exclusive design companies”, he explains, “I like this approach, and it also means we have a platform where we can try to solve basic needs, to create what in the fashion industry would be the white t-shirt, so simple, everyday objects which don’t cost a fortune and appeal to a broad range of people.” With Can we believe they have achieved just that. A belief which, not entirely unsurprisingly, is shared by Ronan Bouroullec, “I am quite proud of the fact that with the sofa and chair we succeeded in creating something which provides an elegant answer for basic needs”, he concludes. Proud they all may be.

Can by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for HAY, as seen at Milan Design Week 2016

Can by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for HAY, as seen at Milan Design Week 2016

As more loyal readers will be aware, back at IMM Cologne 2015 we noted an unmistakable popularity amongst independent design studios for relatively low chairs featuring what we referred to as a “deliberately overproportioned upholstered seat and back rest”; among the more interesting examples we cited to back up our case being the Bridge armchair by Rui Alves, the Pocket Chair by Jesper Junge and the Lenz Lounge Chair by Bartmann Berlin, Silvia Terhedebrügge & Hanne Willmann. We obviously shied away from using the evil “T” word, but there was, we opined, definitely something in the air; and a bug that obviously also infected London based studio Doshi Levien. Their new Dapper Lounge Chair for HAY doesn’t ride as low as the three works mentioned above, and is thus perhaps better intended as a dining chair or an occasional chair in, for example, the conservatory, hotel bedroom or office waiting room, than a out-and-out lounge chair per se; does however emit the same warm glow of Hans J. Wegner in a 1980s post-disco melancholy and thus is every bit as appealing. Not least because as a work it is self-confident, very well proportioned, aesthetically charming and thus eminently inviting.

Elsewhere the modular New Order system by Stefan Diez continues to impress us as much as it ever has, and frankly always will, we simply cannot imagine a time when it doesn’t excite us, while the Bouroullec’s new outdoor Palissade collection offers everything it promised. And a little more. Which is always pleasing.

With the additions to their portfolio we have little doubt that HAY will take the obviously much desired step to the next corporate level; it is however to be hoped that once they do they remember that in design quality and quantity are rarely the best of chums, and that too much of the latter can, invariably will, adversely affect the former. Yes one must develop, but, and as in all aspects of life, one must always remain true to oneself.

A few impressions from the HAY 2016 Collection showcase in Milan.

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

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016
April 17th, 2016 by smow

To the casual observer selecting five outstanding products from the Milan Furniture Fair is a neigh on impossible task, so great is the number of potential candidates. “How”, asks our casual observer, “are you going to select just five?!?!”

For the seasoned attendee selecting five outstanding products from the Milan Furniture Fair is a neigh on impossible task, because the vast majority of articles on show are anything but outstanding. And those which are are invariably older, established products, and thus for the purposes of this column not applicable.

Milan Furniture Fair 2016 was an excellent example of just that: the majority of the new products were, for us, underwhelming, while many of those producers from whom one would/could have expect a shudder of illicit exhilaration mustered little more than a friendly, if knowingly apologetic, smile.

Which isn’t to say what was on display wasn’t good, wasn’t interesting, wasn’t valid. It often was. Just rarely outstanding.

There was however outstanding, and here our High Five! from Milan Furniture Fair 2016*

Officina Lounge Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis

At Milan 2016 Magis unveiled an extensive extension of the Officina collection by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, including what we’re referring to as the Officina Lounge Chair: and for us an object which represents the ultimate expression of the ideas contained in the Officina Armchair. Don’t get us wrong we’re huge fans of the Officina Armchair, but with the extra width, the exaggerated proportions and the combination of leather and wrought iron the Officina Lounge is for us a much more natural, harmonious construction than the compact Armchair and one which has something primal, almost bestial, about it, albeit an unashamedly domesticated beast, and which makes it for us a very logical and appealing piece of work.

Officina Lounge Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis, a sseen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Officina Lounge Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Stool 01 by Studio Daphna Laurens

Created as part of Eindhoven based design studio Daphna Laurens’ contribution to the Passionswege programme at Vienna Design Week 2012 the subtly named Stool 01 is by no means a new design, but is one which for us remains as fresh and exciting today as when we first saw in Vienna. And one which we passionately believe more people should have the opportunity to experience. For us the attraction lies in the ambiguity inherent in the object. In essence a very simple stool, Stool 01 is anything but; presenting as it does no clear guidelines as to how or where it is to be used. That is up to you. A situation intensified by the fact that as an object Stool 01 not only invites interaction but continually reveals new facets of its character and new possibilities depending on the conditions under which you approach it. Over the years we’ve seen Stool 01 on numerous occasions and in numerous locations, yet still have no idea how one should sit on it. That isn’t a simple stool, but is a very pleasing and rewarding piece of product design.

Stool 01 by Studio Daphna Laurensas seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Stool 01 by Studio Daphna Laurens as seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

866 F Rocking Chair by Lydia Brodde, Thonet Design Team for Thonet

As a genre the rocking chair is largely defined by the classic “Windsor”, spindle, form or its more quadratic cousin, as to be found per auto-stereotype on your average American porch. Or it is some horrendous contemporary abomination of the sort that makes you wish for a new law punishing those responsible with long prison sentences. Between the two there isn’t a great deal of note to be found. The new-ish Thonet 866 F Rocking Chair offers just such an alternative. An extension of the Thonet 860 programme by Lydia Brodde from the Thonet Design Team, the 866 F benefits not only from the well considered and excellently proportioned form of the 860 collection, but also from Thonet’s long experience with rocking chairs: Michael Thonet was responsible for numerous rocking chair designs, whereby in addition to investing time and effort in developing filigree bentwood structures he also paid careful attention to the radii of his rockers. Detailed research in the Thonet archives and workshops has thus resulted in a curvature based on this tradition and which allows for a stable, secure and for all very pleasing rocking action.

866 F Rocking Chair by Lydia Brodde, Thonet Design Team for Thone, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

866 F Rocking Chair by Lydia Brodde, Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

FRAM3 by Anna Weber

FRAM3 was for us one of those classic trade fair experiences. Walking around the stand where Burg Giebichenstein Halle Anna Weber was presenting her work, our attention kept coming back to it, yet we couldn’t explain why. And thus couldn’t decide if we liked it. Thought we probably did and so took a few photos. Away from the intensity of the fair and with the time and space to think about things we decided that, yes, we did and do like it. Or specifically we really liked/like one configuration of FRAM3. As an object FRAM3 is, as the name suggests, a metal frame which can used in one of three positions, and as a rectangular frame that means it can be used in any one of three heights depending on which edge is used as the base. A series of exchangeable inserts turn FRAM3 into a practical sideboard, table, etc….. and it was the metal insert with the indentation and thus an open invitation for book storage which especially caught our attention. We know, we know. Dust. Leave a book there for too long, it’s going to get dusty. Then don’t leave books there for too long. Life is that simple. Use it as space for temporary book storage, for example in the hall, kitchen, conservatory or office. And not just for books. The rim around the upper surface means that small items can be securely placed on top with the indent providing temporary ad-hoc space for scarves, jute bags, small packages, dog leads etc, etc, etc. Or books. In addition to the pleasing functionality FRAM3 is also an aesthetically pleasing piece of work; reduced without being unnecessarily filigree it has a robustness of character which it isn’t afraid to transmit and which it does without appearing uncouth.

FRAM3 by Anna Weber, as seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

FRAM3 by Anna Weber, as seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon

One of the joys of Konstantin Grcic’s work is you never know where it will take him next: something unashamedly, if competently, commercial; an artistic diversion; something that explores new formats, pushes horizons and thus expands the vocabulary of furniture design; or something that presents Konstantin Grcic the carpenter. The Ulisse Daybed for ClassiCon is a wonderful example of the latter. Presenting itself in an uncomplicated, reduced formal language, the real joy of the piece is the reclining mechanism; in essence a very simple, almost elementary, carpentry solution to a functional problem, yet one with a logical efficiency that is undeniably industrial. An excellently realised piece of carpentry, Ulisse, as with so much of Grcic’s oeuvre, references numerous historic objects while offering a new interpretation of the elegance and functionality for which they are acknowledged and beloved.

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

* with the proviso that:

(a) Given the 8,000,000 manufacturers presenting their wares in 20,000 halls and across three time zones, no we didn’t see everything, and invariably missed one or the other outstanding piece of work. We’ll catch up with them eventually though.

(B) This list only features works seen at the Milan Furniture Fair, Milan city isn’t the fair. It’s the city. Even if ever more producers try to muddy the waters and convince us otherwise.

Posted in ClassiCon, Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Fuorisalone Milan Design Week, Magis, Milan Design Week, Producer, Thonet Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

XXI Triennale International Exhibition: 21st Century.Design After Design, Milan
March 31st, 2016 by smow

If the etymologists are to be believed “April” has its origins in the Latin verb “aperire”. To uncover, to open.
Our ancient forefathers and mothers were unquestionably referring to nature’s habit of “opening” at this time of year; our thoughts however turn more to the derivation “aperol”, and that most pleasing of summertime refreshments, and one who’s season opens in Milan every April. It is thus no surprise that our five new design exhibition aperitis for April 2016 take us to Milan ….. in addition to Düsseldorf, Helsinki, Dresden and Amsterdam.

