Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #15

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In my previous post about this series I introduced the terms “Scandinavian Design” (which includes Denmark, Norway, Sweden & Finland) and “Danish Modern”. Today, the subject will be “Swedish Modern”. This term first became current in the 1930’s when modern Swedish design was becoming increasingly well known in Europe and the United States. However, it was at its height in the 1950’s and was characterized by many of the qualities of Modernism blended with natural materials such as wood and a Scandinavian respect for craftsmanship. Like its counterpart in Denmark (Danish Modern) attributes of the “Swedish Modern” style included the use of light-colored woods, organic shapes, and color schemes with a predominance of white offset by accents of color in textiles, rugs and ceramics. The 1939 New York World’s Fair initiated the so-called Swedish and Danish Modern style but it was not until the decade after World War II that this style achieved maximum international popularity in the home furnishings area. Nevertheless, it had a pronounced influence on mass-production furniture designed in America and it established a furniture aesthetic which was embraced enthusiastically by the more fashion-conscious consumer. In the US, “Swedish Modern” never achieved the popularity of the Bauhaus-inspired Streamline Moderne with its penchant for chrome and aerodynamics (metal ultimately won the battle over wood), but it became a widespread style, symbolizing positive ideas about humanism, tradition, moderation and democracy.

Many Swedish furniture designers were highly influential in formulating the Swedish Modern style. I have put together the most renowned contributors, and I will begin with Carl Malmsten, who is regarded to be the father of Scandinavian furniture design. When he refused to participate in the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition he was bitterly criticized as a reactionary anti-Modernist; he advocated the survival of folk traditions in craftsmanship and their application to modern design. He regarded modernism as short-lived because it failed to see that humans and human needs had not changed because of industrialism. Malmsten’s influence on Swedish furniture design is particularly significant through the schools he founded, including Carl Malmsten Furniture Studies in Stockholm and Capellagården on the island of Öland, both of which are still in operation. It was Malmsten’s wish to restore elements of the old master – apprentice institution that united professionalism with an education in craftsmanship. As a furniture maker he expressed the old, inherited forms as well as the new, bold ideas with his language of design.

Back in the 1950’s, Carl Malmsten presented to Oskar Herbert Sjögren a series of designs which were produced for many years through O.H. Sjögren. Today the family firm is still active in the production of furniture and is run by its 4th generation, today O.H. Sjögren Tranås.

The collaboration between Estrid Ericson, founder of Svenkst Tenn and Austrian-born architect and designer Josef Frank (inventor of the Swedish Modern style) began in 1934. The Swedes were slow to adopt modernism, and it was not only in the later 1920’s that modern furniture began to appear in the country. The early Swedish modernists were drawn to German and Dutch functionalism—the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition featured many examples of a hard-edged modernism. When Frank began to work for Svenskt Tenn as its chief designer in the 1930’s, he introduced the idea of a humane, mitigated modernism. It was this vision of the new design that eventually began the dominant direction in Sweden, and later became widely known as “Swedish Modern”. Frank mostly used hardwood and liked to mix different sorts of wood for the same furniture. The Swedish Modern design of the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, which became famous around the world, bore the strong imprint of Frank’s conception of a softened modernism.

Josef Frank was known throughout Europe in the 1920’s as one of the continent’s leading modernists. Yet despite his important contributions to the development of modernism, Frank has been largely excluded from histories of the movement. Frank became the leader of the younger generation of architects in Austria after World War I; but, he fell from grace when he emerged as a forceful critic of the extremes of modern architecture and design during the early 1930’s. Dismissing the demands for a unified modern style, Frank insisted that it was pluralism, not uniformity, that most characterized life in the new machine age. He was able to put his ideas into practice when, in 1933, he was forced to leave Vienna for Sweden. Frank designed many different types of furniture pieces, from sofas and tables, to lamps and accessories. He designed some remarkable cabinets as well, but his true specialty was the design of textiles.

Erik Gunnar Asplund is mostly known as a representative of Swedish neo-classical architecture of the 1920’s and during the last decade of his life as a major proponent of the modernist style, which got its breakthrough in Sweden at the 1930 Stockholm exhibition. His work has influenced architects and designers such as Alvar Aalto, Erik Bryggman, Arne Jacobsen, Jørn Utzon and others. Asplund’s major work is probably the Stockholm Public Library, constructed between 1924 and 1928, which stands as the prototypical example of the Nordic Classicism and so-called “Swedish Grace” movement. His work is clearly a part of the modern movement in Sweden, but his use of carvings, decorative details and color suggest the influence of neo- classic and romantic Scandinavian revival. Italian furniture manufacturer Cassina still produces some of his iconic furniture designs today.

The company Karl Mathsson was created in 1933 by Karl Mathsson. A 4th generation cabinet maker, Karl Mathsson taught his son Bruno Mathsson about wood and furniture business. Bruno Mathsson took over management of the family furniture-making company in 1957; his furniture ”became a symbol for Swedish Modern”. Mathsson never went mass market and he wouldn’t collaborate with anyone until the 1960’s, when Dux Industries of Sweden took on production of some of his chair designs. Later he allowed Tendo of Japan to manufacture some of his designs on a smaller scale for the Japanese market. In 1978 Dux Industries purchased the Mathsson firm and began manufacturing and distributing Mathsson´s bentwood furniture. Today Bruno Mathsson´s furniture designs are manufactured by Bruno Mathsson International and Dux Industries.

Bruno Mathsson was probably Sweden’s most successful modern furniture designer in the 20th century. Inspired by Le Corbusier, Mathsson experimented with the physiology of the seating curves adjusted according to the body, which in turn resulted in prototypes for the work, easy, and lounge chairs. His furniture is undoubtedly influenced by the bentwood designs of Alvar Aalto, but Mathsson’s commitment to bentwood and the range and virtuosity of the material he achieved exceeds all of his contemporaries, including Marcel Breuer, among others. Mathsson designed some of his most attractive and collectable furniture pieces during the 1930´s such as the “Pernilla” Chair and the “Eva” Chair. Most of his designs were named after women.

Mathsson´s international breakthrough as a furniture designer however came at the 1937 World Fair in Paris. His popularity dwindled somewhat during the 1950’s when, despite requests by many distributors of modern furniture (like KNOLL) to manufacture and distribute his designs, he refused to succumb to the demands of the marketplace by altering the specifications of his bentwood designs to enable large orders. In the 1960´s he created the famous “Superellipse” Table together with Danish mathematician Piet Hein. This series was produced both by Swedish manufacturer Karl Mathsson and by Fritz Hansen in Denmark.

