smow chair and the art of reduction
September 2nd, 2010 by smow

(smow)chair v1.0

The motivation for the (smow)chair began with Chairless by Alejandro Aravena for Vitra.

Although a truly delightful product we were somewhat irritated by the fact that the design for Chairless wasn’t that, well,  “chairless” : rather replaces the tensions within a chair with the tensions in the users body.

The user becoming the chair and consequently limited in their movement while using Chairless.

But because the “chairless” concept so impressed us we decided to take the opportunity presented by the Vitra Design Museum cardboard furniture workshop and the exhibition “Essence of Things. Design and the Art of Reduction” to develop our own “chairless” chair.

Our criteria:

  • 100% cardboard, no other material
  • transportable
  • as reduced a design as possible

Our first decision was to lose the legs. Chairs don’t need legs.

In western cultures we are so used to chairs with legs that we westerners find it quaint or even patronisingly “authentic” when we travel to other cultures where chairs with legs aren’t in everyday use.

But chairs don’t need legs.

And so the legs went.

MVS Chais by Maarten van Severen for Vitra.

MVS Chaise by Maarten van Severen for Vitra.

The basis of our design was Maarten Van Severen‘s MVS Chaise from Vitra.

Its wonderful three sectioned form being the perfect basis for a folding “chair” with a seat, back and support.
The only question was how to gain the stability we required: without resorting to other materials.

After much unsuccessful experimentation the answer came via the (smow)warehouse team.

Not only are the (smow)warehouse team experts in the packing and shipping of designer furniture and the construction of USM Haller units – they also know a little bit about statics.

And it was this input that was to lead to the form of the (smow)chair v1.0

In essence “the chair” has been reduced to “the arms”.

The arms provide the stability and are responsible for the chair.
The back/support/seat section – the part that most understand as a “chair” – is in contrast interchangeable and expendable.

He/she who has the arms can build a chair –  he/she who has only the back/seat/support element cannot.

Two smow chairs ready for departure

Two (smow)chairs ready for departure

In addition the longitudinal slit in the arms allow the chair to be safely packed together…. and in the folded form (smow)chair can be readily transported.

We, for example, brought two (smow)chairs back from Weil am Rhein tied to the back of a rucksack.

The development of the (smow)chair has not stopped and (smow)chair v2.0 is finished, v3.0 is expected soon.

A production model is however still some way off.

Over the coming weeks we will not only document the further development of the (smow)chair but also use the (smow)chair to explain a little about furniture design and the designer furniture industry.

smow chair and the art of reduction

(smow)chair and the art of reduction

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

smow chair coming soon
July 6th, 2010 by smow
"AUthorised Vitra Original"?  Not yet!! The (smow)chiar in devlopment

"Authorised Vitra Original"? Not yet!! The (smow)chair in development

Having decided on our concept, all we had to do was ensure that the structure had enough stability.

And although we knew that stability was going to be a problem, it always is with cardboard, we had seriously underestimated just how difficult it was going to be to incorporate stability into our plan without compromising weight, volume or indeed the very fabric of our concept.

It took about four minutes before our carefully considered sketches were consigned to the bin.

3D reality and 2D vision not being the most closely related beings in the universe.

Initially our plan involved a chair, based upon Maarten Van Severen’s MVS Chaise that could be converted between a “normal” sitting chair and a recliner.

Nice idea: just completely misplaced within the context of our larger concept.
And so despite the best efforts of the (smow) technical team that part of plan had to be sacrificed.

An eerly experiment in joining two pieces of cardboard

An early experiment in joining two pieces of cardboard

Shame. But we’ll get it next time.

However even with the new plan, we still had a numerous problems.
The principle one being realising the concept while maintaining a “reduced” design.

Almost all solutions to the stability problem either adding to the volume of the product or requiring the use of a material other than cardboard.

And so our initial 20 minute model building session quickly developed into a day spent in the smow(warehouse) cutting, folding, cursing, doubting, cutting, crying, cursing and folding again.

The decisive input then came from the (smow) USM Haller battalion.

An ingenious solution that not only solved our principle problem; but also opened a range of further options and so both triggered a wonderful late afternoon revival in our spirits and allowed us to dream sweet dreams yet again.

Now, we don’t want to compare our day spent folding and cutting cardboard with Charles and Ray Eames experiments with moulding plywood, Michael Thonet‘s decades spent perfecting the process for bending wood nor the work undertaken in the Kartell laboratories to develop new plastic materials.


Having spent a day turning a, on paper, relatively simple idea into a real product that fulfills a specific function and meets required standards, we are a little bit better placed to understand the problems real product designers have and the talent required to be successful.

And having spent a day turning a, on paper, relatively simple idea into a real product that fulfills a specific function and meets required standards we also have the (smow)chair.

The delightful and practical (smow)chair.

smow chair coming soon

(smow)chair coming soon

Posted in smowchair Tagged with: , , ,

MVS Chaise by Maarten van Severen from Vitra
July 5th, 2010 by smow
Vitra Design Museum:

Vitra Design Museum: Essence of Things. Design and the Art of Reduction.

Parallel to its exhibitions the Vitra Design Museum organises workshops designed not only to accompany the exhibitions but much more to expand on them and so offer participants a new, active, insight into the theme. Or at least an aspect of the theme.

For the current exhibition “Essence of Things. Design and the Art of Reduction” this means, among others, workshops on cardboard furniture production.

Cardboard is without question one of the more challenging products that one can choose for furniture design.

As a cheap, plentiful and – generally- environmentally responsible product it appears to be perfect for use in modern furniture design.

Perfect that is were it not for its inherent instability and fragility problems.

Loving problems as we do we signed up for the workshop.

Having committed our first task was to decide on the product we wanted to develop.

Three sources of inspiration were to act as our guides.

Firstly the concept of the exhibition: Essence of Things. Design and the Art of Reduction. Reduction. Regardless what we decided upon it had to involve using the design process to help “reduce” the product.

Chairless by for Vitra

Chairless by Alejandro Aravena for Vitra

Among the current products on the market that make use of reduction in design is Chairless by Alejandro Aravena for Vitra.

As a product Chairless claims to remove the chair from the chair. And as such was our second source of inspiration.

For although we like the Chairless concept, for us what is actually does is take the static equilibrium that exist in a chair and replaces that with the system of muscular forces within the human body.

As such the user of Chairless is restricted in his or her movement, as every movement upsets the distribution of forces within the system thus creating instability. If you want to read your friends magazine, but it’s lying to far away – you have to “break” the chair in order to reach the magazine.

And so we decided to take up the “Chairless” idea and develop it with the intention of creating a truly “chairless” chair system that still allows the user full mobility.

MVS Chaise by Maarten van Severen from Vitra

MVS Chaise by Maarten van Severen from Vitra

Fairly quickly we landed upon the idea of a foldable system and taking our guidance from Maarten van Severn, an expert in reduced design, we based our concept on the geometry of his MVS Chaise.

The principle problem was – as always with cardboard – how do we guarantee the stability of the product?

With other materials such as plastic, wood or concrete one has a certain degree of inherent stability.

With cardboard one has to introduce the stability as a component of the design.

Frank Gehry, for example achieved the stability in his “Easy Edges” series through the layering of cardboard: chairs such as the Wiggle Side Chair being created by gluing numerous layers of cardboard together under extreme pressure.

The other “classic” solutions when working with cardboard are folding and insertion.

The question facing us was how could we best design our product, without losing sight of the desire to have it as “reduced” as possible.

And it was this question that was to dominate the development phase.

Posted in Producer, smowchair, Vitra, Weil am Rhein Tagged with: , , , , , ,