“Jean Tinguely. Super Meta Maxi” at Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, Germany

Born in Fribourg, Switzerland, in 1925 the artist Jean Tinguely is unquestionably best known for his innumerate kinetic sculptures; works some denounce as being unsightly piles of discarded metal. And which in many cases are. A fact perhaps best demonstrated by one of Jean Tinguely’s most famous works, his 1960 “Homage to New York” built in the sculpture garden of the MoMA New York from, amongst other components salvaged from New York city dumps, “80 bicycle wheels, parts of old motors, a piano, metal drums, an addressograph machine, a child’s go-cart and enameled bathtub.”* And all in a machine designed to destroy itself over the course of a thirty minute performance. As it transpired the performance didn’t go exactly as planned, but the consumer culture criticism was made and Tinguely reached a global audience. Organised by the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf in cooperation with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Super Meta Maxi promises a chronological journey through Jean Tinguely’ oeuvre including many of his interventions and creative cooperations and thus aims to provide a comprehensive portrait of a artist who generally worked against the portrait as a genre.
And on a side note, Super Meta Maxi isn’t Düsseldorf’s first meeting with the Dadaist Tinguely: in 1959 the city hosted Jean Tinguely’s first solo exhibition in Germany, an exhibition which culminated with Tinguely scattering his manifesto “Für Statik” – “For Statics”- from an aircraft over the city: “Everything is in motion. Nothing stands still ….. Stop “painting” time. Stop building cathedrals and pyramids that will crumble. Breathe deeply, live in the now, live for and in the moment. For a beautiful and absolute reality”

Jean Tinguely. Super Meta Maxi opens at Museum Kunstpalast, Ehrenhof 4-5, 40479 Düsseldorf on Saturday April 23rd and runs until Sunday August 14th

* MoMA Press Release, March 18th 1960 (pdf)

Jean Tinguely, Große Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia (Photo Christina Baur, © Museum Tinguely, Basel, Donation Niki de Saint Phalle © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015, Courtesy of Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf)

Jean Tinguely, Große Méta-Maxi-Maxi-Utopia (Photo Christina Baur, © Museum Tinguely, Basel, Donation Niki de Saint Phalle © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2015, Courtesy of Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf)

“Eero Aarnio” at the Designmuseo Helsinki, Finland

With his Ball Chair and Bubble Chair the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio not only gave the 1960s spirit of revolution, freedom and unlimited opportunity a physical form, but he also created new genres of furniture and helped forge new understandings of materials and production processes. More recently creations such as Puppy for Magis or the Rocket Stool for Artek have brought Eero Aarnio’s creativity into a new generation, and in context of the wooden Rocket Stool, a new material. Yet ubiquitous and instantly recognisable as his works are, Eero Aarnio himself remains largely unknown. With their retrospective the Designmuseo Helsinki aim to change that. Promising a mix of furniture, lighting and small objects, of mass produced products and one-off works from the 1950s to today and all complimented and extended by drawings, sketches, prototypes and personal objects the exhibition promises to be the most exhaustive exploration of Eero Aarnio the man and Eero Aarnio the designer ever staged.

Eero Aarnio opens at the Designmuseo, Korkeavuorenkatu 23, 00130 Helsinki on Friday April 8th and runs until Sunday September 25th

Eero Aarnio at the Designmuseo Helsinki

Eero Aarnio at the Designmuseo Helsinki

“Living in the Amsterdam School” at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Holland

Much like the German Jugendstil/Arts and Crafts movement fragmented in the inter-war years into the more traditional Werkbund and the avant-garde Bauhaus movements so to is the development of contemporary architecture and design in Holland characterised by a bruising fission: on the one side the brash young things of De Stijl and on the other the more conservative Amsterdam School. Whereas De Stijl in its numerous carnations and creative genres, and the architecture and architectural legacy of the Amsterdam School have been extensively researched, according to the Stedelijk Museum Living in the Amsterdam School presents the first museal exploration of the furniture and furnishings which accompanied the Amsterdam School’s architecture; and promising as it does some 500+ items certainly sounds like being extensive enough to ensure that the visitor can understand both the connection between the architecture and the interiors, but also why there was so much antagonism between the Amsterdam School and the De Stijl protagonists.

Living in the Amsterdam School opens at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam on Saturday April 9th and runs until Sunday August 28th

Armchair and coffee table by Liem Bwan Tjie, ca. 1930 (Photo Erik & Petra Hesmerg, Courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

Armchair and coffee table by Liem Bwan Tjie, ca. 1930 (Photo Erik & Petra Hesmerg, Courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)

XXI Triennale International Exhibition: “21st Century. Design After Design”, Milan, Italy

For the 21st Milan Triennale the organisers have chosen to look at the 21st century and for all to ask what the future holds for designers and design as both a profession and as a notion. Featuring over 20 exhibitions at 11 locations in and around Milan the 21st Milan Triennale aims to explore questions such as how best to respond to the increasing conflict between our reliance on mass production and proliferation of new production processes, how should/will our cites and communities transform to reflect changing realities, what is the role of the designer in all this, what will the role of the designer become and for all what will “design” actually mean in the near future…. so after design?

The XXI Triennale International Exhibition, 21st Century. Design After Design, takes place at numerous locations in Milan from Saturday April 2nd until Monday September 12th

XXI Triennale International Exhibition: 21st Century.Design After Design, Milan

XXI Triennale International Exhibition: 21st Century.Design After Design, Milan

“Self-Propelled. Or how the Bicycle moves us” at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden, Germany

Much like our relationship to photography is a purely functional, practical, one, so to our relationship with cycling. We simply don’t buy into all this “bike as lifestyle” nonsense.
Get on bike. Go to baker. Come home. Eat cake.
Get on bike. Go to cinema. Watch film. Get back on bike. Go home.
Get on bike. Go for long cycle. Narrowly avoid getting hit by bus. Come home. Feel fitter.

But this bike as a “cult” object ….. not with us.

And we suspect not with the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden.

With their exhibition Self-Propelled. Or how the Bicycle moves us the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden aim to explore the development of the bicycle in its cultural, social and technological context, of which the first two sound potentially the most interesting, promising as they do to explore how the bicycle as a democratic and universal tool has accompanied, defined and even enabled, numerous cultural and social movements. And no we don’t mean tattooed urbanites with racing caps.

Self-Propelled. Or how the Bicycle moves us opens at the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Schloss Pillnitz, Wasserpalais, August-Böckstiegel-Straße 2, 01326 Dresden on Saturday April 30th and runs until Tuesday November 1st

Typical Hipster! Littering the countryside without any consideration for the deeper cultural and social consequence of their actions, typical......

Typical Hipster! Littering the countryside without any consideration for the deeper cultural and social consequence of their actions, typical……

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

December 24th, 2015 by smow

Just as January means Cologne, April is Milan. And normally only Milan. In 2015 however we managed to spice things up with an interview with Michael Geldmacher from Neuland Industriedesign on the method by which designers are paid and organising a survey of designers attitudes on how they are paid. Didn’t change the world. Made us feel a little better however…..

USM Privacy Panels

USM Haller Privacy Panels, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Michael Geldmacher Eva Paster Neuland Industriedesign

Michael Geldmacher and Eva Paster a.k.a Neuland Industriedesign

Designer Survey Do you normally request development payments for furniture lighting projects

Designer Survey 2015 Results: Do you normally request development payments for furniture or lighting projects? Some do…..

Dutch Invertuals - Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

Dutch Invertuals – Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

Belleville Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Belleville Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Posted in A pictorial review, Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Producer Tagged with: , , , , ,

"Community: Italy Architecture, city and landscape from the postwar period to 2000" at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy
November 29th, 2015 by smow

December can be a trying month: always having to think of others; always having to patronise bars and restaurants you’ve spent the rest of the year wishing would return to the parallel hell from whence they came; eating, eating and eating as if trapped in some culinary Groundhog Day.

Do yourself a favour, gift yourself a few hours and visit one of the following new design and architecture exhibitions opening in December 2015. We can’t guarantee they’ll be good, but can guarantee they’ll be more pleasurable than a visit to the Christmas market…..

“The New Map” at the Nationalmuseum Design, Stockholm, Sweden

As any clear thinking individual knows the existing global trade model isn’t sustainable: socially, economically nor environmentally and must be changed.

As any clear thinking individual knows the existing global design industry model isn’t sustainable: socially, economically nor environmentally and must be changed.

And so, wonders any clear thinking individual, could we change both simultaneously and to the benefit of all?

The New Map is intended as an exploration of how that might be possible.

Organised by the Nationalmuseum Design Stockholm and the Form/Design Center in Malmö The New Map paired designers with local business in the Skåne region of southern Sweden with the brief of developing a new product.

In itself nothing new, the idea behind The New Map is a much loved and well used tool, yet a tool which is never boring because it must always produce completely new experiences, and with every new experience comes new insights and the realisation that where will meets creativity sensible results can occur and that high quality, local production and distribution is possible. And is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

The New Map opens at Nationalmuseum Design, Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Sergels torg, Stockholm on Friday December 4th and runs until Sunday February 14th

Items from the exhibition The New Map

Items from the exhibition The New Map (Photo Andreas Kurtsson, © Nationalmuseum Design Stockholm

“Josef Frank. Against Design” at the MAK Vienna, Austria

Unquestionably one of Europe’s finest classic residence cities Vienna is also one of Europe’s most interesting cities in context of modernist housing experiments; projects such as the Heubergsiedlung, Winarskyhof or the Werkbundsiedlung helping advance and cement ideas of modernist house construction and urban planning in the inter-war years. One of the leading protagonists of this movement was the architect Josef Frank, notable also as the only Austrian architect invited to contribute to the 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung project in Stuttgart. Following his Nazi enforced emigration to Sweden in 1933 Josef Frank, in effect, began a second career as a product designer, concentrating for all on furniture, textiles and household accessories. Under the title “Against Design” the MAK in Vienna aim to present not only a comprehensive retrospective of Josef Frank’s oeuvre but also analyse his philosophy of good design being as little design as possible and of creating objects geared towards the comfort of and practicality for the end user rather than striving for constant innovation or meeting the abstract demands of an all-encompassing design philosophy or design concept. A furrow that Josef Frank largely trod alone, and a philosophy which today makes him one of the more interesting architects and designers of his generation

Josef Frank. Against Design opens at the MAK, Stubenring 5, A-1010 Vienna on Wednesday December 16th and runs until Sunday April 3rd

Josef Frank, Sofa, Stoffbezug Celotocaulis, 1940er Jahre © Svenskt Tenn, Stockholm, Schweden

Josef Frank, Sofa, covers Celotocaulis, 1940s (Photo © Svenskt Tenn, Stockholm, Sweden, Courtesy of the MAK Wien)

“Community: Italy Architecture, city and landscape from the postwar period to 2000” at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy.

Museum’s aren’t just there to collect, store and display the past, but also to critically analyse the contemporary and thus force us to face up to the realities of our age. The Italian architecture tradition isn’t something that stopped with the end of Rococo but is something which is continually evolving, developing and is as contemporary and relevant for Italian society as corruption, questions surrounding the relationship between church and state, or corruption; consequently it is only sensible that a museum presents a critical exploration of contemporary Italian architecture. Promising some 120 works from the likes of Ludovico Quaroni, Renzo Piano or Arturo Mezzedimi Community seeks to explore the development of Italian architecture from the end of the second World War until 2000 and in doing so explain how Italian architecture has developed in the five decade since the war and thus help us understand where Italian architecture finds itself today. And why.

