BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put for BuzziSpace, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016
October 20th, 2016 by smow

“The fact that you are European allows you to be quirky. Europe has a great reputation for good design but that is just the ante to the game, and allows you then to be interesting, but you also have execute.”

BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put for BuzziSpace, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put for BuzziSpace, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Established in 2007 as a producer of office acoustic solutions, the Belgian manufacturer BuzziSpace has quickly grown to become not only one of the major producers of acoustic products but of what one could refer to as office-lounge furniture, an important new contract market which has developed in recent years as ever more companies aim to offer not only suitable spaces for differing types of work as well as relaxation, but also to bring a softer, more homely, atmosphere to the, generally, very strict office environment.

Launched with a family of designs by the Belgian designer Sas Adriaenssens and company founder Steve Symons, an important expansion of the BuzziSpace portfolio came in 2010 with the commencement of an ongoing cooperation with Alain Gilles; products such as the BuzziBooth or BuzziHood helping establish BuzziSpace’s reputation for functional products which bring colour, warmth and a sense of spontaneity to the contemporary office. And products which arguably owe part of their success to the five years Alain spent working in a large open plan office, an experience which as he told us in our recent interview meant “I could feel the problems!

Proponents of the “Cradle to Cradle” concept, environmental and ecological aspects play a strong role in the BuzziSpace philosophy and in addition to considerations in context of production processes and distribution, BuzziSpace products feature the company’s specially developed BuzziFelt and BuzziFabric materials – the first being created from recycled PET bottles, the second from a mix of recycled wool, polyacrylic and rags.

Since 2012 BuzziSpace have also been trading in America from a base in High Point, North Carolina; the American operation being led by BuzziSpace American CEO Tom Van Dessel, with company CEO and brand Creative Dircetor Steve Symons based at the BuzziSpace headquarters in Antwerp.

At NeoCon Chicago 2016 BuzziSpace formally launched BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put, a solution for informal meetings, finding your own space removed from colleagues, or simply hanging out. Literally. And an object which justifiable found its place in our NeoCon Chicago 2016: High Five!

We took the opportunity presented by NeoCon 2016 to speak with BuzziSpace America CEO Tom Van Dessel about the nature of the America market and the challenges of entering such a market, but began by asking why the decision to start trading in America, was that something BuzziSpace felt they had to do, wanted to do, or……

Tom Van Dessel: It was something we wanted to do. After having established the brand in Europe we naturally considered where to go next and America was the logical option, not just in terms of the potential market size but also the similarities with Europe in terms of economic development, market segments, and also of the general evolution of the workplace.

smow blog: And why the decision to “do it yourself” as it were and not through a cooperation with a local partner?

Tom Van Dessel: We specifically didn’t go down the path of working with a partner because in any company it’s generally very hard to find the right people who fit your culture, and so trying to explain your culture, which in principle embodies your brand, to a partner who then has to explain that to other people, that is all very contrived. And so we decided that while it might take a little longer, doing it ourselves was the better option because it is more consistent, more robust, more sustainable in the long term and ultimately we’ll own it. And that also meant that from the very beginning we decided that if we were going to trade in America then we had to do it local, set roots in the US and not just export to America.

smow blog: In which context you have also recently started producing here, was that just a question of improved logistics, or…..?

Tom Van Dessel: There were three main reasons for the decision. Logistics, response to markets and being more flexible for customer requests is certainly one reason, but then there is also sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint, so producing as close to the market as possible and using suppliers as close to our production as possible, and then thirdly, and a reason which is also an important part of the company philosophy, is that we felt it was a moral imperative. We want America to be a big and important market for us, and consequently we feel it is correct and proper to give something back to the economy, through, for example, creating jobs or sourcing American raw materials. We don’t produce everything here, some things are imported from Europe, but we try to realise as much here as is practical and possible.

smow blog: America should be big and important for you, how important is America currently for BuzziSpace?

Tom Van Dessel: At the moment the US market makes up about 40% of our global turnover….

smow blog: ….and we presume that is mainly office, or……?

Tom Van Dessel: ….mainly office, we are also active in, for example, higher education and hospitality, but currently over 80% is office.

smow blog: And we suspect the majority of that business is through architects rather than directly with end customer?

Tom Van Dessel: Absolutely, the American market is very specification driven and so we have a principal focus on the architecture and interior design communities. There are a lot of very big companies here, very accomplished companies who work very closely with the end clients, and particularly with those large corporate clients who are leading the way in respect of new ways of working, and such early adopters, especially when you think of the West Coast tech companies, are very interesting for us as they understand and appreciate what we do and what we specialise in.

smow blog: BuzziSpace is a, relatively, young, Belgian, manufacturer, we can’t imagine getting a foothold in America is easy….