Swedish architect Carl-Axel Acking was one of the leading names on the Swedish interior decoration scene during the 1940-50’s. In the 1940’s he experimented with molded plywood and designed chairs for mass produce purpose. Acking’s designs were manufactured by producers such as Nordiska Kompaniet (NK)*, Bodafors, KF and Nordiska Möbelfabriken.

*Nordiska Kompaniet was a licensed manufacturer of Herman Miller’s furniture, many of Charles & Ray Eames’ chairs where produced by them. Designers who worked for or cooperated with NK included: E. Gunnar Asplund, Carl-Axel Acking, Stig Lindberg and Astrid Sampe. Unfortunatelly, the factories closed in 1973.

Swedese was founded in 1945 (initially ESE Furniture) by the 2 brothers Yngve and Jerker Ekström and Sven Bertil Sjöqvist, with Yngve leading the company. Yngve Ekström together with names including Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, Arne Jacobsen and Poul Kjaerholm was at the core of a generation of designers who made the concept “Scandinavian Modern” famous all over the world. Yngve Ekström´s breakthrough came with his Easy Chair “Lamino” in 1956, combining austerity with lightness, beauty with function. In the 1960’s he creates a variety of furniture made of Swedish pine. Around these years the 2 brothers also started a lighting factory, Lystella AB. Ekström also designed furniture for companies such as Stolab and Broby.

Designers that have collaborated or are currently working for Swedese: Arik Levy, Broberg & Ridderstråle, Bror Boije, C-H Spak, Christine Schwarzer, Claesson Koivisto Rune, Edward Barber, Jay Osgerby, Eva and Peter Moritz, GamFratesi, Isaac Chen, Katrin Olina, koncept., Lars Pettersson, Lime Studio, Marina Bautier, Michaël Bihain, Michael Young, Monica Förster, Naoto Fukasawa, Roger Persson, Setsu and Shinobu Ito, Skala, Sofia Dahlén, Staffan Holm, Thomas Bernstrand, Yngve Ekström.

Swedish furniture designer Arne Norell founded Möbel AB Arne Norell in 1954. Arne Norell was a multifaceted designer who tried many different material combinations. His most well-known and appreciated piece is the Easy Chair “Ari”, designed in 1966. Many of his designs are still manufactured by his company now under the name Norell Möbler AB. Marie Norell-Möller carries on the family tradition and style with her work.

One four-letter word particularly comes to mind when thinking of Swedish design – IKEA. The world’s largest furniture manufacturer, founded in 1943 by 17-year-old Ingvar Kamprad, is known for its modern and minimalist design. The IKEA brand is associated with simple, low cost and stylish products. Rather than being sold pre-assembled, much of IKEA’s furniture is designed to be self-assembled. IKEA contends that it has been a pioneering force in sustainable approaches to mass consumer culture. Kamprad refers to the concept as “democratic design,” meaning that the company applies an integrated approach to manufacturing and design. Although IKEA household products and furniture are designed in Sweden, they are largely manufactured in developing countries to keep costs down. As of October 2011, IKEA has 332 stores in 38 countries and the IKEA website contains about 12,000 products. The company is keen to show leadership in adopting more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, however, IKEA is the world’s third-largest consumer of wood, behind The Home Depot and Lowe’s. IKEA´s 2010 annual catalog (first issued in 1951) was published in 20 languages and 61 editions, covering around 197 million copies.


IKEA’s main contribution to Swedish design was its ability to bring functional designs to a mass market. Swedishness also plays a role: IKEA products tended always to be of light wood with organic shapes and fresh colors. As the company has grown bigger and more global, the style has become less distinctive. On the other hand, their designs are only rarely completely original — they are often inspired by others – yet IKEA produces its own versions at a fraction of the cost. The “Billy” Bookcases for example, have sold 28 million times worldwide since they first appeared in 1979. When they were removed from the IKEA product range in 1991, there were major customer protests. They returned to the stores in 1993. Most IKEA items end up in garbage piles, vintage pieces are not easy to find.

…to be continued in part # 16

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.



Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #14

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The term “Scandinavian Design” (which includes Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) originated from the show “Design in Scandinavia” that toured the US and Canada from 1954 to 1957. Promoting the “Scandinavian way of living”, it exhibited various works by Nordic designers and established the meaning of the term that continues until today: beautiful and clean line designs, inspired by nature and the northern climate, accessible and available to all. Danish teak furniture, Swedish crystal and textiles, Norwegian enamel, Finnish furniture and glass merged into a concept generally perceived as Scandinavian. On the other hand, “Danish Design” is a term often used to describe a style of functionalistic design and architecture that was developed in mid-20th century. Influenced by the German Bauhaus school, many Danish designers used the new industrial technologies, combined with ideas of simplicity and functionalism to design furniture which have become iconic. A number of firms continue to be active in producing both classic Danish Modern designs and in introducing variants designed by a new generation of artists. I have put together a small summary of the most prestigious Danish furniture makers and the designs they have been producing from famous contributors to “Danish Modern” like Finn Juhl, Kaare Klint, Mogens Koch, Børge Mogensen, Nanna Ditzel and Hans J. Wegner:

Rud Rasmussen, a family-owned and family-run furniture company founded in 1869 by Rudolph Rasmussen. Since then, the company has been handed down from generation to generation and today it is run by the 4th generation, by master cabinet maker and architect Jørgen Rud. Rasmussen. Their claim to fame is its close collaboration between architect and cabinet maker. In the late 1920´s contact was established to Kaare Klint and Mogens Koch whose designs Rud. Rasmussen has produced ever since. Rud Rasmussen´s list of recognized designers include: Kaare Klint, Mogens Koch, Hans J. Wegner, Børge Mogensen, Mogens Lassen, Poul Kjærholm, Finn Juhl, Ole Wanscher, Bernt, Larsen & Bender Madsen, Hans Bølling, Nanna Ditzel, Cecilie Manz, Jørgen Rud. Rasmussen and Vagn Jacobsen.

Specialized in seaweed mattresses in the early days, Getama was founded in 1899. Getama has manufactured furniture designs by Hans J. Wegner for almost 60 years and they still are the company´s best-seller. In 1994 Getama became part of Temco A/S, a Danish manufacturer of steel products; this cooperation resulted in a range of models that combine the elasticity of steel with lines of wood and upholstery. Hans J. Wegner, Nanna Ditzel, Bernt, 2R Rasmussen & Rolff, Niels Jørgen Haugesen, Jens Ole Christensen and O&M Design have collaborated with Getama.