Community: Italy Architecture, city and landscape from the postwar period to 2000 opened at the Triennale Design Museum, Viale Alemagna, 6, 20121 Milan on Saturday November 28th and runs until Sunday March 6th

"Community: Italy Architecture, city and landscape from the postwar period to 2000" at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy

Community: Italy Architecture, city and landscape from the postwar period to 2000 at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy

“Wild sites . Thomas Rustemeyer: Wilde orte in Rotterdam und Stuttgart” at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Stuttgart

In addition to formal, political, architecture and urban planning programmes our towns and cities are also subject to architecture and urban planning interventions of a much less formal, if often ever bit as political, nature. Presenting examples of such autonomous, grass roots projects from Rotterdam and Stuttgart Wild Sites….. well we don’t know. So sparse, vague and generally confuse is the available information. However a combination of experience of and with the protagonists and a lot of good stomach feeling tells us it will be worth viewing should you find yourself in Stuttgart.

Wild sites. Thomas Rustemeyer: Wilde orte in Rotterdam und Stuttgart opens at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Am Weißenhof 30, 70191 Stuttgart on Wednesday December 2nd and runs until Sunday January 24th

Wild sites . Thomas Rustemeyer Wilde orte in Rotterdam und Stuttgart at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Stuttgart

Wild sites . Thomas Rustemeyer Wilde orte in Rotterdam und Stuttgart at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Stuttgart

“Prototypes and Experiments VIII” at The Aram Gallery, London, UK

The eighth edition of The Aram Gallery’s “Prototypes and Experiments” exhibition series promises in many respects exactly the same as the previous seven. Which is of course exactly why it is to be recommended. Presenting works from design studios as diverse as, for example, Mischer’Traxler, Tomoko Azumi or Custhom, Prototypes and Experiments promises to present commented explanations of how products are developed – if you like, to show the workings and thinking on the long development path and thus help explain how products arise, the work that goes into creating a product and that yes design is work. And because each and every product has its own unique story to tell no two exhibits, nor exhibitions, can be the same, rather each is a, potential, gem of its own.

Prototypes and Experiments VIII opens at The Aram Gallery, 110 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5SG on Monday November 30th and runs until Saturday January 16th

Prototypes and Experiments VIII at The Aram Gallery London, UK

Prototypes and Experiments VIII at The Aram Gallery London

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

October 19th, 2015 by smow

In our design calender post on the inaugural Memphis Exhibition in Milan we noted that although important for the development of design and architecture, the Memphis group was never that successful commercially.

Which is not to say that Memphis furniture wasn’t bought and used to furnish homes.

According to Artemide co-founder Ernesto Gismondi, who also served as Managing Director of the Memphis trading company, there are, or at least were, two homes furnished exclusively with Memphis.

And both of them belong to Karl Lagerfeld.

Not that we can necessarily recommend following Lagerfeld’s example for your own interior decoration, for according to Gismondi, and lest we forget he supported Memphis from the beginning “When one has spent three minutes in them, one gets an urge to shoot oneself through the head, because the objects they contain are incongruous. Practically all of them are individual pieces, works of “art appliqué” as they would say in France, unique specimen which you should display in the home like sculptures”1

Which aside from being an expression of an opinion diametrically at odds with the aims of Memphis and for all the stated intentions of Ettore Sottsass, is an excellent illustration of the fact that styling doesn’t create comfortable spaces, only a unforced, natural, organic, development can achieve such. In addition Ernesto Gismondi’s comments reminds us greatly of the story former Vitra Managing Director Rolf Fehlbaum tells of the time Verner Panton designed the interior of his Basel flat. According to Rolf Fehlbaum every room was monotone – one black, one red, one orange, etc, etc – and not just that walls, floor and ceiling in a room were all one colour, but all the furniture, fixtures and fittings. Everything.

Can I move an object from one room to another?, queried Fehlbaum

Why would you want to?! the confused answer from Panton.

According to Rolf Fehlbaum after a few harrowing weeks he redecorated.

We have no information as to the current condition of the interiors of Karl Lagerfeld’s homes.

Are however planning declining all and any invitations we may receive to visit him.

1. Poul ter Hofstede, Memphis 1981 – 1988, Groninger Museum, 1989

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

September 18th, 2015 by smow

Celebrated as the salvation of design. Denounced as kitsch. Fresh & invigorating. Vain & hifalutin. A watershed in design history. A passing fad.

There are few architecture and design movements that divided opinion quite as much as the works of the Italian group Memphis.

Or indeed which continue to divide opinion more than thirty years after their emergence.

Although officially launched with an exhibition at the Arc ’74 gallery in Milan on Friday September 18th 1981 Memphis can trace its origins back to the 1960s, or as the group’s founder and leading protagonist Ettore Sottsass puts it, “Memphis itself is the result of 10 years of anti-design, of more or less politically coloured discussions.”1

Born in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1917 Ettore Sottsass studied architecture at the Politecnico di Torino before moving to Milan in 1946 where he established his own architecture and design practice from where, amongst other projects, he worked with the INA-CASA post-war rebuilding programme, contributed to the several Milan Triennales and developed numerous art and craft projects. In 1956 Ettore Sottsass travelled to America where he spent three months working with George Nelson in his New York studio, three months that were to change his perception about what design is and can be. “I was very much impressed by America I must say, because it was clear that America was in the middle of an intellectual revolution – an industrial revolution particularly”, Sottsass later recalled in an interview with Icon Magazine, before adding the all important qualifier, “because in Italy we didn’t have the idea of industry.”2 On his return from New York Ettore Sottsass set about changing that, as most famously exemplified by his collaborations with the Italian office and telecommunications company Olivetti. Much like George Nelson’s cooperations with IBM, Sottsass used intelligent, contemporary, and for all corporate and systems, design, to transform an otherwise uninspiring, beige, conglomerate into a by-word for sophisticated, cosmopolitan grace. In addition to Olivetti the 1960s saw Ettore Sottsass cooperate with companies as varied as Poltrona Frau, Raymor or Arredoluce.

Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, it was to be Ettore Sottsass’s best known Olivetti product, the 1969 Valentine portable typewriter, which saw him move away from product design and towards anti-design.

In 1961 Sottsass had travelled to India where, and very much as with those who would later travel the so-called Hippie Trail through Central Asia, his experiences caused him to question the nature of western, European, society and for all deeply affected his understanding of objects, possessions and the meaning of both. Thus parallel to his work with Olivetti Sottsass developed more abstract projects, principally ceramics, and projects through which he explored not only new form languages but also new ways of relating to those objects which surround us and in which he questioned the idea of consumerism. These parallel, and contradictory, creative paths finally diverged in 1969 when Sottsass realised that with the Valentine Olivetti wanted something cheap and cheerful, throwaway as much as portable, and decided the time was ripe to move on from product design. Or as he later wrote in context of Memphis, “so-called “industrial design” in the general sense of the word was viewed as a service to the industry rather than to the general public. This implied that the terms were prescribed by the industry and not by the public. Our idea has been to see what would happen if we liberated ourselves from those terms, at any rate in theory.”3

As a first step on his road to liberation and Memphis Ettore Sottsass published in 1972 his pamphlet “The Planet as Festival” in which he presented various utopian futures, before going on to co-found the group “Global Tools” with some 30 fellow Radical Architecture activists, a project which aimed to “stimulate the free development of individual creativity”4 In 1977 Ettore Sottsass and Andrea Branzi were invited to design furniture for the Milanese retailer Croff Casa, a first opportunity to bring his ideas to a wider public: the resulting “Casanova” collection, according to Barbara Radice, being so radical, so free, and so liberated, that not only did customers reject it but the Croff Casa sales team refused to promote or sell it5. In the same year Sottsass and Branzi were invited to join Alessandro Guerriero and Alessandro Mendini in their post-modern Alchimia collective; however, fundamental differences between Sottsass and Mendini as to the direction the group should take caused Sottsass to leave in 1980 and subsequently establish Memphis with a group of like minded individuals.

Like minded, if younger, individuals. For while the majority of those designers and architects who participated in the inaugural Memphis exhibition were wild young things in their 20s, the movement’s figurehead was a marginally less than teenage 64 when the inaugural exhibition opened.

Who says only yoof rebel!

Just as Pop Art highlighted the mundane, unsavoury and superficial to force a break from the established art world so to did Memphis make use of banal everyday materials and bright, garish, unsavoury, colours for their attack on the dogmatic functionalism of 1970s design; an attack which was primarily expressed through the use of new, challenging, forms, unfamiliar expressions of the familiar which in the eyes of their creators reflected the current age, not ages long since gone.

Yet despite all the revolution inherent in Memphis, and the ease of popular focus on the abstract forms and bright colours, it is important to remember that the objects created by Memphis worked. They were functional. That their form didn’t follow their function was the whole point, or as Sottsass is famously quoted as having once said, “When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting.”6

In addition all Memphis products were designed to be mass produced.

At least theoretically.

From the very outset Memphis was run as a company, a company established with the aim of marketing and selling their work: despite questioning consumerism Memphis weren’t anti-commercial, and indeed throughout the 1970s Ettore Sottsass created a range of objects for Alessi. An important partner in the Memphis business was Milan based lighting producer Artemide. Shortly after the opening of the first exhibition Sottsass approached Artemide co-founder and managing director Ernesto Gismondi to request a cooperation, Gismondi readily agreed, even if from a business perspective it may have been wiser not to, as, according to Gismondi, “for several years we [Memphis] had deficits that needed to be covered by Artemide”.7

The principle reason for the deficits being that despite all their protestations of mass producible design, the majority of Memphis items were closer to art than their designers would or could admit; consequently, Memphis products were expensive and only of interest to a very limited market segment. Something perhaps best demonstrated by the Carlton bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, one of the best known Memphis pieces and an object which, according to Gismondi, on account of the random nature of its construction principle and variety of component parts, simply cannot be industrially mass produced – and for which in any case only rough sketches existed, no detailed plans that the constructors could follow.

According to Gismondi there was only one vaguely, commercially, successful Memphis object: the chair First by Michele De Lucchi. However, and in words reminiscent of Heinz Rasch, for Gismondi First was only a success because it “was a chair which most resembled a chair. Michele did indeed succeed very cleverly in designing a product which was genuinely Memphis and which at the same time partly answered the needs of the market and those of the company”8

The remainder of the products answering primarily the needs of Memphis to challenge contemporary wisdom and accepted formalist standards. A fact which may explain why Memphis moved increasingly from seeing itself as an industrial project to a gallery project.

