3daysofdesign - thoughts and themes

REPUBLIC OF Fritz Hansen - Pakhus 48, Nordhavn

 

3daysofdesign, the big event in Copenhagen last week, was an amazing opportunity to see the very best of the furniture and design companies in the city at their very best. Over forty shops and design studios and manufacturers opened their doors for three days with open house, talks, displays and demonstrations. There was a fair bit of walking and, maybe, I did too much talking because I did not actually manage to tick off my list a visit to all the companies but, living in the city, I plan to get to the companies I missed over the summer or catch up with people at Northmodern later in the summer.

I was amazed by what I saw … these companies, some long established, like Getama or Rud. Rasmussen and some set up within the last two or three years had in common a huge and honestly transparent enthusiasm for their work and their products but also there was a very clear sense of a design community in the city. Nearly everyone knows everyone else but if there are rivalries they are well hidden. If foreign buyers or foreign companies want to understand why and how the design industry here is so strong and has such a broad base and such a huge diversity of styles and designs, all at the highest possible level in terms of quality, then this event would be a good starting point.

There were a number of clear themes that seemed to emerge as I worked my way around the city … these included a new and general move towards strong colours; a move towards using darker timbers alongside the ever-popular light oak, the emergence of a number of companies producing designs in metal in a refined and elegant style that takes the furniture closer to engineering and the growing importance of contract designs … not so much the idea of furnishing banks or offices but now the aim is to work with architects and interior designers on high-profile hotels and restaurants that not only gain attention from glossy magazines but also introduce new customers - the people staying in the hotels or eating in the renowned restaurant - to a designers or a manufacturers chairs, tables or lighting.

Several of the events were in the city centre stores such as at Carl Hansen on Bredgade or in the showroom of Louis Poulsen on Gammel Strand but all had newly-released designs to show, often a first general viewing after the Milan furniture fair. 

There were several outstanding venues particularly, of course, The Silo but this was my first visit to the showrooms out to the dockland regeneration at Nordhavn and the Pakhus buildings including Fritz Hansen, Gubi and Arper and the textile company Kvadrat. and it really is impressive ... though slightly difficult to get to through the building works and ever changing road layout of the development area. But even this seems completely relevant ... a proactive planning system and a dynamic building programme are without doubt a major driving force for the furniture and interiors industries. A number of important Danish architectural practices work with design companies and furniture manufacturers - not just designing new show spaces but in some cases designing furniture or product ranges - for instance the architectural practice Norm with Menu and &Tradition.

 

 

Nyt i Bo, the major and well-established furniture shop on Store Kongensgade had cleared away their stock and converted the broad run of window space to a large exhibition area where they hosted displays by Flos, the lighting company and MA/U Studio, a new design company producing shelving and tables (more of them in a later post). 

Through the courtyard there was more and the apartments in the building above and running down to the corner, reached either through Nyt i Bo itself or from a separate entrance from Frederiksgade, has a rapidly-growing community of designers, studios and showrooms. The anchor company is Getama who take up I think three of the large original apartments on an upper floor to show their furniture in a succession of rooms that were recently redecorated in appropriate and striking colour schemes with the Danish paint company Flügger. On lower floors are the kitchen designers &SHUFL, the new design company for tiles and wall panels called FILE UNDER POP, the furniture company ONECOLLECTION and the furniture company PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED. It’s a phrase I don’t really like but here it seems appropriate to describe this building as a 'design destination'. It is amazing now but when the works for the metro are completed and there is a metro station immediately outside then the potential for this area would seem to be extremely promising … to rather understate the obvious.

 

Frederiksgade 1 ... slightly lost behind the construction works for the Metro

 

For me perhaps the most interesting opening was for the new Rud. Rasmussen showroom that is opposite the Carl Hansen showroom on Bredgade. The display area is on two floors, the street level and the basement, but is very small. The main promotion is for the Faaborg chair by Kaare Klint and a work bench has been reconstructed to show just how much work and how much craftsmanship goes into the production of these chairs.