Tom Van Dessel: No it isn’t, but, and I know it sounds like a cliché, it really is all about listening, about not coming in with any preconceived ideas about how it should be done, but rather about listening and figuring out how the market expects you to behave. And if you go from a market in approach rather than a company out approach then it can work, but you have to be open to that and have to be flexible to adapt yourself to the model that the market expects. And it doesn’t work the other way round. If you come over here and say this is how we do it in Europe, then you’re going to have problems. Clearly there are things you want to bring over, but those are not related to how to do business but rather are more about your design philosophy, those aspects of your products which add value, make you interesting, but the market has its rules.

smow blog: Does however mean getting noticed, and being taken seriously, by customers and clients. And that in a very large market. How can you differentiate yourself from local brands?

Tom Van Dessel: For us as a company it is very important to be the first to respond to changing situations and to realise products which meet new demands. For example with the increasing fusion of residential, hospitality and office, how do you bring a contract grade residential product into the office? You have to design new products, and we want to be the first to do that, and so for us as company we need to be leaders in terms of innovation.

smow blog: Which in context of the aforementioned design philosophy, is the fact that you are European and work with European designers helpful, does that maybe help open doors?

Tom Van Dessel: Absolutely. The fact that you are European allows you to be quirky. Europe has a great reputation for good design but that is just the ante to the game, and allows you then to be interesting, but you also have execute. Because if you’re just quirky, interesting and have good design, but don’t make dealing with yourselves as easy as dealing with an American company then you can easily lose your brand equity. And that isn’t just things like understanding the local fire regulations or the workings of the regional market, but can involve small things like having price lists in dollars and dimensions/weights in the correct units. Basic things, yet things some people forget about. However, if you get the small things right, make dealing with yourselves simple, people appreciate the fact that you have adapted to the local environment and you do it well. And for me that is the key to being successful.

Posted in Architecture, Exhibitions and Shows, Interview, NeoCon, Office Furniture, Producer Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Sofa? Desk? SofaDesk! Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016
August 14th, 2016 by smow

Although geographically the (hi)story of Vitra begins in Basel, spiritually it begins in America and arrives in Switzerland in 1957 with the licences to produce works by US designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Girard; and then grows over the subsequent decades under the influence of the close co-operations which thus developed, for all those with George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames.

Given this close affinity with and to America it was perhaps inevitable that Vitra would one day set their sights on the American market, in many ways it is and was a “home” market, and in the mid-1980s the first, tentative, American steps were undertaken; even if trading in America meant, and means, trading without the works of Eames, Nelson et al, the US production and distribution licences for such designers remaining with Herman Miller.

That Vitra began trading in American in the mid-1980s was arguably no coincidence: not only was that a period when Vitra was increasingly developing its own products, and thus moving away from its “American” origins, but the company was also in the process of adding a new string to its bow, office furniture. In 1976 the Vitramat by Wolfgang Müller-Deisig was Vitra’s first self-developed office chair, and was closely followed by the Persona by Mario Bellini in 1979, Figura by Mario Bellini in 1984 and the AC 1 by Antonio Citterio in 1988, complimenting the office chairs came desk and storage systems such as Metropol by Bellini or Spatio from Citterio; while the 1993 research project and exhibition Citizen Office by and with James Irvine, Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Michele De Lucchi marked Vitra’s first attempt to define the demands of future office environments and saw the proposition of new office concepts and new office furniture typologies.

Thus Vitra entered the American market in the 1980s with its office furniture programme, established its reputation in America with its office furniture programme, and, somewhat unsurprisingly, the office and contract market remains a major focus of Vitra’s American business and thus NeoCon Chicago one of the most important events for Vitra USA.

At NeoCon 2016 Vitra staged the American launch of both the Hack table system by Konstantin Grcic and the Belleville chair collection by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, while, and in nice demonstration of the closeness that exists between Artek and Vitra in the USA, also used NeoCon 2016 to launch the Bouroullec’s Kaari Collection for Artek.

We took the opportunity afforded by NeoCon Chicago 2016 to meet up with Vitra’s Chief Sales Officer, and former Vitra USA President, Josef Kaiser, to discuss the differences between the US and European markets, the challenges of the American market for a company such as Vitra, and life for Vitra without Eames et al, but began by asking how the situation in America has developed since Vitra took those first, tentative, US steps…..

Josef Kaiser: When Vitra first started trading in America it was somewhat difficult because in those days office systems were all about cubicles, and that wasn’t a market we wanted to get involved in or with, and so our focus in the early years was purely office chairs. However, because we were here we have been able to play an active role in the development away from cubicles and towards open office concepts, and in particular in the last five years or so things have changed radically. The cubicles still exist, are still being installed, but you don’t see them, for example, at fairs anymore, and more importantly attitudes are changing, are moving away from the fixed idea of the cubicle, and that means for us it is now much easier to talk to customers about the opening of the office environment, about flexible, variable office systems and the effect that can have on the office culture and workflows.

smow blog: And when you speak of “customers” is that companies directly, or do architects play a role in the American market?