Ettore Sottsass left Memphis in 1985, and although post-Sottsass Memphis continued, and indeed continues, without its driving force it ceased to have the same relevance or vigour.

Which of course raises the obvious question, what remains of Memphis?

For most people the answer would be “the objects”.

Objects however which are invariably misinterpreted as being about the style, the physical from, rather than the background ideas; and it is those ideas that is Memphis’s most important legacy, the demonstration than one needn’t simply accept the status quo, but that if one remains true to ones ideals and can present them with a clarity and competence then one can achieve genuine change. Not necessarily change as in changing the immediate world, but change as in changing ideas, opinions and perspectives. Change as in expanding the horizon of possibilities and creating the chance of an alternative future. The works of the Memphis group may not have been commercially successful, and in all probability never will be, but that ideas and thinking that created them continue to influence designers and architects, and remain relevant components of any contemporary design discourse.

In addition Memphis, in many ways, gave us the design gallery as an institution distinct from the design museum or the art gallery. And today good design galleries still provide a platform for designers to question contemporary norms, challenge accepted standards, propose alternatives and thus continue, just as Memphis did in September 1981, to confuse, offend, delight, inspire and upset their visitors.

1. Poul ter Hofstede, Memphis 1981 – 1988, Groninger Museum, 1989

2 Justin McGuirk “Ettore Sottsass” Icon, Issue 046, April 2007 Accessed 17.09.2015

3. Poul ter Hofstede, Memphis 1981 – 1988, Groninger Museum, 1989

4. Document No. 1. The Constitution. Global Tools, No 1 Florence 1974, quoted in Hans Höger, Ettore Sottsass jun. Designer. Artist. Architect. Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, Tübingen/Berlin. 1993

5. Barbara Radice, Ettore Sottsass, Leben und Werk, Bangert Verlag, München 1993

6. Original source unknown

7. Poul ter Hofstede, Memphis 1981 – 1988, Groninger Museum, 1989

8. ibid

Posted in Architecture, Design Calendar, Designer, Exhibitions and Shows Tagged with: , , , , ,

A New Layer Taiwanese lacquer art seen through Swedish eyes at The Röhsska Museum Gothenburg Sweden
July 31st, 2015 by smow

As Noël Coward famously observed, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, and it takes a similarly laissez-faire approach to life to open an exhibition in August. Everyone, but everyone, it would appear is on holiday. Or has at least like Coward’s caribous, lain down for a snooze.

Which is probably why the majority of the following five exhibitions open in late August, so after the sun has ceased to be much too sultry such that one must avoid its ultry-violet ray.

“Shelter: Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles” at the A+D Architecture Museum Los Angeles, USA

For their inaugural exhibition in their new home in Los Angeles somewhat distressingly titled “Arts District” the A+D Architecture Museum Los Angeles have chosen to visit a well worn but never tiring genre of architecture exhibition – the future study. Specifically the museum have asked six Los Angeles based architecture offices to create a domestic redevelopment solution for strip of land in the north of the city which responds to issues such as, for example, decreasing land availability, increasing density, evolving diversity and contemporary environmental considerations. Clearly a very site specific challenge, the hope is however that the research the architects undertake will result in new visions of future urban housing solutions which are universally applicable, or at least more widely applicable than to a narrow strip of land in north Los Angeles.

Shelter: Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles opens at the A+D Architecture Museum Los Angeles, 900 East 4th St. Los Angeles, CA 90013 on Thursday August 20th and runs until Friday November 6th

Shelter Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles at the A+D Architecture Museum Los Angeles USA

Shelter Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles at the A+D Architecture Museum Los Angeles USA

“Lost and Found in Oranienbaum” at Ampelhaus, Oranienbaum, Germany

If we’re completely honest a few months ago we doubted that there would be a fourth season at Ampelhaus, too much appeared to be happening elsewhere and we couldn’t imagine that the main players would find the time to create a new exhibition. Thankfully we were proved wrong and for their 2015 exhibition Ampelhaus present works by eight designers and eight artists created in the course and context of a residency in Oranienbaum. And that is all we can say. Other than the exhibition will feature works by, amongst others, Bora Hong, Joost Goudriaan, Birgit Severin, Nienke Jansen and Giuseppe Licari and thus promises the represent the eclectic mix of styles, approaches and philosophies that makes the Ampelhaus exhibitions so unique, challenging and worth visiting.

Lost and Found in Oranienbaum opens at Ampelhaus, Brauerstraße 33, 06785 Oranienbaum on Saturday August 28th and runs until Saturday September 26th

King Size Art and Design Fit for a King Ampelhaus Oranienbaum

Ampelhaus, Oranienbaum

“A New Layer. Taiwanese lacquer art seen through Swedish eyes” at The Röhsska Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden

Oriental lacquerware not only has a long tradition in arts and crafts but has an equally long tradition in acting as a bridge between eastern and western cultures and of inspiring designers and craftspeople of all backgrounds, perhaps most famously the Irish designer Eileen Gray who’s first experience with product design was through Japanese lacquerware. Continuing this long tradition the Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg and the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute paired five Swedish design studios with Taiwanese craftspeople and with the brief to develop a new product. The results of this exchange and combined design process is a collection of seating, storage and purely decorative items. We don’t expect anything ground breaking but certainly thought provoking. And for all inspiring.

A New Layer. Taiwanese lacquer art seen through Swedish eyes opens at The Röhsska Museum Vasagatan 39, 411 37 Gothenburg on Tuesday August 25th and runs until Sunday October 4th

A New Layer Taiwanese lacquer art seen through Swedish eyes at The Röhsska Museum Gothenburg Sweden

A New Layer Taiwanese lacquer art seen through Swedish eyes at The Röhsska Museum Gothenburg Sweden

“TOYSSIMI. 100 Kids + 100 Designer = 100 extraordinary toys and more” at the Triennale Design Museum Milan, Italy

Very occasionally the background idea to a design exhibition is every bit as endearing as the end result. Such as with TOYSSIMI at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum. Organised in conjunction with the ilVespaio “creative workshop” the project paired a designer with a child and set the duo the brief of developing a toy. The majority of the children involved were at the time of the project in various Italian children’s hospitals and the designers turned up with a suitcase full of materials and let the child’s wishes and imaginations lead if not dictate the creative process; the experience and design understanding of the designer being called upon to ensure a realisation that was as practical and functional as it matched the child’s vision. As such the end results per se aren’t so important, much more interesting is what the results tell us about contemporary toy design, in how far modem toys meet the imagination of modern kids, in how far the imaginations of modern kids meet the imaginations of kids from generations gone…. and that following the end of the exhibition all 100 toys will be auctioned, the proceeds going to Amani, a non-profit organisation working with orphaned and vulnerable children in Kenya and Zambia.

TOYSSIMI. 100 Kids + 100 Designer = 100 extraordinary toys and more opened at the Triennale Design Museum, Viale Alemagna, 6, 20121, Milan on Friday June 24th and runs until Friday September 11th

TOYSSIMI. 100 Kids + 100 Designer = 100 extraordinary toys and more at the Triennale Design Museum Milan Italy

TOYSSIMI. 100 Kids + 100 Designer = 100 extraordinary toys and more at the Triennale Design Museum Milan Italy

“Lennart Mänd – Bindings” at the Estonian Museum of Applied Art, Tallinn, Estonia

It is probably fair to say that in a “normal” month a bookbinding exhibition probably wouldn’t make it into our top five. Not because it is not interesting or worthy, but because there would be five other exhibitions which were, in our, singular, opinion, more interesting and more worthy. And so it is perhaps good that the Estonian Museum of Applied Art’s chose to open Lennart Mänd’s exploration of contemporary bookbinding in August. What particularly attracts us to the exhibition is the promise of new techniques particularly suitable for limited editions – as our world becomes ever more digital the appreciation of a well-made functional analogue products will increase, including the appreciation of a well designed, and well bound book. Lennart Mänd – Bindings sounds like an excellent place to start gathering ideas for that coming future. On show in the so-called Staircase Gallery it is probably not extensive enough to be worth travelling extra to Tallinn to view, but should you be in the Estonian capital it should be worth taking the time to have a look.

Lennart Mänd – Bindings opens at the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, 17 Lai Street, 10133 Tallinn, Estonia on Friday August 28th and runs until Sunday October 25th.

Posted in 5 New Design Exhibitions, Architecture, Design Tourism, Designer, Exhibitions and Shows Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

USM - Rethink the Modular, Milan Design Week 2015
May 20th, 2015 by smow

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fritz Haller and Paul Schärer’s USM Haller modular furniture system USM instigated a series of masterclasses in which students at seven international design schools were paired with a mentor and asked to “Rethink the Modular” and for all to “consider the significance of modularity in architecture and design” and so “exploit the idea of modularity for contemporary design”. The results of the academic exercise were unveiled in an exhibition premièred during Milan Design Week 2015.

USM - Rethink the Modular, Milan Design Week 2015

USM – Rethink the Modular, Milan Design Week 2015

Divided into four sections Rethink the Modular explores modularity in terms of Rhythm, Interference, Structure and Relation; the first three of which featured, in addition to the results of the seven masterclasses, individual works by architects, artists and designers which in some form referred to the themes.

Amongst a fascinating mix of projects and approaches a particular highpoint, at least for us, was the results of the masterclass run by Brussels based designer Thomas Lommée with students from the École nationale supérieure de création industrielle (ENSCI), Paris. Focussing on the ideals of the OpenStructures project – a Belgian movement co-initiated by Thomas Lommée and which seeks to encourage systems for sharing hardware and structural components akin to the many such systems we currently have for software – the project asked the students to design an object which included at least one component from a fellow student. As a project OpenStructures (OS) Relatives not only impressed with the nice array of objects realised but much more because it freed the term “modular” from the need to be composed of repeating and/or interchangeable units. And thus not only rethought the modular but redefined it for a post industrial society.

Results from Thomas Lommée masterclass "OpenStructures (OS) Relatives, as seen at USM - Rethink the Modular during Milan Design Week 2015

Results from Thomas Lommée masterclass “OpenStructures (OS) Relatives, as seen at USM – Rethink the Modular during Milan Design Week 2015

Elsewhere we were very taken with TreeD, a very nice modular temporary internal architecture system based on natural forms developed in the masterclass run by architect Lorenzo Bini at the Politecnico di Milano; the Book/Store project developed in Allan Wexler’s masterclass at Parsons The New School for Design, New York City and in which the idea of language and writing as modular systems is given a physical form, produced some nice ideas for contemporary interior design; while with their Workout Keyboard Ines Kaag and Desiree Heiss a.k.a Bless presented a series of punch bags via which one can type, each punch bag being as it is representative of a letter or action. And although we admittedly still don’t really understand how it fitted in with the exhibition concept, as an installation Workout Keyboard was distractingly entertaining and possessed that captivating charm that all good showmen need to be successful.