 

To follow over the next couple of days are a number of separate posts on some of the companies and designers visited and a number of the more obvious developments and themes of the 3daysofdesign event.

 

 

Goods

 

It might seem a bit odd to start a series of posts about independent design shops in Copenhagen with a men’s clothing shop but Goods is included because it shows really well just how pervasive good design is in the city … for shops that means using good graphics for signs, packaging and publicity, having carefully-considered and stylish fittings in the shop along with, of course, a strong sense of design and an understanding of the taste and the design heritage of the city. It is an essential part of retail here … for the selling of clothes, books, bread or bikes. Good design here is not something you might or might not consider like an optional extra - it is just assumed that you should and will do things properly - but equally it’s something, curiously, that you usually only comment on if someone is oddly ambivalent about design or just gets it wrong.

Kasper Hostrup gets it right. He opened Goods in 2008 and has just relaunched his web site so that it is not just a catalogue of the clothing that he sells. There are also customer profiles and a guide to local shops that have a similar motivation to select carefully what they sell using their experience, extensive knowledge of the manufacturers and a good judgement of quality along with a clear idea of what their customers want and buy. A very careful balancing act.

Back in 2012 Kasper was interviewed by Selectism online magazine and produced for them a local guide to this part of the city that included restaurants, the local park and the local swimming pool.

As well as clothing, Goods sells a good range of accessories including leather bags and so on and design and fashion magazines but also has simple but well-designed and well-made stools, benches and storage units from Plain Crafts. There is one of their benches outside the shop and it is well used by locals. This is typical of Copenhagen … to spread out onto the pavement.

All that and the bag that you get when you buy something from Goods sums up what I am trying to say but says it succinctly.

 

 

Goods, Østerbrogade 44, 2100 Copenhagen, Denmark

Cinnober

 

A small independent bookshop in the centre of the city on the north side of the Round Tower in Copenhagen. 

Here the focus is on graphic design, illustration, street art, fashion and industrial design along with limited-edition prints, illustrations and paper products such as boxes and binders.

The web site and the newsletter is beautiful with observations and reviews and comments about books and prints to show why they have been carefully selected for the shop. 

 


Cinnober, Landemærket 9, 1119 Copenhagen K, Denmark

Playtype

 

A Danish brand and design agency, e-Types was founded in 2010. They established a type foundry and also have an on-line store and a small shop on the west side of the city in Værnedamsvej where they sell lettering and type on posters, mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts and stationery along with magazines and books about type. Theirs is probably the only shop sign I have seen that gives you a reference to the typeface.

If you think that all sounds rather specialised and esoteric then think again because, in many ways, if you are interested in design and trying to understand more - trying to work out what makes one thing good design and another bad design - when you would actually be hard pressed to describe the difference - then typefaces and fonts are a good place to begin. For a start graphic design and type are universal so it is easy to find good and bad examples. Just compare a good quality newspaper or magazine with confused and muddled and badly printed advertising that is pushed into your mail box. Or look at a book that is a pleasure to read - not just text as words and meaning but pages that look good and where you can find your way quickly and easily aroud the page and compare that with one that looks chaotic and is actually difficult to read or do the same with shop signs or road signs to decide which ones are well designed. 

Again there is a bench outside Playtype and people sit here to drink coffee from one of the nearby coffee places and local people from the neighbouring furniture shops and book shops and so on stop and chat. The staff or the partners, over from the main office, may well be there. That’s how I got talking to Rasmus Ibfelt, one of the directors of the company … happy to talk even though I was disturbing his coffee break.

What Playtype shows above all is that at every level and in every way, good design is about communicating … not least the idea of using good design to help communicate complex ideas or important information.

 

 

Playtype, Værnedamsvej 6, 1620 Copenhagen V, Denmark

Next Door

 

The full name of this shop in Østerbro is NEXT DOOR Recycle your rooms. Christine Løschenkohl Holm and Christine Heiberg sell furniture, ceramics, glassware and rugs and textiles mainly dating from the mid 20th century. The shop opened last summer but is already well established.