Josef Kaiser: For us the market in America is much more dependent on architects than is the case in Europe. Here it is often the case that for any changes in an office an architect must be involved and that means that you generally always have an architect who specifies what is sourced and from whom. And in that sense a fair such as NeoCon is very important not only as an opportunity to present and explain our concepts, to explain the added value inherent in our office systems, but also in terms of establishing and developing relationships with architects.

smow blog: From which two questions arise, the first being does that mean in America the dealer network is less important for a company such as Vitra than in Europe or….

Josef Kaiser: ……no the dealers are still important, but it is a completely different culture. In America the dealers are often large corporations, at least in terms of the contract market, and there are numerous US dealers with turnovers of several hundred million dollars per year, which are scales we don’t have in Europe. And whereas in Europe Vitra has a leading position in our market, in America we are one of a hundred or more suppliers, and so as a relatively small, European, manufacturer it isn’t always easy to become established with American dealers.

smow blog: Which by extrapolation we presume means the main difference between NeoCon and Orgatec would be that here architects are the focus, whereas at Orgatec the main focus is the dealers and dealer networks?

Josef Kaiser: Exactly. Although that said at Orgatec 2016 we will be trying to be more interesting for architects, without losing the focus on the dealers, which will be challenge, but one we’re looking forward to, not least because this year we have our own hall, something which also underscores the difference in the markets, here in Chicago we have 370 square metres and in Cologne our own hall.

smow blog: What? A whole hall? All by yourselves?

Josef Kaiser: We will be in Hall 5 this year, a new hall for Orgatec, one which is being opened specially for us, and no we won’t be completely by ourselves, it will be a case of “Vitra + Friends”.

smow blog: Very intriguing, but we suspect you’re not going to tell us any more, and so let’s return to America. Aside from hall sizes how do the figures compare, how large and/or important is the American market for Vitra?

Josef Kaiser: At the moment America represents around 7% of our total turnover, which for us is a good figure and importantly one which has potential for further growth. And to place it in context, the market in America is for us much smaller than say Germany or Switzerland, where in both countries we have more customers and more turnover than here in America. Which isn’t to say America isn’t an uninteresting market, just very challenging.

smow blog: And in terms of the split office/domestic….?

Josef Kaiser: Office is the majority. In Europe we sell, for example, a lot of Eames in the home market, which obviously we don’t have here, while in terms of domestic furnishings not only is the nature of the market very different, but the tastes in furniture and interior design are very different from those in Europe, American’s tend to buy different things in different ways, and so for us the home market represents around 15-20% of our American business. However in the home market we are also seeing changes and increasing numbers of Americans who are interested in contemporary European design and the home furnishing solutions Vitra offer.

smow blog: We’ve been talking about “America” in general, we would however assume the most important markets for Vitra are essentially the major centres, or…..?

Josef Kaiser: Not entirely, America is very interesting for us in coastal areas. New York is our main market and then it remains interesting along the east coast both north towards Boston and south towards Washington. In contrast the centre, including Chicago, is less interesting for us, here the markets are much more traditional and not necessarily so interested in contemporary design concepts; but then on the west coast, San Francisco, Los Angeles, but also further north Seattle, Redmond and on to Canada and Vancouver, then there is much more interest in both the sort of solutions Vitra can offer and also for contemporary European design.

smow blog: Purely on account of some of the towns you mentioned, we’re assuming therefore that the creative industries, digital economy and similar branches are particularly relevant for yourselves?

Josef Kaiser: Very much so, and one particularly interesting example in that context is Austin, Texas, a relatively small city but one with lots of creativity, which is home to many creative individuals who are interested in and are looking for new ideas, and a city which is becoming ever more interesting for us and which offers more potential than many larger cities in the centre of the USA. However we also have a lot of customers in more traditional industries such as banking, pharmaceuticals or education where for all the adult education market, so colleges and universities, is very interesting for us.

smow blog: You stated a couple of times that the American market is “challenging”, what are the particular challenges that you have over here, or perhaps better put, where does the American contract furniture market vary most from the European?

Josef Kaiser: I’d say there are three main areas. Firstly on account of the nature of rental contracts the planning horizon in America is relatively short, certainly in comparison to what we know in Europe. In America an office is rarely planned for more than seven years, our products have a much longer lifespan, and so we have a quality which is better than that which is required for the American market, and so we need to find premium customers who have an interest in a premium product. Similarly, as a country America is, generally speaking, one that tends to buy cheaply and which thinks and handles with a tendency towards a throwaway mentality, that is moving more towards sustainability, but very slowly. And thirdly the bond between employer and employee that we know in Europe isn’t necessarily present in America. Employees don’t necessarily associate themselves to a company, while many employers promote a hire and fire mentality, and this combination doesn’t always result in positive, respectful, workplaces, and so not workplaces where much thought or attention is paid to the furniture. Consequently we need to find those companies where the opposite is the case and who are interested in developing a positive corporate culture.

smow blog: As you already mentioned, in America you can’t sell Eames et al, which means you’re, effectively, reliant, on European designers, does that pose a further challenge?