Workout Keyboard Bless, as seen at USM – Rethink the Modular during Milan Design Week 2015

Enjoyable, entertaining and informative as the student projects and related works unquestionably are and were, the genuine highlight of Rethink the Modular was the fourth section, Relation, which set out to place “modular” in a wider context, both culturally and socially. In addition to presenting some truly magnificent works from the likes of Volker Albus, Ettore Sottsass or Hans Hollein Relation also featured a more detailed exploration of Fritz Haller’s oeuvre than you are likely to find outwith a dedicated Haller exhibition: and a showcase which delightfully elucidated how much more Fritz Haller is and was than his modular furniture system, makes as such perfectly clear what a travesty it is that he is largely only known for his modular furniture system and so by extrapolation underscores why Rethink the Modular is as much a tribute to Fritz Haller as a celebration of system USM Haller: modular is a way of thinking. Not a physical product or system. And because Fritz Haller thought modularly he could develop such an endearing, enduring and effortlessly practical modular product: or put another way System USM Haller is a physical manifestation of a theoretical deliberation of how best to organise and utilise available space in an ever changing environment, be that a city, a community or a building, and not an exercise in creating commercial office furniture.

As system USM Haller turns 50 its deeper cultural context and relevance slowly becomes better understood and supersedes the physical form. A fact from which we can all take hope: all is, not yet, lost.

The exhibition in Milan marked the start of a nine month series of global Rethink the Modular events and exhibitions in USM’s network of flagship stores and at selected design festivals, and which will culminate later this year with the publication of a book documenting the projects.

Full details can be found at

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Fuorisalone Milan Design Week, Producer, USM Haller Tagged with: , , , , ,

Uffici Chair by Nitzan Cohen for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015
May 11th, 2015 by smow

Several visitors to the Milan furniture fair with whom we spoke, including some whose judgement on such matters we value more than our own, were very excited by the new Uffici chair by Nitzan Cohen for Mattiazzi.

We were, and remain, less convinced.

Yes with its rigid, unyielding, duck bill-esque form and integrated mesh backrest we can see and understand that it is something new, something different. Yes, its mix of wood and synthetic weave is a nice interplay on two epochs of office chair design, almost reanimating the historic wooden office chairs of yore through the incorporation of modern materials for improved sitting comfort, and especially for improved long-term sitting comfort. And yes, we would happily duel with anybody who argues that the version with the solid wood swivel base is anything other than a genuine visual treat. But is it something interesting? Something necessary? Or is it just a bit of formal dabbling, a nice piece of research but too niche to be relevant. A challenging intermediary step on the way to something magnificent, perhaps?

Believe us we’ve gone through this a lot during and since Milan. And still aren’t sure.

But what Uffici did unquestionably do was underscore just how little respect Mattiazzi have for the accepted conventions of chair design. Which is of course one of the reasons we keep such a close eye on what they do.

One of the first Mattiazzi products that caught our attention was Konstantin Grcic’s Medici chair, a truly monumental work of grotesque beauty – a work unrivalled in its distaste for anything approaching “civil”, and yet one of the most exciting pieces of chair design work of recent years. Similarly the Bouroullec’s Osso and Uncino chairs successfully try something new, albeit in much more accessible, almost domestic forms: yet forms which still unquestionably challenge our lazily accepted contemporary norms.

However whereas we immediately liked all the above, with Uffici…..

But as ever, what do we know.

Uffici Chair by Nitzan Cohen for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Uffici Chair by Nitzan Cohen for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Uffici Chair by Nitzan Cohen for Mattiazzi, with metal, five foot castor base

….. here with the metal, five foot castor base

Uffici Chair by Nitzan Cohen for Mattiazzi,  with the wooden base

…. and the wooden base

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

Belgium is Design - Confronting the Masters, Milan 2015
May 5th, 2015 by smow

As is becoming traditional the interregional initiative Belgium is Design used Milan Design Week to present a showcase of contemporary Belgian design talent. However, in a break with the tenderfoot tradition the 2015 exhibition didn’t take place in the reserved grandeur of the Triennale di Milano design museum but in the decadent marble festooned grandeur of the Sala Napoleonica of the Accademia di Brera; a venue whose almost stereotypical sumptuousness presented the perfect contrast to the reduced, serene, personal character of the objects on display. And which thus allowed one to concentrate on the objects

Staged under the title Confronting the Masters the exhibition presented the past ten winners of the Belgian Designer of the Year Award and thus featured works by designers as varied as, for example, Bram Boo, Muller Van Severen or Alain Berteau, the award’s first recipient and a designer who was represented by his ever genial Night Club lounger.

And therein lay, indirectly, the main problem with the exhibition: each designer was represented by just one object. Consequently, although Confronting the Masters presented objects which demonstrated a delightful mix of design philosophies and approaches, the viewer had absolutely no opportunity to form any sort of realistic opinion on the featured designers’ canons and so the justification for honouring them with the award and by extrapolation the value of the award.

That said the dramatic location, the high quality objects that were on show and the Milan sun made for a very entertaining and distracting showcase, and one that if visitors were to take it as incentive to do some more research on their own, to delve deeper into the featured designers’ portfolios, did and would underscore why Belgium is currently so interesting in terms of furniture design.

A few impressions.

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

Duple Alexander Åsgård
April 25th, 2015 by smow

Privately and professionally we have long complained about, and been deeply saddened by, the lack of side/coffee tables with a shelf to be found in the contemporary furniture market.

We know it’s a first world problem, we know we should concentrate on other, genuinely important, things, but….. Back in the day all side/coffee tables had a shelf. And today……?

Today the smow blog living room is scattered with magazines, brochures, music scores and catalogues we simply do not know where or how to store.


It is therefore always a moment of great joy for us when we find a side/coffee table with a shelf, and a particular moment of great joy when it is packaged in an object as delightful as Duple by Oslo based designer Alexander Åsgård.

Constructed from a very simple steel wire frame topped by a nicely crafted wooden board, the genius of Duple is the shelf. And not just because it is a shelf, but because it is a shelf that is also a tray. The contemporary table market is awash with side table/tray combinations, but all others have the top as the tray; by making the shelf the tray Alexander Åsgård has created a product that is genuinely multifunctional – it works as a table AND a tray not a table OR a tray. And has equally importantly re-introduced the practical beauty of the side/coffee table shelf to a purchasing public who, to misquote Freddie Mercury, either just didn’t know or just didn’t care that it wasn’t there.

In addition, the underside of the tray is cushioned meaning not only that it allows the tray to sit comfortably on your lap, or to protect the surface of other units on which it may be placed, but allows you to invert the tray, place it on the table top and so turn the table into a makeshift bench.

Need we say more?

More information on Duple and Alexander Åsgård’s other work, including the very promising looking sofa bed Trapes, can be found at

Duple Alexander Åsgård

Duple by Alexander Åsgård, as seen at Salone Satellite Milan 2015

Duple Alexander Åsgård

Duple by Alexander Åsgård, as seen at Salone Satellite Milan 2015

Duple Alexander Åsgård

Duple by Alexander Åsgård,  rectangular or round. We much prefer the rectangular.

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

101.86 black Thomas Vailly & Laura Lynn Jansen, as seen at Dutch Invertuals - Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015
April 23rd, 2015 by smow

As a general rule, what you don’t say is more important than what you do say: your body language famously sending discrete messages to those around you, messages which betray your feelings and intentions more eloquently and honestly than you ever could, or indeed would often dare to.

Similarly, an inanimate object’s body language also sends discrete messages which eloquently betray its intentions. An object’s body language being more commonly referred to as its form and the functionalists having long since convinced us that this form follows an object’s function.

But does it? No really? Think about it….. Does it? And even if it does, what do current technological advances and their associated cultural, social and environmental changes mean for concepts such “form”, “function”, “product” and ultimately the nature of our relationships with those objects which surround us?

Such considerations formed the basis of Body Language, the 11th exhibition by Eindhoven based collective Dutch Invertuals and a showcase premièred during Milan Design week 2015.

Or at least in theory formed the basis, as ever with Dutch Invertuals’ exhibitions some of the participants took the brief a little more literally than others, the result however was a fascinating showcase of projects, concepts and products. And for us one of the more gratifying Dutch Invertuals showcases in recent years.

Dutch Invertuals - Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

Dutch Invertuals – Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

One of the most gratifying aspects of Body Language is and was that it featured updated, concretised, versions of several projects which were first presented as part of the exhibition Cohesion which Dutch Invertuals presented during Dutch Design Week 2014.

Particularly gratifying in this context was the chance to experience the development of Arnout Meijer’s research project “Light is a vector”. We have now seen the light sculpture Light is a vector (projecting a line) which Arnout created during his research as part of three exhibitions, have always thoroughly enjoyed it, and have always questioned where Arnout was going to take it? Where he could take it? The answer is “Every Cone, Every Torus, Every Cylinder Light”, a collection of lamps which employ the principles developed in the course of the Light is a vector research to create a family of lamps where the form of the emitted light changes depending on your viewing perspective and which thus visualises Arnout’s belief that light will increasingly become a construction and styling material rather than merely a source of illumination. While we really, really, really like what Arnout has achieved with light, we equally really, really, really do not like the physical form into which he has packaged the light. But then we suspect the physical objects are not the point, not the raison d’être of the presentation. And regardless, it is without question a very promising, fascinating project and one who’s further development we are thoroughly looking forward to following. A collection of photos that do the project more justice than ours can can be found on Arnout Meijer’s homepage.