They have agents scouting for good pieces and they use an Instagram site and Squarepics and Iconosquare well as a very appropriate ways to show customers what has just arrived in the shop. The turn round of stock is rapid … I walk past here a couple of times a week to get to my local coffee shop or to look into Goods … and it is always beautifully arranged.

One really strong characteristic of Danish homes is the way that good design is mixed with skill to match Classic mid-century design with current pieces or to have starkly modern pieces of furniture in old rooms with panelling and ornate plasterwork or to use antique pieces in starkly modern glass and steel apartments.

What is unusual at Next Door is the striking and confident use of strong colour and strong pattern that has not been a part of typical Danish design for many years. Probably the style is closer to that found in Sweden in shops like Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm. The team at Next Door told me that one aim for the shop is to encourage people to use colour and pattern with more confidence. To help they also offer a design and advice service.

 

Next Door Dag Hammardkjölds Alle 33, 2100 Copenhagen Ø

Kitub

 

The web site for the shop has the heading KITUB a small shop in Copenhagen … and it is small … but it is has a good and really interesting selection of hand-made ceramics, small ceramic sculptures, textiles, wall hangings and clothing. 

For me, what makes this shop particularly important is that it carefully occupies an interesting middle ground … many of the pieces sold here are by local craftsmen and are hand made but the aesthetic is very much the clean, straightforward lines and the appropriate use of colour and restrained pattern found in most classic Danish design but usually now associated with large-scale manufacturing.

As at Next Door, Mette Sørensen, the owner of Kitub, uses Instagram and Pinterest to keep customers updated. The Instagram site is really very good. Generally, I’m not a great fan of Instagram … I get annoyed by selfies and too many photos that should be headed “heh look what I’m doing now” … but the photos on the Kitub Instagram site are carefully produced and include good details of textiles and ceramics that are taken under natural light in the shop, and are all the better for that, but there are also some photographs of local scenes; photographs from visits to workshops and studios; photos of art in local galleries and so on that all help to explain the taste and the interests that lie behind the selection for the shop. 

What I think I can see here is that shops like Kitub are carefully curated … they cannot compete head on with big design retailers in terms of range or amount of stock but, like an art gallery, they can sell their expertise and sell a clear and specific understanding of their chosen areas of design. When I discussed this with Mette she looked slightly sceptical … I got the impression that maybe I was making it all seem too precious. 

As with the other independent shops in Copenhagen, described in these posts, there is a strong sense of being in and of the community. When you are in Kitub local people going by wave or stick their head round the door to say hello and chat. This close relationship extends to a strong bond with the makers and craftspeople whose work is sold here. On one visit I arrived for the tail end of a discussion between Mette and a potter about what was selling well and just why and, looking forward, what colours and glazes might be tried for local customers … a really good form of feed back.

 

Kitub, Classensgade 10 ST TV, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark

Kitub on Instagram

DANSKmadeforrooms

 

DANSKmadeforrooms is in the rapidly changing Vesterbro area of Copenhagen. In fact it is now two shops a few doors apart. The main shop has furniture, art, books and magazines and lamps while the second shop has kitchenware and glass and table ceramics. 

This is a very different Danish taste …  still clean and well designed pieces but thinner, more industrial in inspiration but elegant … much of the furniture is metal … it’s sort of stripped back but almost delicate. Certainly very very refined. You get a very strong idea of the aesthetic and the sense of style that drives the shop by just looking at their web site. This is the style and aesthetic also found in furniture from the Copenhagen company Frama so it is not surprising that Dansk sell their stools. This is certainly Danish design but not within the tradition of the cabinetmakers serving comfortable middle-class Copenhagen families.

What is also interesting and unusual for Copenhagen is that many of the pieces are not Danish although without any doubt they have been chosen carefully because they still respect an essentially Classic Danish taste. It is the idea of trying different directions with design here so things do not become complacent. This brings in ideas from other designers and from other countries and says heh … what about this? … what if we give these a Danish twist?