Josef Kaiser: Yes, very much so, but for us it also an excellent opportunity to prove ourselves in a market without Eames and Nelson, and thus to demonstrate that we can be successful without such classics. Classics are important and with the Prouvé collection we have a very interesting collection and one which is positively received in America, similarly with Artek and Alvar Aalto we now have designs which are very well known and well loved in America. However our main business in America is with contemporary European designers, the Bouroullecs, for example, are very important here, as are the products from Antonio Citterio or Alberto Meda, and so I see our success in America as evidence of the strength of the Vitra portfolio, and for all how the Vitra portfolio has positively developed in recent years through our focused co-operations with younger European design bureaus.

smow blog: Which is a nice link, European design vs American production. We know you have a facility in America, but do Vitra actually produce in America?

Josef Kaiser: We have a small plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where we undertake both final assembly and also local sourcing with the aim that 80% of our portfolio is either finished in America or the raw materials are sourced here. Products which require specialised manufacturing or where we simply don’t sell in relevant quantities are then imported from Europe.

smow blog: Which naturally raises the question, why?

Josef Kaiser: The principle reason is to allow for flexibility. Delivery times are very important in America, and that generally means short delivery times, and when you solely import from Europe that is very difficult and so in that respect local production and local sourcing is important in order to respond to customers’ demands.

smow blog: And from our European perspective on, let’s say,  American patriotism, we would imagine American’s also favour “Made in America”? Or is there an appreciation of European production and European quality standards?

Josef Kaiser: One finds both, there are those customers who want European design produced with a European manufacturing quality, but then, and especially in corporate America, there are increasingly internal guidelines which state that “Americans buy American”, and we can happily meet the demands of both groups.

smow blog: To end, the stand here is, let’s say, very Artek heavy for a Vitra showroom, we’re presuming this isn’t a “Vitra + Friends” dress rehearsal, so why not two stands, why the integration?

Josef Kaiser: In Europe we separate the brands much more deliberately, and acutely, than in America, not least because the nature of the American market means that promoting two brands independently is much more challenging, even given the traditions and strengths of both Vitra and Artek. Consequently for us it was a logical decision to, as it were, present Artek under the Vitra brand, not least because of how such a presentation concept helps explain the ideas of collage and of mixing and integrating products which underlies the Vitra philosophy. Things are however now changing, and for example in our New York showroom we have begun to present Artek much more as a standalone brand, and I expect that in the future we will, in all probability, represent both brands independently at such fairs.

Posted in Artek, Exhibitions and Shows, Interview, NeoCon, Office Furniture, Producer, Vitra Tagged with: , , , , , ,

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.
May 29th, 2016 by smow

As we noted in a previous post, spending long periods sitting can result in shorter telomeres and thus a greater susceptibility to health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A new study by researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health would appear to indicate that in addition to health benefits, regularly standing while working in an office environment can also increase productivity.

Based on data collected over a period of six months from employees in a Texas call centre, the researchers found that compared to a control group who worked sitting, those who worked either in “sit-to-stand” or “stand-biased” situations were 46% more productive. The “standers” weren’t standing full time, but rather had the option to work sitting or standing, and spent on average some 73% of their time seated compared to the sitting group who spent, on average, 91% of their time seated. Which equals around 1.5 hours less sitting in the course of an 8 hour shift.

One possible reason for the reduced productivity while seated is cited as lower back pain and general body discomfort; one possible reason for the increased productivity while standing is cited as increased cognitive functioning and thus concentration.

Consequently, the study would appear to indicate that, in certain situations and environments, employees who are offered the freedom to decide between sitting and standing are not only healthier but more productive than if forced to sit all day.

If with a couple of question marks.

The main one for us is that the sitting and standing groups appear to have had different chairs – the report names the chairs used by the “standing” group, and in doing so confirms that two office chair types were in use, one from Steelcase and one from Neutral Posture, but sadly doesn’t say which chair was used by the “seated” group, the photos however lead us to believe that it was a third type. And thus a potential influencing factor that would need to be negated, especially if one accepts that sitting (dis)comfort is a reason why productivity is lower when seated. And something the researchers acknowledge with their comment that, “It is possible that the same productivity could have been achieved if body discomfort had been reduced even for those in the seated workstations through effective ergonomic improvements in the seated workstations.” More research is as such necessary, for all in terms of the relationship body discomfort:cognitive function.

Yet regardless of such considerations, in general the report does offer further evidence of a benefit in regularly working in a standing position, of regularly switching your working position, and thus that raised and/or height adjustable work stations belong in all contemporary office design concepts.

