Form from Normann Copenhagen

FORM at northmodern in january

 

The Form range designed by Simon Legald has just been launched by Normann Copenhagen. There are two chair designs in moulded plastic - a straightforward side chair or dining chair and a shell chair - and bar stools in two heights. There are two tables - one square and one a large rectangle and both with linoleum tops.

Stated factually like that the reaction might be “so what?” 

Well then you start adding in the variables or the options available.

All the chairs and stools are made in a choice of six colours and, as with all products from Normann, the colours are striking, very very carefully chosen and, again as with so many Normann ranges now, work well together so, for instance, if you had a set of matched chairs around a kitchen or dining-room table but chose a different colour for kitchen stools and occasionally brought in a chair from another room, say a desk chair, in a different colour, for an extra guest it still all seems to work. And here what is really important is that seats, fittings and table tops all match … almost the same colour is not good enough for Normann.

Then you start looking at the various options for the legs. Tables and chairs and stools all come with either beautifully made and sensibly robust wood legs … and by robust I don’t mean clunky but solid enough to suggest both quality and strength ... or metal legs. In wood there is also a choice between oak or walnut … so picking up on a growing preference for darker timbers for furniture. As chairs and stools can also have legs in powder-coated steel, colour-matched to the seats, if my maths is right, there are 36 possible options for a chair. For the stools with six colours, there are actually two heights offered (65cm and 75cm) so with either steel legs or oak or walnut legs that again makes 36 different possible combinations for colour, height and legs.

 

 

In the space of the show room, which tends to distort scale, the square table looks as if it would serve well as a kitchen table or for a small dining room but actually at 120cm x 120cm it is a good and quite generous and comfortable size and would be a very good main dining table for four. The rectangular table is 95cm wide and 200 long so again generous.

It is as you begin to look at the details of the furniture that you can begin to appreciate the quality of both the design and the manufacture. There are clever metal housings for the legs that fix to the underside of the seats of the stools and chairs or, in a different form but using the same principle, to the underside of the table that are then covered with a plastic sleeve matching the colour of the seat or the table top. The sleeve on the chairs is a curved inverted cone so reduces down to the exact diameter of the top of the leg. It almost appears as if the wooden legs are emerging from the plastic housing and curiously seems much more satisfactory than where, in other plastic chairs, a wood leg fits flush with the underside of the seat using a hidden fitting or using a metal plate that is screwed to the top of the leg and then fixed to the underside of the seat.

The wood legs, are solid and set at an angle, splayed slightly out, so that reinforces the impression of stability but also gives the tables their very elegant profile.

The steel legs for the chairs and stools are obviously thinner but equally well made to form a well-proportioned frame and these give the chairs a very different character ... not worse or better but simply different. The style with metal legs tunes into the interest in designs from the 1960s and 70s and also gives an option that is more minimalist ... more structured and more like an engineered design. The version of the side chair in white with a white steel leg frame is absolutely stunning for a stark, sharp, architectural interior and the soft grey colour combination is pretty stylish. In fact the problem would actually be trying to decide which colour combination you didn't like. This is not hyperbole ... this range of colours and the way they modify the appearance and style of the chair makes it an incredibly flexible piece. That is actually one huge strength with Danish design ... there is a very long tradition of mixing and matching styles and periods within Danish homes. Modern pieces can be used as a point of contrast or as a discussion piece within a traditional, historic room setting, for instance a room with old panelling, or the same piece can be used in an uncompromisingly modern and spot-on-the-minute interior set against glass, steel and concrete. Or anything in between.

Cross bars or cross rails in both the wood option and the steel leg system are at the same height and in the same configuration giving both chairs a strong visual link that makes them clear siblings - variations on a theme.

Plastic for the shells of the seats of the Form chairs and stools is polypropylene and appears to be of an extremely high quality both in the moulding and the finish - all lugs and seams from the moulding process are removed - and the seats are surprisingly thick and reassuringly heavy but with an appropriate flexibility to make them comfortable … there is nothing more uncomfortable or disconcerting than plonking down onto a seat that stolidly refuses to give a millimetre. This flexing, in the Form seats, is achieved by carefully modifying the thickness of the plastic in certain areas - thinner plastic having obviously more flexibility and thicker parts of the shell providing rigidity where it is needed.

Look at the dining chair from above or the shell chair from the side and you will see that the edges of the seat and the profile are beautifully curved - is this technically a compound curve?Whatever it is in terms of geometry, the shape is very beautiful and I don't think I've ever said that about a plastic chair before. And the shell chair has generous proportions so you don’t feel wedged into the seat. The back of the stool curves up to provide an element of support. Well actually, I don't mean support. To be less polite I actually mean that the up-stand stops your backside sliding back to overhang the seat and the upper body slouching forward ... or is that just me that ends up like that on a bar stool?

The tables have cross rails just below the top, so not acting as a frame, and again this makes the profile of the tables much more sophisticated. Presumably this is only possible because of the strength and quality of the engineering of the knuckle joint at the top of the legs. The weaker this joint the further down the cross rails would have to be to stop the legs moving outwards when weight is put on the top.

On the rectangular tables, the rail on the long sides is broken by a central support with the same colour of plastic for the sleeve. Again this actually seems clever and well thought through as it not only gives intermediate support and strength but marks, in a subtle way, the likely place-settings with two people on each long side. As with the chairs, the sides of the table tops, in plan, are a beautifully-constructed gentle curve with generous rounded corners … rather than being straight and angular. Some modern tables look mean and sharp with tightly curved corners and thin table tops but not the Form table.

 

 

The top of the table is covered with linoleum in the same range of colours as the chair shells but the edge is wood and here carefully given an ovolo moulding rather than a crude basic chamfer.

Here I guess is my only criticism of the design … and it is nit picking ... but more than anything I’m just curious about this particular design decision. When you look at the ends of the rectangular table or two opposing ‘ends’ of the square table top you see a series of end grains or blocks along the table edge, all properly moulded and finished, which implies that the whole table top is in block board. In fact it is medium density fibre board with a wooden lip. At the final fence this is, for me, a slight stumble. This is not actually, in design terms, honest - all that form follows function theory stuff - but for me, just for this small detail the integrity of the design is undermined. A fibre-board top is perfectly acceptable … in fact in most ways better than a block-board top … and a wood edge is reasonable and right but why not take the same side grain all the way round?

While you are crouched down, looking at the underside of the table, take a look at the way the leg units are carefully recessed into the underside of the top and not just screwed to the face of the board. Again quality of design and quality of execution.

Publicity material states that the design and development of this range took Simon Legald and the Normann team three years of hard work and focused effort. That effort has achieved results that really do deserve to succeed and the Form Collection certainly sets a new and very very high standard for this type of dining room furniture.