Carl Hansen & Son opened his furniture workshop in Odense, Denmark in 1908. At the beginning, the company produced bespoke furniture – including everything from dining room sets to bedroom suites. As the company grew and times changed, it gradually began to produce smaller series of its most popular pieces. This combination of hand craftsmanship and rational series production soon became the firm’s hallmark – and continues to set it apart today. Until the mid- 1940’s, Carl Hansen & Son cooperated with Frits Henningsen, a Danish architect and cabinetmaker. It was Carl Hansen’s son Holger, who took a chance on the groundbreaking designs of the young Hans J. Wegner and the collaboration between Wegner and Carl Hansen & Son began in 1949. Wegner designed 4 chairs especially for Carl Hansen & Son that very same year (CH22, CH23, CH24 and CH25) – all of which came into production and were launched in 1950. Wegner’s first pieces for series production were anything but easy to make. With their distinctive, sculptural forms, CH24 (The Wishbone Chair) and CH25 (The Paddle Chair), were the most ambitious designs. The Wishbone Chair was particularly challenging. Its back rail was steam bent, its rear legs required turning by a sub-supplier and its construction demanded perfect craftsmanship. Holger Hansen, himself a master cabinetmaker as well as a businessman, worked closely with Wegner to adapt the company’s series production to the radically different designs. Today, Carl Hansen & Son continues to cooperate closely with the Hans J. Wegner Studio to introduce or re-issue outstanding designs from the treasure chest that Wegner left behind.

Fredericia Furniture’s history dates back to 1911, when the furniture company Fredericia Stolefabrik was founded. Closely connected to the name of Børge Mogensen, it produces the majority of this architect’s classic furniture designs. Their collection is based on furniture from Børge Mogensen, Nanna Ditzel and Hans J. Wegner, as well as new designers such as Alfredo Häberli, Shin Azumi, Thomas Pedersen, Hans Sandgren Jakobsen and many others. The Fredericia Furniture Collection ranges from classic designs rooted in the golden age of Danish furniture architecture to daring and innovative designs such as Cecilie Manz’s prized side table “Micado”:













PP Møbler is a family owned Danish joinery workshop established in 1953, with a strong tradition for crafting high quality design furniture. Throughout the years, PP Møbler has manufactured several unique pieces of furniture in cooperation with different designers. They are all characterized by exquisite craftsmanship and at the same time marked by the overall design vision. Types, styles, form, and material have never limited PP Møbler. The majority of the production consists of Hans J. Wegner’s furniture – mainly chairs – but several other designers have left their mark as well like Thomas Alken, Soren Ulrik Petersen, Zaha Hadid, Lise & Hans Isbrand, Jorgen Hoj, Cecilie Manz, Poul Kjaerholm, Ole Gjerlov Knudsen, Nanna Ditzel, Verner Panton, Gunnar Aagaard Andersen, Frederik Mattsons, Jeremy Walton, Lovorika Banovic and Komplot Design.


The Erik Jørgensen Møbelfabrik was founded in 1954 by Erik Jørgensen. Erik combined his skills as a craftsman and good understanding of materials with new functionalist design trends and he lead the small company to success within a few years. He thought it was essential to have a constant interaction with the architects in order to create the right combination of design, function and quality. Several chairs and sofas produced by Erik Jørgensen have already become classics and their furniture is frequently used by actors, pop idols and heads of government. Jack Nicholson was one of the first stars to sit in a chair by Erik Jørgensen when he first leaned back in a “Corona Chair” in the film “Carnal Knowledge” (1971). The list goes on, and there are countless examples of music videos and fashion shoots in which the “Corona Chair” or the “Ox Chair” have been showcased. Erik Jørgensen´s leading designers: Foersom & Hiort-Lorenzen, Louise Campbell, Poul M. Volther, Jensen/Ernst, Niels Gammelgaard, Hans J. Wegner, EJ DesignTeam, David Lewis, Erik Ole Jørgensen, Jørgen Gammelgaard, Tine Mouritsen & Mia Sinding, Hannes Wettstein, Tine Mouritsen. Also, Erik Jørgensen´s annual “EJ Design Award”, launched in 1995, ensures that a new generation of young designers is introduced into the trade when invited to present their daring ideas and visions.

Ivan Hansen & Hans Henrik Sørensen founded their furniture company Hansen & Sørensen in 1990. In 1998 Hansen & Sørensen (the present Onecollection), was contacted by Finn Juhl’s second wife Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, she requested the company to produce a Finn Juhl Model 57-Sofa for an exhibition. This led to the cooperation with Hanne regarding the re-launching of Finn Juhl’s* furniture. Today Onecollection has (as the only part in the world) the rights to produce and sell Finn Juhl’s designs, for the past 10 years the company has put 15 pieces of his many models in production. *Finn Juhl is regarded as the father of “Danish Design” and he introduced Danish Modern to America. With Finn Juhl as their flagship, Onecollection offers an interesting collection of furniture together with other Nordic designers like Nanna Ditzel, Erla Óskarsdóttir, Rud Thygesen & Johnny Sørensen, Søren Holst, Henrik Tengler, Niels Gammelgaard, Linn Bjørk, Tove & Edvard Kindt-Larsen among others.

Danish furniture manufacturer Johannes Hansen produced a number of furniture between the 1940’s – 1970’s. While there has been no production since then, several pieces have appeared in auctions during recent years; their beauty and rarity have kept prices high. An important part of Johannes Hansen’s success was based on the fruitful cooperation with Hans J. Wegner initiated in 1940. The first pieces of furniture designed by Wegner were displayed in Johannes Hansen’s store in Copenhagen in 1941. Even though Johannes Hansen was more than twice as old as Wegner, the unique collaboration between the two men became the undisputed backbone of Danish furniture design and the main reason for its recognition in the 50’s and 60’s. In 1944 Wegner designed for Johannes Hansen the first of a long series of ‘Chinese’ chairs, a series of chairs inspired by portraits of Danish merchants sitting in Ming chairs. Another of his famous designs, the ”Peacock Chair”, was first introduced in 1947. The chair was manufactured for a very long time by Johannes Hansen, later picked up and resumed by PP Møbler in 1992, as Wegner had upgraded the basic design in the late 1980’s.

In the 1950’s, American manufacturers obtained licenses for the mass production of Danish designs – keeping high standards of craftsmanship at the beginning. Later the designs were altered to suit American tastes and American parts were introduced to reduce costs. When Sears and Woolworth’s entered the market, the Danes countered by producing new designs based on new materials. In the early 1960’s American manufacturers introduced molded plastic and wood-grained Formica as cheaper substitutes and the demand for Scandinavian Modern declined. Nevertheless, Scandinavian Modern is unlikely to ever go out of style. Today, the demand is worldwide from Australia to the US and the market is booming – from Jacobsen’s stylishly simple chairs to Wegner’s rounded, organic ones – displayed in top design showrooms and galleries across the globe as the ultimate image of modernity. An interesting clue: Hans J. Wegner (regarded as ”the master of the chair”, with more than 500 chair designs to his name) designed chairs for a long range of furniture manufacturers in Denmark: PP Møbler, Johannes Hansen, Carl Hansen & Son, Fritz Hansen, Getama, Fredericia Stolefabrik and many others. In his later years, Wegner entered the mass market through industrial furniture production. To this day, more than 25,000 of his best-selling “The Wishbone Chair or Y Chair” are sold each year. Mass-produced works of Hans J. Wegner, Finn Juhl and Arne Jacobsen are still in demand, but collectors are increasingly turning to limited production items from these and other great designers.