The full study can be found at: Gregory Garrett, Mark Benden, Ranjana Mehta, Adam Pickens, Camille Peres & Hongwei Zhao (2016): Call Center Productivity Over 6 Months Following a Standing Desk Intervention, IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.

Posted in Office Furniture, smow blog compact Tagged with: , , , ,

DMY Berlin 2015 The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin
June 12th, 2015 by smow

As we have often noted in these pages, a combination of increasing automation, advancing technology, the changing nature of industry and commerce and the associated evolution of the term “office work” will increasingly enforce changes in office furniture design. And we’re not being particularly clever or perceptive when we say such, its simply how the process works, how office furniture design has always progressed: be it the evolution of the office chair in the 19th century as ever more workers spent their days sitting in offices managing industry’s rise; George Nelson and Robert Propst’s Action Office project for Herman Miller from 1964 which sought to make American offices healthier and more productive as technology made American office work more mundane and depressing; or the rise of “hot desking” as advanced computer technology meant workers were no longer tied to one computer and one telephone on one desk.

The challenge for designers is, and has always been, to create new systems that respond to the new requirements.

The Shrinking Office Project by Rotterdam based, Royal Academy Of Art The Hague graduate Roy Yin is one of the more promising solutions we have seen of late.

Nothing more complicated than a collection of connected tables of differing heights The Shrinking Office Project offers users a range of working positions and working heights, be that individually or in a group, in an active yet unimposing construction.

No we’re obviously not proposing The Shrinking Office Project as an office furniture solution in its own right, that would be outrageous; however, as part of an integrated office landscape which features a range of what industry experts would invariably call “zones”, the idea has an awful lot of promise.

Still a prototype the ideas inherent in the concept require a bit of development before it can become truly universally applicable, not least we’d like to see it as a modular system that the user can adapt, expand or reduce as required, some form of storage would be useful and also a little more consideration given as to how one can integrate technology into the system. By which we mean of course electricity.

But regardless of such, as it stands the Shrinking Office Project is a very nice concept which explores contemporary office design in an intelligent, realistic fashion and is a project whose development we are thoroughly looking forward to following.

More details can be found at

DMY Berlin 2015 The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin

The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin, as seen at DMY Berlin 2015

DMY Berlin 2015 The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin

The Shrinking Office Project by Roy Yin, as seen at DMY Berlin 201

Posted in Architecture, Designer, DMY Berlin, Exhibitions and Shows, Office Furniture Tagged with: , , , , ,

osko deichmann plot brunner
December 10th, 2014 by smow

We recently posted on current research which suggests that not only is sitting for long periods detrimental to our health, but that sport and movement cannot compensate for the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

Taking such research as their starting point Amsterdam based architecture/philosophy studio Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF, and artist Barbara Visser created the somewhat polemically titled animation “Sitting Kills” from which they have now developed the installation “The End of Sitting.”

RAAAF & Barbara Visser’s position is largely that from its origins in classical antiquity right up until the early 20th century, and the beginnings of standardised, industrial working practices, offices were generally mobile, active locations.

Then began what they refer to as “the century of sitting”.

A century which although has brought us ever new approaches to office design and office organisation has brought us new ideas which always start from the same basic units: a desk and a chair.

The End of Sitting is a new proposal. One that does away with the desk and chair. And replaces form follows function with what they refer to as form follows body (although in order to maintain the alliteration we favour form follows figure)

Essentially transforming the flat 2D office space into an abstract 3D office sculpture The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser foresees an office monolith in and on which individuals can either stand, lean, sit, lie, crouch, hang, whatever.

Although we do feel that with their focus on sitting RAAAF & Barbara Visser have missed a trick. Through their creation of such an internal geography they have also created the option to include spaces where one can withdraw for a quick nap, and of course for storage space, thus making their sitting solution a much wider, more encompassing, office architecture solution.

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser (Photo Jan Kempenaers, Courtesy of Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF)

As we’ve often noted, increasing automation and advancing computer technology, in terms of both hardware and software, will change the nature of office work; indeed must because it will make much of what is currently undertaken superfluous. As such we need radical new approaches to office design and office furniture and furnishings, The End of Sitting presents a thoroughly logical and clearly presented position, and one which really appeals to us.

Even if we don’t believe for a minute that many, if indeed any, large companies will start incorporating such extreme constructions into their offices.

Much more likely is that there will be increased demand for office furniture solutions which offer similar possibilities. Currently for us the best example of such a system is without question Plot by Osko+Deichmann for the German manufacturer Brunner. And we don’t doubt for a minute that similar systems aren’t being developed as we write. Most intriguingly in that sense, again at least for us, is the one-off sofa/installation “Prima” Zaha Hadid developed in collaboration with Swarovski and Vitra in 2013. We’re no fans of Zaha Hadid’s architecture, no fans at all, but Prima, extended, exaggerated and softened could provide for interesting office solutions very much in the spirit of The End of Sitting.

