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10 things you might not know about designer furniture

10 min read

Did you know that the Panton Chair was rejected by 20 manufacturers before Vitra took a (successful) gamble with it? And that the Smoke Chair might as well be nicknamed the Phoenix considering how it’s made? Read on for more fun facts you might not know! This is the last of a six-part series that will give you the 101 on original designer furniture.

By Low Shi Ping

The Panton Chair was rejected 20 times for being too daring

Brand: Vitra
Designer: Verner Panton
Retailer: W. Atelier
Photo credit: Vitra

It is a chair that is as coveted as it is recognised the world over. But did you know that the plastic-only cantilever chair was rejected by 20 manufacturers for being too daring when Verner Panton designed it in the late 1950s? It was only when Rolf Fehlbaum, son of the Vitra founding family, spotted the prototype in Panton’s studio that the chair finally went into production. Ten prototypes and years of research later, a small pilot series of just 150 pieces was manufactured in 1967 to great success. Unfortunately, production was discontinued in 1979 due to quality issues. It was only when advancements were made in plastics technology and injection moulding in the 1990s that the project was resumed. Perhaps the greatest tragedy was that Panton died shortly before the chair was presented in polypropylene in 1999.

The iconic Polder Sofa was designed by a sofa-hater

Brand: Vitra
Designer: Hella Jongerius
Retailer: W. Atelier
Photo credit: Vitra

Did you know that Dutch designer Hella Jongerius – most famous for injecting colours into the furniture she designs – hates sofas? When asked by Vitra’s then-CEO Rolf Fehlbaum to design one in 2004, she replied: “I hate sofas, big blocks of foam – I never see a sofa that I like.” Thankfully, Fehlbaum stood his ground; he threw her the gauntlet of designing one that she would like. A year later, the Polder Sofa was born. Its asymmetrical structure evokes the reclaimed flatlands of her home country, wrapped in a variety of colours and fabrics, and has since become an icon in the Vitra Home Collection.

The LC4 Chaise Longue was inspired by our bodies

Brand: Cassina
Designers: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand
Retailer: Space Furniture

The LC4 Chaise Longue was born from three designers’ desire to create a piece of furniture that would be subservient to the human form. Above all, they wanted the person who reclines on it to do nothing but relax. Designed in 1928 and made famous in 1965 through Cassina, this iconic piece is a balance between geometric purity and ergonomic intent. The stability of the bow-shaped frame is made possible through rubber tubes that cover the cross bar of the base.

PK means it’s a Poul Kjearholm piece

Brand: Fritz Hansen
Designer: Poul Kjearholm
Retailer: W. Atelier

If you’ve ever wondered why some furniture by Fritz Hansen carries the prefix of “pk”, for example, the pk22TM easy chair, wonder no more. It means it was designed by Danish designer Poul Kjearholm. The production and sales of his furniture designs developed from 1951 to 1967 have been managed by Fritz Hansen since 1982. The Danish design company is therefore the guardian of the works of this former employee of theirs (Kjearholm worked for them for just over a year in 1952, during which he also designed several chair prototypes). Another fun fact: the numbers attached to the prefix change according to the typology of furniture, such as lounge chair, daybed and table. For example, PK9 is a leather chair inspired by the hip shape of Kjearholm’s wife when she sat on the sand at the beach.

Much inner strength the Tense table has

Brand: MDF Italia
Designers: Piergiorgio and Michele Cazzaniga
Retailer: P5

MDF Italia has designed a table that is available in different lengths – up to an impressive 4 metres. In spite of its name, the Tense looks light and airy with its 35mm-thin top and slim frame that belies a highly-sophisticated internal structure. All this is achieved by painstaking research into the use of materials and their tensioning capacities. The Cazzaniga brothers, who conceptualised it, say the genesis of the piece was “to design by simplifying, to extrapolate the essence”. The result: a sense of lightness, modernity and stability.

The Smoke Chair gets fired up before you sit on it

Brand: Moooi
Designer: Maarten Baas
Retailer: Space Furniture

Conceptualised as part of Maarten Baas’s graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 2002, the Smoke Chair was made by burning solid wood and finished with a clear epoxy resin to render it usable. Baas’s intention was to question the perception of beauty, “In nature, everything is in flux, which creates a certain beauty. Yet, it’s a very human tendency to keep things as they are supposed to be and keep them beautiful as they originally were.” Beneath the seat is a repair kit that can be used in case of emergencies.

Nendo’s N02 Recycle Chair is trash

Brand: Fritz Hansen
Designer: nendo
Retailer: W. Atelier

Launched in 2019, this simple and elegant chair is Fritz Hansen’s first contribution towards the circular economy. Its shell is made from household plastic waste collected in central Europe and then processed to form the seat. At the end of its life cycle, the plastic can be recycled again. Japanese studio nendo was inspired to create this through the simple creasing of a piece of paper on the designers’ work table. It is available in a range of seven colours commonly found in the Nordic landscape.

There’s an easy way to move the hefty Arco

Brand: Flos
Designers: Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni
Retailer: Space Furniture

Don’t let the curved stainless-steel adjustable stem and spun aluminium reflector of the Arco distract you from the real genius of this floor lamp. A strategically-placed hole in its base allows it to be lifted by inserting a broom handle through it. Made of Carrera marble, the base is heavy, doubling as a counterweight. It even has bevelled corners to prevent injury if one brushes against it. In production since 1962, it was inspired by streetlights and subtly inserts itself into a space without taking the spotlight.

Don’t blink when you blow up the Up5_6 Armchair

Brand: B&B Italia
Designer: Gaetano Pesce
Retailer: Space Furniture

This icon made its debut in 1969 at the Milan Furniture Fair, making waves for its “big bosom and large behind” design. Order one and the most surprising thing is when it arrives, it is at one-tenth its original volume, having been vacuum-compressed at the factory. When the packaging is removed, the armchair inflates to its final shape, thanks to the presence of Freon gas in the polyurethane blend that it is made of. This is an irreversible process and a true sight to behold. Don’t blink.

The Vegetal Chair took four years to design

Brand: Vitra
Designers: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
Retailer: W. Atelier
Photo credit: Vitra

When it was presented in 2008, the Vegetal was declared as the most technically-challenging chair that Vitra had ever manufactured. Driven by an interest in organic shapes, the designers – a pair of brothers – wanted the piece to mimic the natural branching pattern of plants, while serving all the expected functions of a chair. The most difficult part was to ensure the chair could be produced industrially and yet still retain a certain spontaneity and fluidity in its form. The brothers took four years of research and iteration to figure out a way to produce the ideal form commercially. “Vegetal could not have existed without the technical sophistication of modern software, in the same way that it could not have moved on from the finesse intrinsic to the stages of design drawing by hand. It is the close association of these two processes that has been so special,” said the duo.


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One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
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