The kitchen shop has concrete floors and industrial shelving to display a good, unusual and very interesting selection of items including storage containers in thin industrial glass, enamelled cookware and storage containers, cutlery and very elegant serving spoons and forks. Some of the pieces are from Japan but then you realise that these don’t stand out immediately so you can see here an interesting exchange of ideas between Japanese and Scandinavian designers … a sense of overlapping taste and a two-way exchange of ideas for the way natural materials can be used and about the way appropriate forms evolve. 

 

DANSKmadeforrooms, Istedgade 80, 1650 Copenhagen V, Denmark

DANSKkitchen, Istedgade 64, 1650 Copenhagen V, Denmark

Anne Black

This shop is different again and certainly different in its business model. Anne Black is primarily a ceramic company supplying selected shops throughout the world. The pieces are designed in Denmark but produced by hand in their factory in Vietnam.

Obviously, the Copenhagen store on Gammel Kongevej stocks a good range of the ceramics, but they do not dominate the store … in fact far from it. Again, as with the other independent shops in the city, there is a very strong sense of a personal taste behind the selection of pieces that includes women’s clothing (there is now a separate shop for men’s clothing a few doors down) but also French furniture, unusual glass light fittings, textiles, magazines and a very good selection of glassware for the table.

 

 

Anne Black, Gammel Kongevej 103, 1850 Frederiksberg, Denmark

The Shop Of The New

Slightly out of Copenhagen along the coast to the north, at the north end of the main street in Hellerup, is The Shop of the New. This opened at the end of last summer and is in fact the store for the Copenhagen furniture makers Københavns Møbelsnedkeri who have their workshops in Islands Brygge - the area on the east side of the inner harbour in Copenhagen and immediately beyond Christianshavn.

Again the style is probably not what is immediately recognised as Classic Danish although what is clear in the design of the furniture is the Danish love of and deep respect for wood and craftsmanship. I hope to talk to some of the craftsmen at the workshop at some stage but until then what I can see is that there is a deliberate stepping back from current Danish design. Not stepping away but stepping back in time and returning to earlier principles and earlier methods of design and production. The photograph in the shop and on their web site, with the craftsmen from the company dressed and posed to look as if it was taken a century ago, is clearly tongue in cheek - funny and ironic - but actually a very clear statement about returning to earlier principles. This is not nostalgia. This is saying that if you feel concerned or feel that something is wrong with where you are then, rather than blundering on, hoping to find your way, it is often better to go back to an earlier fork in the road and try a different route. So this is a return to the techniques and the view point of craftsmen c.1900 and not a return to their designs.

In the work of the cabinet workers from companies such as Rud Rasmussen, working with designers like Hans Wegner in the 1940s and 1950s, you can see and appreciate that between designer and maker there was a mutual respect and a common understanding of workshop techniques and together they explored what was possible and together tried new forms and developed new techniques.

It is significant that on the wall in the shop in Hellerup is displayed a definition of the role and status of the artisan. With its political and moral overtones, this view has been rather sidelined for fifty or sixty years but this must be the right time to reassess those values to see if they could and should have relevance now. That’s the idea of apprenticeships; the reassessment of the values we put on certain skills and the idea of respecting and carrying forward knowledge and experience. 

What you can also see here, I suspect, is inspiration from what is called vernacular or craft furniture. Go to the open air museum in Aarhus or look through the houses at Frilandsmuseet, the open air museum north of Copenhagen, and you will see robust, honest furniture made by joiners and carpenters from villages and country towns, made locally; made to be functional; made to last but far from crudely made. Look at the way that furniture was made to improve the life of the owner and make lives more comfortable and more enjoyable … that is one basic but important definition of what makes a design good. 

The Shop Of The New also sells their own lamps in turned brass, children’s furniture from Collect Furniture, skate boards from One Village, chopping boards, grinders and yard brooms from the Philadelphia company Lostine and T-shirts and shorts from the Pacific Island company of M.Nii.