Every Cone, Every Torus, Every Cylinder Light by Arnout Meijer, as seen at Dutch Invertuals - Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

Every Cone, Every Torus, Every Cylinder Light by Arnout Meijer, as seen at Dutch Invertuals – Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

Similarly gratifying and stimulating are the developments the project Volume 01, 02 & 03 from design studio Alissa + Nienke have undergone. At Cohesion Alissa van Asseldonk and Nienke Bongers a.k.a. Alissa + Nienke presented a series of relatively abstract three-dimensional forms; visually very pleasing, but essentially sculptural, conceptual works. In Milan one understands the full beauty of the research project: biofeedback. Renamed Dialogue 01 and developed in conjunction with Bin Yu from Eindhoven Technological University, Alissa + Nienke’s research is moving towards creating a series of interactive installations which respond to and/or influence biological functions. Particularly appealing to us was an object which features flagella like structures which gently rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall. Watch them for few minutes and your breathing pattern begins to follow the movement; on the one hand very unnerving to realise how effortlessly such a central bodily function can be manipulated, but on the other excellent for locations where people need to keep calm, especially people who may have only limited ability to control their behaviour. Or at the dentist. Equally impressive was a “wallpaper” which gently ruffles when subjected to wind or a similar disruption and which thus (re)creates the gentle calm of foliage. Only very, very few of you will remember the truly monumental Mechthild paper humming bird by Christoph Schmidt which won the International Marianne Brandt Contest in 2010: everything we adored about Mechthild is to be found in Alissa + Nienke’s zephyrous “wallpaper”

Less obviously extended from Cohesion but every bit as exciting is and was the project 101.86° from Thomas Vailly & Laura Lynn Jansen. In Eindhoven the pair presented a lamp/table concept in which a “sandwich” of optic plates and plastic allowed pressure points to became visualised. With 101.86° Thomas Vailly & Laura Lynn Jansen have coated an acrylic panel with a polarised film, when two panels are overlapped and the complete construction illuminated, colours become visible. Turn, flip and move one panel and you create a new visual affect. Even black “light” is possible. At the moment 101.86° is probably more applicable for a large installation than a product per se, but a truly excellent piece of work, a beautiful visualisation of the random nature of refraction and a concept we hope Thomas Vailly & Laura Lynn Jansen can harness and further develop.

101.86 black Thomas Vailly & Laura Lynn Jansen, as seen at Dutch Invertuals - Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

101.86° by Thomas Vailly & Laura Lynn Jansen, as seen at Dutch Invertuals – Body Language, Milan Design Week 2015

In these pages we have of late queried the processes and logic by and via which Eindhoven based designers think. One of the more logical, clearer thinking, Eindhoven studios is Daphna Laurens, and as an example of how they think: Daphna Isaacs & Laurens Manders attended a lecture on nanotechnology by an expert from Eindhoven Technical University where, amongst other topics, a future was presented in which windows are coated in a nanomaterial onto which grime and dirt can’t adhere, consequently making dirty windows a thing of the past. A few days later Daphna stumbled across a shape she really liked, a little research revealing it to be a window cleaning squeegee, albeit a slightly abstract window cleaning squeegee developed by an architectural practice. Instantly it was clear to both Daphna and Laurens: if in the future windows aren’t dirty, you don’t need to clean them and so window cleaning squeegees aren’t necessary. A form loses its function. Appalled by the idea Daphna Laurens set about adapting the window cleaning squeegee into a delightful lighting family crafted from tubular steel. Just as post-modernists misappropriated existing industrial products to create new products with new functions, so do post-industrial designers misappropriate the form of an industrial product to create new products with new functions.

Elsewhere Dutch Invertuals – Body language presented works by Aliki van der Kruijs, Dienke Dekker, Edhv, Germans Ermičs, Nina van Bart, Noman, Tijmen Smeulders, Victoria Ledig and a new project by our all-time favourite developer of glass blower’s rods, Philipp Weber. Called anthacite on the exhibition information board, although we imagine it should be called anthracite, the project features a small scale blast furnace via which coke can be turned into solid objects.
At which point we’d like to quickly clarify that the “coke” involved is the black carbonaceous substance, and not the white tropane alkaloid substance often associated with creative process.
If we’re honest we’re not entirely sure why Philipp is researching turning coke into solid objects, we sadly didn’t meet him in Milan but certainly plan to ask next time we catch up with him; however, and as always with design research, the “why” isn’t important, the “where it leads” is important. Something excellently, and gratifyingly, demonstrated by Dutch Invertuals – Body Language.

Just as gratifying as the exhibition itself was the information that, and assuming all goes to plan, in addition to the usual Milan and Eindhoven presentations Dutch Invertuals will also be presenting their work in a third European city during 2015. More details once, if, all is confirmed. And until then a few impressions of Dutch Invertuals – Body Language in Milan, and a reminder that an online catalogue of all, or almost all, past Dutch Invertuals projects can be found at

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Programme S 830 by Emilia Becker for Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015
April 22nd, 2015 by smow

Back in the hazy mists of 2014 the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig presented Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet, an exhibition which provided a leisurely stroll through 150 years of Thonet chair design and helped explain the evolution of the company’s designs over the decades, including why Thonet lost their way in the 1980s and how from the late 1990s onwards they regained their position as one of Europe’s leading contemporary furniture producers.

And an exhibition which for Thonet became the motivation to explore their extensive back catalogue in more detail.

And it is an extensive back catalogue. So extensive that we suspect no one really knows just how deep and wide and tall it is.

Re-working the back catalogue isn’t a new concept for Thonet, recent years having seen in addition to occasional limited edition versions of archive pieces the release of the S 1520, S 1521 & S 1522 hat rack/coat rack/shoe rack family, a complete re-working and updating of a 1930s product range. In the wake of the Grassi exhibition however Thonet undertook a more critical evaluation of the catalogue, and rather than simply re-working and updating existing products worked much more conceptually with the aim of creating functional, contemporary objects from the spirit of the collection past.

To this end three projects were undertaken, one looking at sofas, one at steel tube lounge furniture and one at solid wood lounge furniture, each under the leadership and guidance of a member of the Thonet Design Team and all unveiled at Milan Furniture Fair 2015.

Thonet Programme S 650 Sabine Hutter, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Programme S 650 by Sabine Hutter for Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

For us the highlight of the new projects is and was the S 650 programme. Developed by Sabine Hutter from a 1950s concept the S 650 is an impressively reduced sofa/armchair family, the individual seating elements of which can be combined and joined via a table element to create a unitary seating system. Although unashamedly quadratic the S 650 is a very svelte and unobtrusive object whose classic lines and mix of steel tubing and generous upholstery give it an accessible, welcoming character. A contemporary product family which we suspect will find much more use in commercial/office/object situations than domestic, a particular joy of the S 650 is the elegantly nonchalant armrests; armrests which despite their functional and formal importance, really don’t seem to care. An offhandedness which expunges all sense of gravitas from the chairs and so adds to the programme’s easy charm.

Formally much more imposing is the S 830 armchair programme by Emilia Becker. Based around a more or less tear drop shaped seat shell, albeit a tear drop shaped seat shell which has been brutally and unforgivingly rectilinearly cut, the S 830 makes it very clear where and how you should sit. Yet follow this less than subtle invitation and you will discover an excellently proportioned and formally well considered lounge chair which provides for a very pleasing, supportive, relaxing seating experience. It’s a bit like good cop/bad cop – but where both cops have, despite their differing, conflicting natures, hearts of gold. Being a programme rather than product the S 830 comes with a choice of bases, specifically a steel tube frame or a standing swivel foot. Particularly effective for us being the coloured steel tube version with the two tone upholstery.

Programme S 830 Emilia Becker Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Programme S 830 by Emilia Becker for Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Thonet however do more than bent tubular steel, they also do bent wood. And unbent, solid, carpentered wood. Yes they do! And while you admittedly do have to be very familiar with the current Thonet portfolio to know that, a quick flick through the Grassi exhibition catalogue confirms that solid wood chairs have more or less always been an integral part of the Thonet (hi)story. And perhaps it is this popular unfamiliarity that makes the S 860 family by Lydia Brodde initially so striking. Get over the initial shock of seeing such a product in a Thonet collection and you quickly appreciate not only the attention to detail in the design but the quality of workmanship and materials. Combine such construction factors with a formally very open yet robust optic and you have a contemporary lounge chair which does nothing more spectacular than provide a comfortable and practical place to sit. And as already noted, as an end customer that is all we want. If we can do it with the degree of carefully considered grace afforded by the S 860, so much the better. The matching ottoman meanwhile adding not only an extra level or three of comfort, but also functioning as a stool, thus giving you a delightful two for one deal.

Thonet Programme 860 Lydia Brodde, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Programme 860 by Lydia Brodde for Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2015

Back in context of the Leipzig exhibition we noted “Thonet’s most impressive, convincing and successful post-war creations are and were those where the designers have understood Thonet and have attempted to do something new, yet something that is still “Thonet”.” The new S 830, S 650 and S 860 programmes achieve just that, functionally, formally and aesthetically.

And also ably prove that furniture producers don’t always need to do “new”.
That said, we do feel obliged to repeat an observation we made in relation to the S 1520, S 1521 and S 1522; “Fortuitously just as Iceland’s fisherman don’t try to maximise profit by catching as many fish as possible as quickly as possible, so to do Thonet choose not to raid the archive every couple of months in the hope of cashing in, rather treat it with great respect

One can over egg a pudding, over fish an ocean and over revive a back catalogue. New products are also important, and especially for Thonet if they are ever to lead a third furniture design revolution!

The new sofa 2002 by Christian Werner which Thonet also unveiled in Milan isn’t that new revolution, but is a fascinating new addition to the Thonet portfolio.

Even if to be honest we’re still not entirely convinced by it.

On the one hand we’re captivated by its ease, simplicity, honesty, straightforwardness and the way it references almost the complete 150 years of Thonet.

On the other hand, we can’t help feeling it is too obvious, too easy, too straightforward and ultimately an object that has too little distance to the rest of the Thonet portfolio to be able to fully develop its own, autonomous, identity. Or is that just us, cynically, looking for problems? A reason to criticise?

Fortunately we have a lot more time to reflect and consider.

For furniture isn’t about instant gratification, that’s clothing. Furniture, like music, should be a relationship that develops, matures and deepens over the years, decades, or in the case of Thonet, centuries.

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

Ateliers J & J Milan 2015
April 21st, 2015 by smow

In the late 19th/early 20th century Vienna based J & J Kohn helped establish the Austro-Hungarian Empire as an important centre for contemporary furniture design, advanced the careers of leading Wiener Secession era designers such as Josef Hoffmann, Otto Prutscher or Adolf Loos, as well as helping lay the foundations for the commercial furniture industry as we know it today.

And while we’re not going to forecast such a grand future for Brussels based Ateliers J & J, or at least not yet, from what we’ve seen Ateliers J & J are certainly well on their way to helping Belgium finally and firmly establish itself as one of the key centres of contemporary furniture design.