When buying classical Scandinavian Modern furniture pieces with investment in mind, I have to emphasize how essential it is to look for a design no longer in production (or re-issued); take as an example the Hans J. Wegner pieces produced by cabinet maker Johannes Hansen; one of his long version ‘Dolphin’ Chairs from 1950 recently sold for £75,650 at an auction.

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer.
All Rights Reserved.


Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #13

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Vitra was founded in 1950 by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum in Weil am Rhein, Germany as a shop-fitting company. Business flourished when in 1957 Herman Miller Inc.* assigned Vitra the license to produce and sell the products of Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson in Germany and Switzerland. The influence of Charles & Ray Eames was fundamental to the development of the company. *As far as the partnerships that Herman Miller had in Europe back in the 1950’s, there were originally 4 companies: Vitra in Switzerland, Hille in the UK (which I already discussed in my previous post), ICF in Italy and Mobilier International in France; nowadays only Vitra retains a license from Herman Miller Inc.

In the 1970’s Vitra’s growing reputation for high-quality designs combined with a dynamic corporate identity was further enhanced by Rolf Fehlbaum who commissioned company buildings by highly innovative designers, including factory buildings by British architect Nicholas Grimshaw (1981) and Italian Antonio Citterio (1992), a conference building by Japanese architect Tadao Ando (1992), and the world-famous Vitra Design Museum by Frank O. Gehry, completed in 1989. The Vitra Design Museum maintains one of the largest collections of modern furniture design in the world with objects representing all of the major eras and stylistic periods from the beginning of the 19th century to the present. Special areas of the collection include early industrial bentwood furniture, turn-of-the-century designs by Viennese architects, Gerrit Rietveld’s experiments, tubular steel furniture from the 1920´s and 1930´s, key objects of Scandinavian Design from 1930 to 1960, Italian Design and contemporary developments. A further area of special interest is American Design, ranging from Shaker pieces to the postmodern seating of Robert Venturi. The Museum Collection also holds several prominent estates, including those of Charles Eames, Verner Panton, Anton Lorenz and Alexander Girard. The Collection is complemented by an extensive archive and research library. When the Barrágan papers in Mexico were in danger of dissolving into dust, Vitra rescued them. Vitra’s work with the Barrágan and Eames archives have allowed the Museum to celebrate established reputations and to throw new light on them, as well as in some cases, to overcome unjustified neglect.

In the closing decades of the 20th century Vitra became widely known as a fashionable manufacturer of furniture; it was precisely during the 1980’s that the “Vitra Editions” initiative was launched, commissioning experimental designs from a range of designers including Ron Arad, Frank O. Gehry, Shiro Kuramata, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Borek Sípek and Philippe Starck. We can recall as the most successful chairs in this experiment to have been: Kuramata’s “How High the Moon” Armchair in nickel-plated steel mesh (1986), Sípek’s Ota Otanek Chair (1988), Philippe Starck’s Louix XX Stacking Chair (1992) and Frank Gehry’s “Grandpa Chair” (re-issued in 1993).

Today Vitra’s product line consists of designer furniture for use in offices, homes and public areas. Apart from the company’s own designs, it also manufactures and distributes the works of great names such as Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, George Nelson, Verner Panton, Antonio Citterio, Sori Yanagi, Philippe Starck, Mario Bellini, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Greg Lynn, Hella Jongerius, Glen Oliver Löw, Dieter Thiel, Jasper Morrison, Alberto Meda, Ron Arad, Maarten Van Severen and Jean Prouvé among other leading designers.

The close collaboration in the early 1960´s with Danish designer Verner Panton played an important role in Vitra´s success story, when the company decided to develop what became Panton´s  best-known design: the “Panton Chair”, introduced in 1967. The “Stacking Chair” or “S Chair” became Panton´s most famous and mass-produced design. Sleek, sexy and a technical first, the “Panton” was the chair of the era.



A good eye for targeting production rights for the right furniture designs was also a key to Vitra´s success:

  • Sori Yanagi´s iconic “Butterfly Stool” was originally produced only by Japanese Tendo Mokko Corp. An example of Vitra´s timing (being in the right place at the right time) they own the production rights for the “Butterfly Stool” in Europe, North & South America & Africa.
  • In 2002 Vitra obtained the rights from Prouvé´s family to re-edit Jean Prouvé´s famous designs with the “Jean Prouvé Collection”. Furthermore, in 2011 Prouvé´s original designs have been updated with ideas from G-Star & Vitra giving birth to the “Prouvé RAW”, a collection of furniture classics from this French designer and artisan, newly interpreted. Mainly focused on chairs, lamps, tables, a chaise longue and others that were updated in new materials and colors while leaving the structure of the pieces largely unchanged.

OK. If you think that the last paragraph is redundant you are right, but it is exactly the way most consumers feel at this moment after 20 something years of re-introductions, re-issues, re-launches, revivals, re-interpretations, reproductions, re-editions of rediscovered design classics have become very fashionable AND PROFITABLE with a proven formula so they are currently marketed at rather high prices by the many renowned furniture manufacturers around the world, becoming a very important part of the bottom line for the furniture business. The question is: will the industry ever see farther than its comfort zone? Is the new talent dead? How many design students are there in the universities in the world? I hope that there are only 2 or 3 and that they are aware that the leading companies of the industry rather be in their comfort zone than offering opportunities to new-comer designers. Of course, re-copycats and cheap re-imitations have flooded the markets. Do you re-understand that we are tired of the re-formula? This re-marketing is extremely dangerous to the point of re-tiring consumers in the long run.


…to be continued in part # 14

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.


Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #12

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The Hille furniture company was established in 1906 in London by Salamon Hille, a Russian emigrant, to renovate and reproduce 18th century furniture. By the 1930’s the company had already an international reputation, supplying products all over the world. Then in 1948, the MoMa in New York held the “International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design” where British designers Robin Day and Clive Latimer won a 1st prize with a plywood storage system they designed together, this called Hille´s attention. Hille was eager to modernize and its owners decided to engage Robin Day in 1949 to design and produce their low-priced furniture that could be manufactured on a large scale; in the years to follow Day became Hille´s head designer. Well known furniture pieces designed by Robin Day for Hille include the “Hillestak” (1950), a chair with a beech wood frame, seat & back of laminated wood with walnut veneer, and a simple armchair for the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1951. Whereas pre-war furniture was solid and ponderous, Day’s designs were pared down and seemed to float above the ground, as with his 1952 “Reclining Chair”. After 5 years of collaboration with Hille, Robin had been instrumental in transforming the company from a small cabinet making firm into a producer of innovative and modern furniture; Hille became Herman Miller´s partner in the UK. An interesting coincidence: Robin Day and his wife Lucienne where Britain’s most celebrated post-war designer couple and they have often been compared to their US contemporaries, Charles and Ray Eames.



In 1962-63 Robin Day designed for Hille “Polyprop”, a stackable chair inspired by the Charles and Ray Eames “Plastic Shell” chairs. Polypropylene had been invented in 1954 and by the end of that decade Shell Chemicals produced the material in various formulations. Day realized that polypropylene would be perfect for a low cost mass produced chair. Manufactured by the injection blow  molding process, the plastic was inexpensive, light, and very durable. Moreover, the plastic could be stained in all colors. With this chair Robin Day hit on a very reasonably priced chair, so successful that it has been a long-term bestseller. Durable, stylish and cheap, it was bought in bulk by airports, canteens, hospitals and restaurants. To put the success of Day’s polyprop chair designs into  context: an estimate of 500,000 units a year are currently being sold. A worldwide hit, produced in the millions, which of course, has also spawned innumerable copies. Robin went on to create a  whole ‘Polyprop’ family – the 1967 Polypropylene Armchair, the 1971 Series E school chairs and the 1972 indoor/outdoor Polo Chair.

Robin Day had the highest profile of all of Hille´s designers, but their scholarship scheme (set up in 1967) and their willingness to work with designers to offer prototyping and small production runs brought other dividends. One of which was the collaboration with Fred Scott, known for his “Supporto Office Chair”designed for Hille. The company´s focus on affordable innovative designs continues, as we can see with the new SE Ergonomic Chair, a project with designers Richard Snell and David Rowe, Birmingham City University, Hille and BKF Plastics. The posture theory behind the chair was the result of 2 years of research. From launching the first polypropylene education chair range in 1971, Hille has used its experience to develop further affordable ranges to compliment any classroom environment. Designers that have worked for Hille include Robin Day, Fred Scott, Richard Snell and David Rowe.

Robin Day and his textile designer wife Lucienne transformed British design after World War II by pioneering a new modern idiom. He experimented with new materials in inexpensive furniture for manufacturers like Hille and she revitalized textile design with vibrant patterns. Whereas the Eames designed as a team, the Days mostly worked independently in separate fields. When Hille commissioned Robin to design their low-priced furniture for a large scale production, he changed the company´s future and for sure, he will be best remembered for his polypropylene molded stacking chairs which have sold around 50 million units since the launch of the “Polyside” chair in 1963 – the ultimate mass produced chair.


…to be continued in part # 13

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #11

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Italian furniture manufacturer Arflex was founded in 1947 (a division of the Pirelli Corporation otherwise known for rubber tire manufacturing). The company’s initial purpose was to develop materials for the furniture industry, notably polyurethane foam and Pirelli webbing. By 1948, Pirelli commissioned Marco Zanuso, one of the very first Italian architects involved with the systems of product industrialization to investigate the potential of latex foam as an upholstery material together with a team of technicians. In 1951, after 2 years of intense experimentation, Arflex was presented to the public for the first time at the IX Triennale in Milano, hitting the designer-furniture scene with avant-garde, artistic panache, featuring the elegant “Lady” armchair designed by Marco Zanuso which was awarded with the IX Triennale Gold medal.

Arflex´s attention was focused on cultural experimentation, imposing new technological products, very uncommon for that time. Very soon other Arflex design icons followed the “Lady” armchair: the Fiorenza armchair (Franco Albini, 1952), the Martingala armchair (Marco Zanuso, 1952 first example of removable cover), the Delfino armchair (Erberto Carboni, 1954 among first experiments of animal-design), just to name a few. Marco Zanuso became a symbol of the developing design culture in post-war Italy, a generation of designers whose social commitment was colored by the ideological heritage of the Modern Movement. The Arflex product collection was first and foremost an overview of the fruitful collaboration of manufacturer and designer.

Between 1951 and 1954 Arflex also produced various models of car seat designed by Carlo Barassi. These could be fitted into the vehicle instead of standard production seats and offered outstanding comfort, thanks to the use of foam rubber and elastic tape. The covers could be removed and the seat-backs were adjustable. Arflex strove to make its contribution to the comfort of those Italians who were beginning to travel just after the war. The most successful of those car seats were the “MilleMiglia” and the “Sedile Lettino”, a seat that could be turned into a makeshift bed. Both were designed for the Fiat Topolino.

The style of Arflex in the years to follow was defined by Alberto Rosselli, through his line of furniture for management offices, by Carlo Bartoli, through Bicia, produced with an innovative material, fiberglass, but above all by Cini Boeri and Mario Marenco. The “Serpentone” Sofa (1971) by Cini Boeri was conceived by the designer as an endless length seat, with flexible forms, straight and curved, produced with a cheap but extremely pliable material.

The list of designers who have contributed through the decades and/or are still working with Arflex is endless: Franco Albini, De Carlo, Studio B.B.P.R., Belgiojoso, Peressutti, Roger, Erberto Carboni, Pulitzer, Menghi, Joe Colombo, Casati, Spadolini, Tito Agnoli, Carlo Colombo, Cristof Pilelt, Vincent Van Duysen, Michele De Lucchi, Marco Piva, and many others. Arflex also collaborates with international architects such as: Studio Cerri, Studio Sottsass, Michele De Lucchi, Isao Hosoe, Hannes Wettstein, Prospero Rasulo, Christophe Pillet, Carlo Ferrando, Mauro Lipparini, Burkard Vogtherr, Claesson Koivisto Rune and young designers like Monica Graffeo, producing the Mints chair (Young & Design Award 2004).

Pirelli´s vision to experiment with foam rubber upholstery and nylon cord for the design of innovative seating models and the engagement of Marco Zanuso, who was pioneering the use of different materials and new technologies, was the perfect match. Zanuso’s early experiments with bent metal had already brought him international recognition at the Low-Cost Furniture competition sponsored by the MoMa, New York in 1948; his breakthrough came with his designs made for Arflex. Marco Zanuso (as a designer) and Arflex (as a manufacturer) started out together; the only such case in the history of furnishings in Italy, the outcome of this joint adventure marked the Italian Style of the 1950’s and that of following years. Zanuso designed many iconic furniture pieces not only for Arflex, but also for Zanotta and Kartell between 1947 to the late 1970´s. Arflex is today one of the most experienced furniture manufacturers in the use of foam rubber upholstery.