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser was on show in the gallery Looiersgracht 60 in Amsterdam. Is no longer. It is however to be hoped that it is repeated elsewhere, because the arguments made are well worth hearing. And for all well worth considering. And testing.

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser (Photo Jan Kempenaers, Courtesy of Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF)

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser

The End of Sitting by RAAAF & Barbara Visser (Photo Frederica Rijkenberg, Courtesy of Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances, RAAAF)

osko deichmann plot brunner

Plot by Osko+Deichmann for Brunner

Prima by Zaha Hadid Vitra Campus

Prima by Zaha Hadid @ Vitra Campus

Posted in Architecture, Exhibitions and Shows, Office Furniture, smow blog compact Tagged with: , , , , ,

usm window lock
February 19th, 2014 by smow

If you visit the Bussalp restaurant above the Swiss resort town of Grindelwald you can experience a curious, inconspicuous, almost underwhelming, piece of furniture design history.

USM window fittings.

Just don’t expect steel tubing and chrome plated brass balls, that all came much, much later……

usm window handle

A USM window fitting in the Bussalp restaurant, Grindelwald.

The story of the USM Haller modular furniture system starts in 1885 in the Swiss village of Münsingen with the establishment of a locksmith and ironmonger business by Ulrich Schärer, a locksmith and ironmonger business that slowly transformed itself into a producer of window hinges, fittings, locks, handles, etc.

Originally based in small facility near Münsingen railway station things went well for the Schärer family’s business, or better put very well, and in 1961 Paul Schärer, grandson of company founder Ulrich, could afford to commission the local architect Fritz Haller to build them a new production hall on the edge of Münsingen.

And then an administration pavilion next door.

And then some filing cabinets, book cases and general office furniture for the new administration pavilion.

The clou – production hall, pavilion and furniture were all constructed according to the same flexible, modular system. Just at different scales.

The office furniture system that Fritz Haller developed for his USM pavilion was intended as being simply for USM, a classic case of site specific design. Fate however in her fickle way had other plans for the two and so it came to pass that ever more people began enquiring if they too could have the furniture. As a result of such requests, and for all the increasing regularity of such requests, in 1969 the decision was made to start producing the USM modular furniture system as a product in its own right.

For over twenty years USM produced window components and office furniture parallel, before in 1992 production of the window elements ceased and the company concentrated 100% on the USM Haller system.

Consequently, those window handles and locks in the Bussalp restaurant almost certainly belong to the last of their kind. Rarities, so to say.

As such, should you find yourself on the Bussalp do enjoy the stunning view of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, do enjoy the wine, enjoy the cheese fondue, but before you enjoy sledging back down to Grindelwald, do take a couple of minutes to enjoy the window fittings, handles and locks in the restaurant.

For without them there would be no USM Haller sideboards, USM Haller highboards, USM Haller filing cabinets……….

first usm factory münsingen

The first USM factory in Münsingen, Switzerland. Left hand side factory, right hand side the Schärer family home.

usm window lock

A USM window lock in the Bussalp restaurant, Grindelwald.

usm window on the world

A USM window on the world ..... or at least on the Berner Oberland. Or to be honest, metre high snow!


Posted in Office Furniture, Producer, USM Haller Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

usm haller table
November 4th, 2013 by smow

Among the more memorable moments in our long, if troublesome, tenure at and of (smow)blog is the day we took possession of our new 1m x 2m USM Haller table.

Less on account of the object and more on account of the looks of fear and trepidation that crossed the faces of those forced to share an office space with us.

“Given the chaos created on their Eiermann Table“, their pained expressions screamed, “what will they achieve with 2 sqm of finest Swiss fabrication?”

The answer was as swift as it was explicit.

Within a day the pristine white surface had vanished under a mountain of notes, brochures, loose change, books, receipts, invoices, bent paper clips, train tickets and dirty crockery.

Just as Prof. Kathleen D. Vohs from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota would have, hopefully, predicted.

In the recently published, peer reviewed, paper “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity”1. Prof. Vohs and her colleagues explore the relationship between the level of workspace chaos and a series of behavioural attributes, and discovered that, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

And that “…orderliness seemed to encourage a general mind-set for conservatism and tradition, and disorder had the effect of stimulating the desire for the unknown.”

Or, put another way: Chaos promotes creativity. Order stifles.

A phenomenon which can also be witnessed, less scientifically but more entertainingly, at

We can particularly recommend Steve Jobs circa 2004, Mark Zuckerberg – even if we don’t believe for a minute that he really works under such conditions – and Albert Einstein, whose desk leads us to surmise that e=mc2 can also be understood as “creative output= volume of paper on your desk x speed of light squared”

Quite aside from the quiet satisfaction we understandably take from the paper, there are a couple of interesting point raised by the research.

The first is, do we now have recourse to sue all those librarians who have so obviously hindered our development over the decades with their dogma of orderliness?