Ateliers J & J Milan 2015

Ateliers J & J, as seen at Salone Satellite Milan 2015

As we’ve noted so often we’re tiring of repeating it, Belgium is currently one of the more exciting centres of European furniture design, a fact recently illustrated by the MAD ABOUT LIVING – 24 Designers from Brussels showcase staged during the 2015 Passagen Design Week in Cologne and which the Belgian trade authorities underline annually in Milan with their “Belgium is Design” showcase, a showcase which while never proving that Belgium is Design, does have a habit of producing something special. Past editions having included highlights such as, for example, Curiosity by Liege based studio Two Designers, the O’Sun portable solar lamp by Alain Gilles, Kaspar Hamacher’s shelf “Das Brett” or the desk Strates by Mathieu Lehanneur.

And in 2015 it was three objects from Ateliers J & J’s adroitly titled inaugural collection: Collection 01

In Cologne Ateliers J & J a.k.a. Jonathan Renou and Jean Angelats presented Bureau 01 & Chaise 01, in Milan it was Fauteuil 01, Bureau suspendu, Chaise 01 and Chaise 02. Although the latter was only presented on a poster, albeit a poster which triggered an awful lot of longing and desire in our youthful hearts.

Ateliers J & J Chaise 01 Bureau suspendu

Chaise 01 & Bureau suspendu by Ateliers J & J

As we noted in our post from Cologne one of the principle attractions for us of Ateliers J & J’s work is that they don’t appear to be interested in making furniture, but much more in creating forms from bent steel tubing; and in doing so create furniture objects which although unmistakably the generic objects they resemble, have their own endearing character and bewitching self-assurance. A lot of the chairs one sees in Milan for example almost appear embarrassed to be there, knowing as they do that they are merely cheap imitations of someone else’s work created purely with the aim of generating profit. Ateliers J & J’s objects are autonomous creations with their own sense of purpose and understanding of aesthetics. A self-confidence underscored by the unapologetically honest way the oak shelving and desk element of Bureau suspendu or the supporting backboards of the Fauteuil 01 are simply laid over and through the steel tubing; why try to disguise what everyone knows to be happening? Especially when you achieve such an effortlessly charming result.

Ateliers J & J aren’t the only studio currently producing interesting bent steel tube furniture, but Ateliers J & J’s furniture does have a freshness, a vitality and an addictive charm which makes them compelling, relevant and unlikely to lose their claim to both for many a decade.

Full details on Ateliers J & J can be found at

Ateliers J & J Fauteuil 01

Ateliers J & J, as seen at Salone Satellite Milan 2015

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

USM Privacy Panels
April 19th, 2015 by smow

For reasons far too abstract, intangible, and potentially libellous, to go into, we didn’t report on the inaugural presentation of USM‘s new Privacy Panels staged during Orgatec Cologne 2014.

Fortunately, and no doubt buoyed by the success of the Cologne presentation, USM are also presenting the Privacy Panels in Milan.

When Fritz Haller developed his modular office furniture system for USM it’s ability to divide internal spaces in a responsive and functional yet reduced and unobtrusive manner instantly caught the imagination of architects and interior designers looking to create open plan offices as a counter to the individual cubicle concepts that developed parallel in America.

The problem of course with open plan offices is that one not only has difficulty creating areas of privacy, but acoustic drift can cause problems. Then such considerations were principally centred around the distractions caused by telephoning colleagues and the click click ring of typewriters; annoying but bearable. Now such considerations are principally centred around the distractions caused by telephoning colleagues, (spontaneous) team meetings, social media campaign analysis, skype conferences, sushi, etc.; annoying, and frequent.

Consequently, in modern office environments temporary, adaptive systems for creating segregated spaces and defining an internal landscape are not only required but increasingly becoming an elementary component of office planning.

Developed in conjunction with Swiss design studio Atelier oï the USM Privacy Panels provide a solution in the best traditions of Fritz Haller’s furniture system: quadratic, modular and based around a central skeleton of steel tubes. Albeit steel tubes whose structure is clad with compressed polyester fleece rather than the metal and glass panels of the original office system, and which thus not only allow the creation of adaptable internal divisions and rooms within rooms, but which also contribute to improving the acoustic atmosphere and so the quality of the workplace.

And that, as with system USM Haller itself, in a responsive and functional yet reduced and unobtrusive manner.

Posted in Designer, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Fuorisalone Milan Design Week, Milan Design Week, Office Furniture, Producer, Product, USM Haller Tagged with: , , , ,

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015
April 18th, 2015 by smow

Given that all we have too many household accessories and our planet too few natural resources to justify continually producing ever more household accessories, the vast majority of which will invariably merely gather dust before being thrown out next time you move house, how should designers react?

Stop designing household accessories? Certainly one option.

Move away from resource heavy mass production to more sustainable forms of smaller scale production, so more craft than design? Without question, another option.

Stop designing objects and instead develop share/repair concepts to encourage us all to keep those knick-knacks we have little longer? A valuable idea worth exploring.

Design very simple objects which allow you to create your own household accessories as and when you want.

Option four is the one chosen by Kobe Design University student Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and his Ripple collection.

Crafted from a range of woods, occasionally combined with marble and slate, the Ripple family allows you to create your own vases, storage jars, pencil holders, loose change collectors etc, etc, etc by simply rolling up a piece of paper. Or even more simply by placing a bit of paper between wood and marble/slate.

Just one of those painfully simple solutions, and one that we’d really encourage Hiroyuki Ikeuchi to put out there as an open design resource.

Its a concept, not a product, and a truly delightful one at that.

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

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

Milan Furniture Fair Seat 102
April 17th, 2015 by smow

For us one of the few genuine joys of Milan Design Week is observing visitors to the furniture fair perching on the simple metal benches to be found on the peripheries of the exhibition halls, benches which resemble safety barriers more than public seating

Our joy stemming not from the irony that they find themselves surrounded by chairs in whose collective development millions of Euros have been invested, but because it is the most poetic reminder that a chair is a purely functional object.

Historically this essential truth was hidden by a fondness for ornamentation and outlandish visual aesthetics, adornments created and employed to impart a sense of value and status, for chair and sitter, before, thanks largely to the likes of Michael Thonet, J. & J. Kohn et al we learned to appreciate the enticing simplicity of reduced chair design. And while post World War I the functionalists may have elevated the functional to a chair’s raison d’etre, form follows function does nothing more than create a conflict between two aspects of a chair’s character, creates a “with us or against us” scenario, and singularly fails to recognise that “function” isn’t a fixed given but is a matter of perspective.

For the private individual a chair must provide somewhere to sit, be that in in the living room, the kitchen, garden, in the home office, on the balcony…….. And that, ideally, in a degree of comfort.

Similarly, industry and commerce need chairs which allow their customers and clients to sit, generally however in more fleeting situations, be that, for example, in a restaurant, theatre or bar, in the waiting areas of private or public institutions, in a museum, at an airport, railway station or post office; and where thus flexibility is every bit as important as comfort. If not more so.

Then there are the real speciality areas, hospital chairs, orchestra chairs, school chairs, or of course office chairs.

Furniture retailers need chairs which meet these customer wishes and which in addition offer them an argument with which to convince the customer that this or that chair is exactly the one they need, the chair functioning as it does as an important source of income for retailers. And while yes aesthetic arguments are often employed in such cases, this commercial function of a chair is in fact realised by other factors such as, for example, the choice of materials, aspects of the construction, durability, ergonomic factors, ecological considerations or historical associations.

Manufacturers meanwhile need chairs which allow them to achieve and offer all of the above while at the same time allowing them to maximise their profitability and company profile, a function of a chair which requires them being, for example, light so as to reduce distribution costs, particularly innovative in their construction or mix of materials so as to set the manufacturer apart from their competitors or cost effective to produce and that in a way which allows for later modifications in material and/or colours without the need to invest heavily in new machinery.

That the above functional requirements must not only be additively combined and aggregated in any given product, but that evolving social, cultural, technological and legal considerations continually allow for and force the development of new solutions, is of course the reason why a furniture fair such as Milan is awash with chairs.

However, the vast majority of the chairs in Milan are unnecessary, largely because their creators have either misinterpreted, or perhaps better put misjudged, the functional focus and created something which fails to tick enough of the requisite boxes and which thus although it may look “good”, fails to meet the functional demands of a contemporary chair intended for mass production and distribution.

And a chair is only necessary when it meets its functional demands.

A fact beautifully illustrated by those weary fair visitors resting on bare metal bars.

Milan Furniture Fair Barrier Seat

Simple, functional seating at Milan Furniture Fair

Milan Furniture Fair Seat 101

Simple, functional seating at Milan Furniture Fair

Milan Furniture Fair Seat 102

Simple, functional seating at Milan Furniture Fair

Posted in Architecture, Exhibitions and Shows, Fuorisalone, Fuorisalone Milan Design Week, Milan Design Week, Product, smow Tagged with: , ,

Michael Geldmacher Eva Paster Neuland Industriedesign
April 7th, 2015 by smow

It being early April Milan furniture fair once again stands before us and with it the promise of untold column inches about the latest trends, the hottest young talents, the sharpest suits and the best bars for sharing an Aperol spritz and unsavoury gossip.

Or a chance to critically assess the contemporary furniture industry.

Yes, we’ve been here a few times in the past, but are always happy to return. There be nothing we enjoy more than biting the hand that feeds us.

Among those perennial themes in the design industry that always seem especially worthy of discussion around Milan design week are the system by which furniture designers are paid and the associated conditions under which furniture designs are realised and marketed. Some may call it old hat, but if it is then only because the hat has remained unchanged for decades. Which is what makes them subjects worthy of discussion.

For all who are unaware, as a general rule – and as with all general rules there are obviously expectations – designers develop their projects themselves and at their own cost and are then paid a licensing fee by the manufacturers, typically between 3 and 5% of the factory gate price.

A system which means that, for example, for a chair with a retail price of €500, the designer might get €11 per chair sold.

Developed in Italy in the 1950s the system works fine as long as you have a product which sells in very large numbers over many, many years, or you have several products which sell in decent numbers. Over many, many years.

In 1950s Italy when the furniture industry as we know it today was in its infancy, that was generally the case.

These days in our mature, global market, it generally isn’t.

Something which will no doubt be ably proved in Milan with X thousand “new ” products being presented, many of which will either never reach production and so generate no income for the designer involved or if they do reach production could be discontinued after a couple of years as the company respond to some new perceived new “trend”.