…to be continued in part # 12

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #10

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Established in 1954, Zanotta SpA is one of the leaders in modern and contemporary Italian furniture design and production. Guided by the insight and entrepreneurship abilities of its founder Aureilio Zanotta, the company flourished in the 60’s and 70’s working with internationally respected architects and designers such as Carlo Mollino, Achille Castiglioni, Marco Zanuso and Bruno Munari. Many of Zanotta’s iconic creations are mentioned in design history books and are displayed in world’s museums. Key designs include the “Mezzadro” Tractor Seat by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, the legendary “Sacco” by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini & Franco Teodoro, the “Leonardo” Work Table created by the Castiglioni’s, and most recently the “Bigwire” Table by Arik Levy in 2007.

Considered to be one of Italy’s most prestigious furniture brands thanks to its emblematic products and technological innovations, Zanotta is known for the use of experimental metals like (aluminum alloy, stainless steel, brass, bronze, etc.), plastics, glass, marble, granite, wood, fabrics and leather to create unique designs. The “Zanotta Edizioni” collection was created in 1989 as a special collection of furnishing items verging on art and design. Freed from the constraints of mass-production, the claim to fame of the furniture pieces included in this collection is that to a great extent they are handmade, reviving and reworking disused techniques, like mosaic, inlay and painted decorations.

Through the decades many internationally famed architects and designers have collaborated with Zanotta like Achille Castiglioni, Gae Aulenti, Marco Zanuso, Ettore Sottsass, Joe Colombo, Alessandro Mendini, Andrea Branzi, Giuseppe Terragni, Carlo Mollino, De Pas-D’Urbino-Lomazzi, Enzo Mari, Bruno Munari, Alfredo Häberli, Werner Asslinger, Todd Bracher, Arik Levy, Noé Duchaufour Lawrance, Roberto Barbieri, Ross Lovegrove, among others. Strategically, Zanotta has also managed to obtain the licenses to produce iconic furniture pieces created early in the 20th century, like Bernard Marstaller´s “Moretta Chair” from 1917 and the “Genni Lounge Chair” designed by Gabriele Mucchi in 1935.


Emblematic products, avant-garde designs, always open to unusual new ideas and ready to experiment with technological innovations, that´s the name of the game. Zanotta is one of Italy’s most prestigious furniture brands. Many of Zanotta´s creations are displayed in major museums (New York’s MOMA and Metropolitan Museum, the Paris Centre George Pompidou, the London Design Museum, Berlin’s Arts and Crafts Museum, the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, etc.), Zanotta has also received legions of prizes for its  achievements, all together key elements to build up a premium brand. Bravo!

…to be continued in part # 11

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.


Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #9

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The innovative Italian furniture firm TECNO S.p.A. was founded in 1953 by Osvaldo and his twin brother Fulgenzio Borsani. Since the early 1920’s Osvaldo´s father, Gaetano Borsani had been running the furniture Atelier Varedo, producing bespoke furniture in line of great deco craftsmanship. In 1932 the company then changed its name to “Arredamenti Borsani Varedo” and opened in Milan. Osvaldo joined the family business as a furniture designer after graduating from the Politecnico di Milano. In the 1940’s he started to experiment with his own designs in collaboration with artists like Aligi Sassu, Agenore Fabbri, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Roberto Crippa, Fausto Melotti, Lucio Fontana and Andrea Cascella, producing some very fine works of art in furnishing and interior architecture.

During the early 1950’s Osvaldo perceived that the bespoke integral interior design projects were paving the way to single pieces of furniture industrially produced: “from craftsmanship to planning – from the atelier to the factory”. In 1954, during the 10th Milan Triennale the newly born TECNO company was introduced with Osvaldo´s Butterfly long seat D70, which together with the Chaise Lounge P40 still are Italian Design icons. As the firm name suggests, TECNO became known for its technology and research-based approach to furniture design. The company soon established itself a reputation for a total commitment on innovation and vanguard design, particularly in the use of metal frames and poly-foam upholstery.

Osvaldo Borsani acted as the company’s sole designer for over 30 years and created most of TECNO’s iconic pieces. From the 1960´s on the company commissioned work from other designers and groups including Carlo De Carli, Gio Ponti and Norman Foster Associates. In 1968 it was the office system “Graphis” (co-designed with Eugenio Gerli, becoming into vogue around the world in a million copies) the spark thanks to which TECNO became a world-leading manufacturer in office design. In 1970 Osvaldo Borsani creates together with Marco Fantoni and Valeria Borsani the “Tecno Design Centre” to experiment with new technologies. Today, TECNO is known for its state of the art furniture for offices and public buildings and has kept a successful project relationship with renowned architects and designers like Gae Aulenti, Emilio Ambasz, Ricardo Bofill, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Piero Lissoni, Rafael Moneo, Jean Nouvel, Sir Richard Rogers, Luca Scacchetti, Justus Kolberg, Jean Michael Wilmotte, Jean Francois Bodin and many others.

From craftsmanship to planning. From an Atelier to a Factory. This quintessential sentence of Osvaldo Borsani comprises the effort of 2 generations of great craftsmen whom as stated, started in an atelier that produced beautiful art deco furniture, a very solid corner stone that Osvaldo and his brother used to build the name of TECNO, based in the formula of technology, innovation and co-designing with great names of the time like Lucio Fontana and Arnaldo Pomodoro (check the prices in auction houses for the Coffee Tables and Cabinets/Bars). But the jewels of the crown, the D70 and the P40 established the rank of Osvaldo as a gifted designer. (The P40 can be adjusted to 486 different positions…). The turning point to a mass production factory occurred in 1968 with the collaboration of Eugenio Gerli on the design of the office system “Graphis”. From then on the company will never be the same, now their core business is furniture for office and public buildings. Now the man in black and tie are happy with the bottom line, but it is sad to think that with all the great names that collaborated with TECNO there are only half a dozen pieces of furniture to be remembered by.

…to be continued in part # 10

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #8

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Artek is a Finnish furniture company founded in 1935 by renowned architect Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino Aalto, visual arts promoter Maire Gullichsen and art historian Nils-Gustav Hahl. The founders chose a non-Finnish name, the neologism Artek was meant to manifest the desire to combine art and technology. This echoed a main idea of the International Style movement, especially the Bauhaus, to emphasize the technical expertise in production and quality of materials, instead of historical-based, eclectic ornamentation. Aalto was innovative and radical and became known for his experimental approach to bending wood. His style became known as human modernism. On the other hand, Aino had a strong, independent input for Artek: she designed some of the classics that are still in production today and also held the role of Managing Director. The core of the Artek product range consists of Alvar Aalto’s furniture and lighting pieces. The company carries on the Aalto tradition and spirit by renewing and re-issuing the designs that outlasts its original owners. Artek’s original values – long-term durability and high quality combined with a clean form language – are still the company’s driving forces.