Secondly, what does that mean for those who work, creatively, from a small home office, yet occasionally want to invite friends and family to their home. Must one tidy up? Should one tidy up? Should one take pride in displaying, like some especially vain peacock, ones creativity? Or should one rather invest in an object such as International Marianne Brandt Contest 2013 Public Award winning 2tables by Anna Albertine Baronius, the ever wonderful Heimlicht by Leoni Werle or, for the only mildly creative, Sphere Desk by Hella Jongerius through Vitra. So desks which allow one to quickly and easily hide the chaos.

Thirdly can we now, by extrapolation, understand the harm of urban gentrification in a new light. It is potentially not just that affordable living and work space becomes rarer through gentrification, but environments vanish that genuinely nurture and support creativity. Thus making our cities culturally poorer. Similarly street art can be seen as not only creative in its own right, but as encouraging creativity.

And finally, as tablets and similar forms of mobile technology become increasingly important in ever more people’s every day reality, how should Prof Vohs’ research be understood in conjunction with research showing that most ipad usage is in relatively disorderly locations – in bed, at the kitchen table, on a sofa. Do we make different decisions when using our tablets and smartphones in such locations compared to when using them in more “conservative locations? Are we, for example, less generous when we write a restaurant review in a disorganised location than in an organised? Or in terms of, for example, online shopping, do we take more “risks” when shopping on a mobile device, are we more receptive to new ideas, do we shop less conventionally online than we would in a neat, tidy store with a neat, tidy sales person?

But perhaps the most important take home message from Prof. Vohs’ truly excellent research is reserved for all suffering under the burden of a tidy desk, an orderly work environment.

There is hope.

Just mess your desk up a little.

If anyone needs any tips or advice, just get in touch……..

1. Kathleen D. Vohs, Joseph P. Redden, and Ryan Rahinel 2013. “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity” Psychological Science 24(9) 1860– 1867

usm haller table

Can't imagine much creativity will occur at this USM Haller table workspace......

Posted in Office Furniture, Product, smow Tagged with: , , , ,

USM Haller as seen at DMY Berlin
July 6th, 2009 by julius
USM Haller sideboard

USM Haller sideboard

System USM Haller is a storage and display system for all. We know that most people only come across USM Haller units in lawyers and accountants offices, doctors surgeries or museums … but that is, if you will, a historical relic based on the traditional distribution system.

The times my have changed but system USM Haller remains the reliable, versatile and practical system it has always been.

Many new customers, however, have a problem understanding what is and is not possible with USM Haller.

And while we at smow have the official USM configuration software – our customers don’t.

Therefore, to try to smooth the process a little and make USM Haller more accessible and easier to understand, the (smow)techies have designed an easy to use guide to the basics of USM Haller.

At USM Independent you will find a “fail-proof” overview of which elements are available in which sizes, as well as a clever interactive colour guide and a description of some “standard” configurations.

USM Haller as seen at DMY Berlin

USM Haller as seen at DMY Berlin

The beauty of USM Haller, however, is that you don’t need to accept “standard” you are free to decide how your unit is designed … as well as how you extend and adapt it over the years.

For all who are new to USM Haller the smow USM Independent is the perfect starting point for experimenting and exploring.

And once you have an idea of what you need, simply contact us at smow with details of your requirements and our experienced USM team will prepare a detailed offer.

Further images of system USM Haller in action can be found in the (smow)flickr gallery.

Posted in Producer, smow, USM Haller Tagged with: , , , , , ,

June 19th, 2009 by julius

We at (smow)blog we have often mentioned Vitras Net’n’Nest office design concept – one the one hand because we like it and on the other because as an official Vitra partner we at smow like to draw attention to new developments and products from Vitra.
We have, however, never made a secret of the fact that one can – if one wants – mix and match furniture from various producers.

Adenike by Bao-Nghi Droste

Adenike by Bao-Nghi Droste

Which was pretty much our third thought upon seeing Adenike by Heidelberg based designer Bao-Nghi Droste at DMY Youngsters in Berlin.
Our first thought was what a fantastic object.
Our second was then, hhhmmm wonderful design, but with the padded surface it is a bit impractical for writing and drawing.
Then we spoke to Bao-Nghi and realised that our interpretation of it’s usage was incorrect.
Although the upper surface is solid enough to allow one to write on it, Adenike should be seen more as temporary work or meeting island. Or simply as a place to withdraw to from a group work situation in the same room and either do some work by yourself, or just read a paper and relax.

Adenike in action - Three designers discuss an object.

Adenike in action - Three designers discuss an object.

The first thing you notice, or better said don’t notice, when you approach Adenike is how it draws you in. You automatically lean on it, use it, interact with it. But because of the quality of the design you don’t notice, it feels natural, feels good.

Adenike has enough space for 4 or 5 people to comfortably work around it, and with it’s own in-built lamp is perfect for checking proofs, finalising documents or even playing poker to wile away a slow afternoon. Sorry to encourage a creative brainstorming session to ensure your company maintains the commercial high-ground.