Among those advocating for a change and the introduction of a more contemporary system that better reflects the modern reality is Michael Geldmacher from Munich based studio Neuland Industriedesign.

Established in 1999 by Michael Geldmacher and Eva Paster Neuland Industriedesign initially concentrated on what they refer to as “classic industrial design (medical technology, outdoor products, games, cosmetics)” before in 2005 they switched their focus to concentrate exclusively on furniture design.

Although the studio’s first furniture project was the bed Kengo for German manufacturer Interlübke in 2001, Neuland Industriedesign first reached a wider international audience with their 2005 Random shelving system for Milan based MDF Italia, a product whose commercial and critical success in many ways convinced Eva and Michael to dedicate themselves to furniture design. Over the past ten years in addition to expanding their co-operations with Interlübke and MDF Italia, Neuland Industriedesign have worked with manufacturers as varied as Moormann, b-line, Freifrau and Kristalia.

Having decided to concentrate on furniture design, Eva and Michael quickly came across a, for them, unknown and unfamiliar situation, as Michael Geldmacher explains:

“Because we came from the classic industrial design world, and didn’t know any better, when we were offered our first furniture design projects we sent the companies quotes for the development work, which is how industrial design works, you receive payment for the time invested in developing a project. And the companies response was generally along the lines of, “Is this some sort of joke? We’re not paying development fees!” to which we replied, “Well, we’ll not do the project. We’ve got to live from something!” And so slowly but surely we learnt about the ruinous working conditions the furniture industry offers designers.”

smow blog: OK, we understand the problem, but why should a manufacturer pay for work undertaken by yourselves on your own initiative?

Michael Geldmacher: Clearly if you present a market ready design to a manufacturer you can’t then expect a retrospective development payment. But that isn’t how most projects develop. Most start as an idea or a briefing that is then developed into a product over a period of months or years for a specific manufacturer.
One must add and acknowledge that manufacturers invest considerable sums in the technical development required to bring the designs to production, investments which are always accompanied with a certain risk. But that investment only begins from the moment the design is accepted, and until that happens is often a very long way and one that the designer often has to fund themselves. And in such cases I believe one can ask the manufacturer to contribute to the development, not least because it affects the manufacturers perception of an object.
Here in Bavaria we have a saying “was nichts kostet ist nichts wert” – what costs nothing isn’t worth anything – and it often appears that is how the industry views things. You have manufacturers who have say 100 products in their portfolio, but the whole company hangs on the success of one or two top sellers. Consequently although a designer may have a couple of products with a company, the one chair might sell seven times, the other twenty, and at the end of the year the designer gets a royalty cheque for €400, which is of course a waste of the time and money both sides have invested in the project.

smow blog: And for you the payment of a fee for the time taken to develop a project is the key to changing the situation, rather than say reviewing the royalties system and/or the nature of the financial distribution between manufacturer, designer and trade?

Michael Geldmacher: I don’t think the royalty system is so much the problem, although I would favour a change so that the royalties are scaled such that designers get more for products which sell less and a lower percentage for high selling goods, or to a system whereby royalties are paid in advance and then deducted from later payments, it is however for me important that the manufacturers are forced to contribute to the development of a project.

Development payments are a form of commitment and it is important that the manufacturer is prepared to say, I like the project, your work has a value for me and I’m prepared to take a risk on this project. In addition development payments act as a natural brake on the number of projects a manufacturer can develop per year; and reducing the number of projects would take a lot of the pressure out of the industry, would automatically slow things down and would help the manufacturers focus their attention on developing those projects which genuinely interest them.

In the same vein, I also really like the idea of only having the major furniture trade fairs every two years because that would also take a lot of the pressure out of the system. Every manufacturer wants to release X new products per year and present them in Milan, Cologne, London, Stockholm, etc. Often we’re talking here about companies who are only generating a few million Euros per year turnover, yet who several times a year invest six figure sums in trade fairs just so that they can present new products which ultimately may only sell a few times, if they even come onto the market at all. And such pressure is absurd and unhealthy for all involved.

smow blog: And are these opinions that find a positive resonance among your colleagues?

Michael Geldmacher: To be honest I don’t know, principally because while many complain about the situation only very few are prepared to openly discuss it and so no one really knows what the situation is like elsewhere and for other design studios. Which for me is an unbelievable state of affairs because when the, lets say, established designers would speak out more and express opinions based on their experiences then that would help not only them but also the young designers.

smow blog: Young designers is a good keyword, you used to teach at the technical college here in Munich, did you advise your students to always demand development payments, or…..?

Michael Geldmacher: I taught industrial design to students of packaging and many of the students there weren’t looking to move towards furniture design, so it wasn’t necessarily a theme; however, in principle yes I would always encourage any designer to at least attempt to get paid for the development of a project. If the producer says “no!” you can always decide, OK, the project is particularly interesting or important, I’ll take a chance and do it for nothing. But it’s important to ask. Even after ten years we still ask for development payments before accepting a project; however, whereas at the beginning we were very strict and simply didn’t work for those who didn’t pay, now we’re less strict, and do make exceptions for particular, individual, reasons.
But in terms of design education generally I do think students need to be taught to be more critical, they need to question the industry more critically, to better understand the consequences of their decisions and learn to deal more professionally with manufacturers, not simply accept what is offered.

However one must also understand that such is difficult because an awful lot of young designers are seduced by the perceived glamour of the industry, design is currently highly pimped by the press, and many young designers don’t want to feel they have somehow failed because they are not getting media coverage, be that in magazines or blogs, and so accept poor conditions with the promise of publicity.

smow blog: Criticism understood and accepted, but we’d argue that while yes the press may not be perfect, they’re not alone to blame….

Michael Geldmacher: Clearly we as designers need the press so that the manufacturers are aware of us, the manufacturers need the press to help them promote their collections and the press need the designers and the manufacturers so that they have something to report on, the latest products from Milan for example, so that they can sell the advertising space they live from. I’m not sure if one can ever fully break this triangle of inter-dependencies, but in my opinion it would be a good start if the press were more critical, and for example didn’t praise every new chair without pointing out that a very similar chair, potentially, already exists, or to question in how far such a new chair is even necessary.

smow blog: You’ve been in the furniture business for ten years now, do you feel things are getting harder, getting easier, staying the same……..?

Michael Geldmacher: My impression is that things are getting ever harder, not least because ever more manufacturers rely ever more on products from big name designers. The manufacturers deny such, but despite the enormous variety in the scene one has a small group of designers who crop up everywhere. In some cases that is justified because the designers are genuinely innovative and deliver continually good work. But not in all cases, and all to often you find yourself asking what is the point of this or that product.

Then there is the monoculture that currently exists in the industry, a poisonous state of affairs which both stifles creativity and encourages ever shorter product life cycles and as such opportunities to earn from a design. And last but not least the design schools are turning out ever more designers, often very talented designers, but who obviously increase competition for work at an ever greater rate, and with an awful lot of manufacturers simply refusing to pay development money the result will inevitably be ever more designers not receiving such payments for projects that are potentially not likely to sell, and a consequent worsening of the situation. Unless that is we can find a new way of paying for furniture design.

smow blog: One potential “new way” is self-production and marketing, something ever more young designers are opting for. Is that for you a viable option, a viable alternative?

Michael Geldmacher: I find it very brave of those who set up on their own and I have a lot of respect for such decisions, and also think it is very important that such occurs if we are too break the current monoculture in the industry. It is something we have also considered in the past, but we’re not sales professionals, we have no experience in, for example, establishing distribution networks, managing PR campaigns and the like and so decided the better option is to let professionals do what they are trained to do and we’ll concentrate on doing what we’re trained to do.

smow blog: And beyond thoughts of self-production, you yourselves have never considered giving up furniture design and returning to classic industrial design and development payments?

Michael Geldmacher: No, not at all! Last year for example our very first customer from 1999 approached us, a company from the medical technology branch, and they asked if we could develop a new dentist chair for them. Our initial reaction was no, we’ve been away from such for too long, but then because it was the first customer and the connections involved we said OK, we’ll do it. And you really notice the difference, the project was fun and challenging, but it is a different world with much more specific limits and demands and we simply wouldn’t have been able to implement our design concept in the radical way we did with another customer in the sector. And so, no we’ll be staying with furniture design, and keeping on trying to rectify the ruinous working conditions.

Michael Geldmacher Eva Paster Neuland Industriedesign

Michael Geldmacher & Eva Paster a.k.a Neuland Industriedesign

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

December 25th, 2014 by smow

As all old thesauruans know “April” is merely a synonym for “Milan”

And lo despite all promises to the contrary April 2014 once again found us in Lombardy, where, amongst other objects and exhibitions, we were very taken with the Alexander Girard reissues revealed by Vitra, the exhibition of Meisenthal Glassworks at the Institut Francais and the new Rival chair by Konstantin Grcic for Artek. Away from Milan April 214 saw us get to know the work of Pascal Howe at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin, experience the full depth of the Thonet chair design history at the Grassi Museum Leipzig, the work of Ola Kolehmainen, Okolo Offline at Depot Basel and wish Hans J. Wegner a happy 100th!

Haus am Waldsee Berlin Ola Kolehmainen Geometric Light Hagia Sophia year 537 III Untitled No 6 2014

Hagia Sophia year 537 III, 2014, and Untitled (No. 6), 2005, by Ola Kolehmainen. As seen at Ola Kolehmainen - Geometric Light, Haus am Waldsee Berlin

Okolo Offline at Depot Basel

Okolo Offline at Depot Basel

Sitzen Liegen Schaukeln Möbel von Thonet Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig 02

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Pascal Howe VDI 2860 at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin

Pascal Howe - VDI 2860 at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin

Milan 2014 Artek Rival Konstantin Grcic

Rival by Konstantin Grcic for Artek

Milan Design Week 2014 Special Le Feu Sacré Designers and glass blowers at Institut Francais 02

Le Feu Sacré Designers and glass blowers at Institut Francais, Milan

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Vitra Alexander Girard Colour Wheel Ottoman

Colour Wheel Ottoman by Alexander Girard through Vitra, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2014

WEGNER – Just one good chair Christian Holmsted Olesen Hatje Cantz Verlag

WEGNER – Just one good chair by Christian Holmsted Olesen through Hatje Cantz Verlag

Posted in Artek, Designer, Producer, smow, Thonet, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,