Since 1992 Artek is owned by the privately held investment company Proventus AB, based in Sweden. The creative hub of the company is Artek STUDIO, the unit where new products and ideas are developed, continuously searching for new materials and questioning existing solutions for sustainable design. Concrete examples are the “2nd Cycle” stools and chairs. The 2nd Cycle collection was introduced in 2007 during the Milan International Furniture Fair, as a statement of conscious consumption. A coded RFID tag embedded in the 2nd Cycle stool records the furniture’s history, stories, as well as information about its origins and authenticity. Few furniture items have achieved such a long and multi-phased life span: Artek’s furnishings have touched the lives of children, students, the elderly – all members of the family, together and separately. These 2nd Cycle items are part of Artek’s environmental strategy and are a proof of authenticity, longevity and the graceful aging process of an original Artek product.

In 2010 the company extended its portfolio with the acquisition of production rights to Ilmari Tapiovaara’s iconic furniture collection. Ilmari Tapiovaara was a great admirer of Alvar Aalto’s work, and he wanted to create products based on the same ideological premises; the integration of his collection into the Artek catalog is a major effort towards joining together renowned Finnish design classics under one umbrella. Artek´s collection range also has some remarkable Tapio Wirkkala, Ville Kokkonen, Ben af Schultén and Nanna Ditzel designs. Today Artek continues to work in close collaboration with prominent international architects, designers and artists, such as Eero Aarnio, Shigeru Ban, Naoto Fukasawa, Harri Koskinen, Juha Leiviskä, Enzo Mari and Tobias Rehberger.

Architect, critic, designer, entrepreneur, husband and friend but more than anything, somebody with a desire for expressing all these in wood, the main reason for what he pursued something that at that time was almost a dream: bending solid birch wood (the most abundant natural resource in Finland) in any angle desired. Extensive experimentation was performed; the successful result was the “bent knee” or “L-leg” with patents all over the world, becoming thus an inventor. This technique enabled him to express in wood the forms learned from Bauhaus like the cantilever which he used extensively in his designs and also was able to propose a wood solution to Breuer´s Model B3 chair  and many other great designs. Concerned with “humanizing architecture” he rejected artificial materials such as steel tubing for his furniture. Wood was for him a “form-inspiring, profoundly human material”. The span of his career from the 1920´s to the 1970´s is reflected in the styles of his work, ranging from Nordic Classicism of his early work, to a purist International Style Modernism during the 1930´s, to a more organic and personal modernist style from the 1940´s onwards. What is typical for his entire career, however, is a concern for design as a “whole”; whereby he – together with his first wife Aino – would design not just the building, but give special treatments to the interior surfaces and design furniture, lamps, furnishings and glassware. Alvar Aalto’s organic formal language inspired many designers after him.

…to be continued in part # 9

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #7

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Knoll was founded in 1938 by Hans G. Knoll, a German immigrant to the U.S., and son of one of Germany’s pioneer manufacturers of modern furniture. Educated in England and Switzerland, Hans Knoll was familiar with the Bauhaus and with many of the seminal figures in 20th century design and architecture, including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Starting from scratch, Knoll slowly built up a roster of respected designers and a catalog of impressive furniture designs. In 1943 Knoll furniture hired Florence Schust, a designer with bright ideas who had worked with European masters. In 1946, Florence Schust and Hans Knoll married and formed Knoll Associates. Their major breakthrough came shortly after they were married when they were hired to design the Rockefeller family offices in Rockefeller Plaza. The job was heralded as a benchmark for office designs of the day, and it became a springboard for Hans and Florence into other high-profile office design jobs. Since the beginning of their partnership, Florence played a critical role in the development and direction of the company. It was her concept to take a Bauhaus approach to furniture design: to offer objects that represented design excellence, technological innovation and mass production. Together, Hans and Florence Knoll searched for and nurtured talented designers; they believed strongly that designers should be credited by name and paid royalties for their work, a tradition which continues at Knoll today. With the extensive European and American design contacts of Florence and Hans, the company’s products took on an international flavor. They brought in architects Eero Saarinen and Franco Albini, and worked with artists such as Harry Bertoia, Jens Risom and Isamu Noguchi to develop a collection of furnishings that are now widely recognized as classics in the pantheon of modern design.

Knoll made a masterful move in 1953 when they came to an agreement with Mies van der Rohe for the exclusive manufacturing and sales rights to his furniture. His collection includes the Krefeld Collection, the MR Chaise Lounge, and the world famous Barcelona Chair. By 1968 another important event took place in Knoll´s history when Knoll International purchased The Gavina Group of Bologna. Founded in 1949 in Bologna, an Italian furniture production company established to manufacture and sell experimental works by local unknown designers, Gavina had won over the years the elite of Italian design, including the Castiglioni brothers, Vico Magistretti, Mario Bellini, Marco Zanuso and Luigi Caccia Dominioni. In 1968 however, its founder, Dino Gavina was forced to sell the company and Knoll International purchased it. With the takeover, all the Gavina glorious designs, Kazuhide Takahama and Tobia Scarpa’s sofas, Cini Boeri’s tables and the Marcel Breuer furniture (including the Wassily Chair) went into the Knoll catalogue.

After Hans Knoll’s death in 1955, Florence Knoll assumed the leadership of the company, until 1960. In 1965, she withdrew from the industry completely, leaving Knoll it in the hands of those she had trained and inspired. Since then Knoll has expanded both within the United States and internationally. The company that Florence Knoll Bassett started with her husband, Hans, in 1946, is still one of the most influential design houses in the world, and the 3rd largest manufacturer of custom furniture.

Knoll´s visionary management strategy to secure the exclusive production rights of most qualified and famous designers proved to be very successful. Knoll has the rights today to manufacture and sell products by Mies van der Rohe (the Barcelona collection), Harry Bertoia (the Bertoia wire chairs), Marcel Breuer (the Wassily chair), Eero Saarinen (the Tulip chair), Warren Platner (Lounge collection), Jens Risom (the Risom lounge chair) and many others.