In addition to beautifully fulfilling it’s intended function Adenike is also a well crafted piece of furniture; you genuinely don’t need to be a carpenter to appreciate the craftsmanship of the joints.

And so after chatting with the extremely amiable Bao-Nghi and testing Adenike, we came to thought three.


Adenike promotes a good working atmosphere

Adenike is perfect for all whose work involves occasional group discussions and/or short bursts of group consultation. Or for those who after a long sitting session creating something, want to stand to check the outcome of their work.  And so a wonderful addition for any office looking to base it’s layout on the principles of the Vitra Net’n’Nest concept.

Adenikeis currently not is serial production, and so if you are interested you will need to contact Bao-Nghi Droste direct.

Posted in DMY Berlin, smow design spring Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Headline by Bellini for Vitra
March 25th, 2009 by julius

In a recent article wired magazine presented their own take on the evolution of office furnishing.

From the introduction of the vast, cattle-shed like offices that characterised early office design through the cubicles and “virtual offices” of the 1980s and 90s and onwards the text makes one thing clear: Too many office workers have suffered through bad office design concepts.

But one needn’t work from home in order to benefit from the advantages of a convivial and stimulating office environment.

System USM Haller

System USM Haller

The Swiss designer USM Haller has been producing its patented – and in the MoMA New York displayed – System USM Haller furniture for over 40 years. Centred around the USM Haller ball the units are not only infinitely expendable but can be designed to suit your individual requirements. And then re-designed as your requirements change. In addition USM Haller tables are available in range of sizes and colours. Or alternatively the Eiermann Table from Lampert also fit wonderfully with System USM Haller units.

Tolomeo Tavalo from Artemide

Tolomeo Tavalo from Artemide

The Italian lighting designer Artemide has been producing high quality, stylish lighting systems since 1958. With it’s floor lamps, table lamps and hanging lamps Artemide has established a reputation for excellent luminescence in timeless designs that fit just as well in a reception area, office or conference room.

Among the pioneers of office furniture design were Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson and many of their classic designs remain in the Vitra collection – including their Aluminium Series of chairs which offer outstanding quality and versatility with the minimum of material and fuss.

Headline by Bellini for Vitra

Headline by Mario and Claudio Bellini for Vitra

And while Vitra “adopted” Eames and Nelson through the collaboration with Herman Miller, the company has established it’s own reputation for high-quality office furnishings. Through, for example, collaborations with Mario and Claudio Bellini, including the award winning Headline Chair or Jasper Morrison with his ATM range onto its new Net’n’Nest concept Vitra is one of the most active and innovative office furnishers on the market.

In addition smow stock the Foster Series of desk accessories by Sir Norman Foster for helit.

And with many items in stock and available for immediate worldwide delivery, you may be able to write your own chapter in the development of office design quicker than you imagine.

Posted in Producer, Product, smow Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Worknest from Vitra
January 22nd, 2009 by julius
The colourful future of "Net 'n' Nesting" (Photo:

The colourful future of "Net 'n' Nesting" (Photo:

For the creative bosses at Vitra the days of the large unified office space are numbered. Not only are the working conditions in such environments not ideal for productivity, but much more each employee and every visitor has a feeling of surveillance, exploitation and treadmill.

A more inspiring and positive atmosphere, however, promise Vitra from their playfully named “Net ‘n’ Nest” concept. Here the connection between individual work and rest areas and the possibilities of communicative and open collaboration are placed in the foreground – and all in space saving styleee. The “Net ‘n’ Nest” concept originated with a detailed analysis of office work flows and was further refined with professionnel monitoring in customers offices.

“Netting” is used to define the space that is created within the office system, and which is suitable for team work and meetings and which is intended to promote communication between employees. “Nesting” in contrast is the term for those areas of still, concentrated work. For Vitra CEO Hans-Peter Cohn it is important that there are spaces for relaxing in which expressive colours dominate and extend a cozy living room atmosphere; as well as areas with more restrained colours and a puritanical design to promote relaxation and concentration.

NesTable from Vitra

NesTable from Vitra

The “Net ‘n’ Nest” „ concept was first presented in 2006. Since then designers and architects have worked on versions intended to connect the Netting and Nesting components in a ever more space saving fashions. In the future moving from communicative team work to concentrated individual work should not necessarily involve moving room: Ideally the work place should allow for both possibilities. Features such as height adjustable room dividers between the work places as well comfortable office chairs that double as relaxing armchairs are just a couple of examples of the “Net ‘n’ Nest” philosophy.

Worknest from Vitra

Worknest from Vitra

Among the Vitra products in the smow collection with which to begin “Net ‘n’ Nest” in your own office we can recommend:

– Office chair Worknest

BaOBab Table


– Lounge Chair Amoebe

ATM Mobile Unit

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