Knoll introduced its successful KnollStudio collection in 1985. This line, which was designed for executive offices and residences, integrates classic icons of modern furniture by renowned designers like Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen and other reputable designers. Currently Knoll keeps a very long list of prominent designers that work or have worked for Knoll such as: Raul de Armas, Alvar Aalto, Paul Aferiat, Franco Albini, Don Albinson, Davis Allen, Emilio Ambasz, Gae Aulenti, Hans Bellman, Cini Boeri, Antonio Bonet, Achille Castiglioni, Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Pepe Cortès, Joseph D’Urso, Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy, Gianfranco Frattini, Frank Gehry, Hans Wegner, Robert Venturi, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Iimari Tapiovaara, Kazuhide Takahama, Tobia Scarpa, Jens Risom, Ralph Rapson, Warren Platner, Gio Ponti, Don Petitt, Vico Magistretti, Donald R. Knorr, Pierre Jeanneret, Florence Knoll Bassett, Piero Lissoni, Isamu Noguchi, George Nakashima, Bill Stephens, Arne Jacobsen, Ettore Sottsass and many others…

With an all star roster with names like those mentioned above, with furniture icons like the ones all these geniuses designed and with the great moves like dealing in person with Mies van der Rohe the exclusive manufacturing and sales rights for his furniture and acquiring The Gavina Group profiting from their designers portfolio including the famous Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair I bet you that this is the Group that you would like to own for sure! The funny thing is that what started as a dream of a couple that by the way she is the one that pioneered the concept of a system in which she had long meetings with the clients to get feedback of their needs, expectations and so on (Marketing on the stage of what the client really demands..) and then producing furniture to fulfill all his dreams, coincidentally this is one of the reasons why she designed some pieces of furniture. He on the other hand, succeeded on his share of the dream giving credit by name and paid royalties the designers he hired for their masterpieces and remained focused on the manufacturing end of the business. But this fairy tale lasted profitable until the late 1970’s thanks to the introduction of the first open office furniture system in 1973, The Stephens System, designed by Bill Stephens; and then a number of new owners came and apparently none of them had the brain, imagination or knowledge of the industry, but there were lousy financial results for more than a decade to the point in which Westinghouse was not able to get rid of this Group that was losing tons of Dollars. This is an example of preeminent designs – the icon – to name it – that by far are more important than the brand that produced them, the copycats of the series like the Wassily, Barcelona, Tulip, Diamond, Platner Collection, etc. easily exceed the millions of each one. But this is no news, by the 1950’s Knoll stopped production of the B.K.F. Hardoy Sling chair because more than 5 million copies of the chair were estimated to have been produced by numerous manufacturers at the time.

The Knoll couple made great Marketing for their designs but apparently failed in educating customers to buy the brand that owns the rights. Unfortunately this is an endemic disease for human kind. Fortunately the only person that can admire an authentic KNOLL produced furniture piece and be overwhelmed by that is the one that knows that you own an underwhelming knockoff!

…to be continued in part # 8

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

Building up an icon (mass produced) – Part #6

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The London based ISOKON firm was founded in 1929 to design and construct modernist houses and flats, which later led to furniture and fittings for them. Originally Isokon was called Wells Coates and Partners, stemmed from an association between Jack Pritchard of the Venesta Plywood Company and the designer and architect Wells Coates; then in 1931 the name was changed to Isokon Furniture Co., London, a name derived from Isometric Unit Construction, bearing an allusion to Constructivism. Isokon was probably the most forward-thinking British furniture manufacturer of the 1930´s. Jack Pritchard, an admiring visitor to Le Corbusier’s French villa Les Terraces, the Finnish factory of the great plywood pioneer Alvar Aalto and the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany, felt that plywood was the ideal material for introducing modernist design to the masses.

Pritchard employed a succession of continental Modernists to work for his furniture company. He appointed Walter Gropius, former head of the Bauhaus Controller of Design for Isokon in 1935, at the same time, he convinced Jack Marcel Breuer to design furniture in plywood, although Breuer was a pioneer on the tubular steel design, he immediately accepted the challenge to design in this material and started his association with Isokon. László Moholy-Nagy, another former Bauhaus teacher also became involved with Isokon when he landed in Britain. In 1937 Gropius left for USA and the obvious step was that Breuer succeeds Gropius as Controller of Design for Isokon. By the time Breuer left for greater architectural feats to the USA in 1938, he had produced 5 classic pieces for Isokon including the iconic Long Chair. In 1939 Arthur Korn and Egon Riss join Isokon. Some of the company’s most famous designs from the 1930´s, (still in production today) include elegant ranges of tables, chairs and stools, Breuer’s famous Long Chair – (a low recliner based on a model he had originally developed in metal) – and the intriguingly-named and unique Penguin Donkey, designed by Egon Riss with Pritchard. All Isokon furniture exploited the strength and lightness of bent plywood. However, Isokon was never commercially successful and the end came with World War II when its supply of plywood was cut off. The Isokon Furniture Company ceased production in 1939.

In 1963 Jack Pritchard revived the Isokon Furniture Company. Changes in the manufacture of plywood meant a redesign of some of the key pieces in the Isokon portfolio for which Pritchard hired British furniture designer Ernest Race. In 1968, Pritchard licensed John Alan Designs to produce the Long Chair, Nesting Tables and the Penguin Donkey 2 which the company manufactured until 1980. In 1982, Chris McCourt of Windmill Furniture took over the license to manufacture Isokon pieces. Since 1999, this furniture has been sold through the retail arm of Windmill’s, Isokon Plus in Chiswick, London. Although still producing most of the original designs, the company’s work with new designers has generated some great successes. The first furniture to be added to the Isokon portfolio in over 50 years was designed by Barber Osgerby. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby had recently graduated from the Royal College of Art when they designed their first piece, the Loop Table, in 1996. The iconic bent plywood design was to be the first of several furniture pieces that the designers created for Isokon Plus. Last but not least, Michael Sodeau’s Wing side board range is also one of the newest additions to the catalog.

Plywood for good or evil till death do us part. Isokon scored a major hit in the 1930´s with Breuer´s plywood designs, although financially unprofitable they managed to survive the recession and World War II forced the end of their first life chapter. By 1963 Jack Pritchard, by the way, an example of vision, endurance and stubbornness, started to write the second chapter of his company with the help of the British designer Ernest Rice. He managed to improve and update the portfolio of the company to name examples: the joinery of Breuer´s Long Chair and the Penguin Donkey Bookcase re-design, the (‘Mark 2’), etc. but Pritchard remained faithful to plywood. Interestingly enough, he came back in time to share a piece of the growing market of plywood furniture designs, we know that by 1956 the Eames launched their plywood Lounge Chair (670) and Ottoman (671) and Isokon Plus keeps producing nowadays only plywood furniture when the use of it has become politically and environmentally correct. Now sharing the limelight with designers like Julia Krantz that only uses plywood, this is definitively and example of a company that shows no need to diversify or experiment in new materials. It is important to remark, that it took over 50 years to the brand to introduce into their catalog a new design, of course, made in plywood.

…to be continued in part # 7

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

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