Again, as with the other shops, look at the distinctive packaging, the use of good graphics, the careful presentation in the shop to reinforce the style, type and form of furniture that they are making and selling.

There’s also a really good coffee shop in the store and the bus from the centre of Copenhagen stops outside … just in case you are worried about venturing that far out of the city.

 

The Shop Of The New, Strandvejen 213, 2900 Hellerup, Denmark

stylish shop front

Copenhagen is a city of independent shops and small independent design companies. That is the starting point and provides the strong base for much of the great design that comes out of the city. Everywhere you look there is a real sense of style ... the unwritten rule of the place seems to be that if it has to be done then do it well and do it in style. This a shop frontage in Gammel Kongevej ... a sign in iron for a clothes shop! Great typography and executed beautifully.

window displays at Illums Bolighus

I find it hard to suspend belief and imagine that the carefully arranged and styled sets that are photographed for articles in magazines or for the adverts could possibly relate to me or the way I live … even when I try very hard to keep my apartment sorted there is still always something waiting to be washed up and when I look around, although individual pieces of furniture are fine and I have some quite nice pottery and china, the things in each room rarely set themselves out in that flat, one dimensional way, with everything facing forward, you see in the professional photos of interiors. 

It’s odd therefore that I’m a bit of a sucker for shop window displays. 

Illums Bolighus is the largest and most prominent furniture and interiors shop in the centre of Copenhagen and I find their window displays amazing. It’s partly the space they are given. The central entrance door is set well back into the facade so there is a very large square space for displays on each side with large front windows to the street, Amagertorv, but also large windows facing inwards on each side of this entrance lobby.

In some ways the team creating these displays have it easy … after all they have the whole of the store to raid … but they manage to create very very different themes or ideas or looks with each new display although the two windows are always treated as a closely related pair.

What I like is that not only do they use the windows to show new items but they also combine things in interesting ways or pick striking colours putting things together that I would not have thought about. 

Like the magazine adverts they are simply selling or they are trying to inspire the buyer, if you want to put it more kindly, but here the inspiration is actually more crucial. There can be no pretence that this is anything like my sitting room or bedroom or whatever. Even though I spend much of my time … ok much too much of my time  … thinking about architecture and design, I still tend to sort of glaze over when I go into a store like this when there is so much to choose from and I still find it difficult to see how these fantastic things might fit in my own home. The window curiously helps me, as I walk in, to focus on the task ahead.

 

A white, with pale wood and tan leather theme earlier in the year was particularly good and looked simple and fresh and actually quite easy to copy at home. Sharp green colours seem to be fashionable at the moment and appropriate for the Spring. These are the present windows at the store. 

It is good that they rarely have labels or prices or notices in the window ... this is pure theatrical ... particularly at Christmas.

Bella Center Flea Market

just one of three main spaces

Today and tomorrow for the first big Flea Market of the Spring at the Bella Center in Copenhagen. It’s almost too big. After strolling up and down a dozen aisles my eyes glaze over and I begin to forget what I saw where so there is no back tracking if I decide, on reflection, I should have bought something. 

Having said that, this is the place to get your eye in … particularly if you are looking for lighting or kitchenware and glassware from the mid 20th century. And it’s a good place to get to know dealers  … many trading here also have shops in the city where they hold more stock. 

There are some stalls with furniture although for larger pieces a better starting point might be the auction houses in the city. Every week through the summer there will also be smaller flea markets at Israels Plads on Thursdays and Fridays and on the square in front of the Thorvaldsen Museum on Friday and Saturday. Glass and ceramics and cutlery and lighting from the 1950s, 60s and 70s are very collectible or, even better, why not use these things every day. That's what they were designed for.

Bella Center, Copenhagen

 

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.

 

the buyer and the designer

In theory designing, manufacturing and selling something is a very simple sequence - so someone has an idea and produces drawings; a manufacturer makes it; a shop sells it and a buyer buys it. Yup. There you are. It’s simple.

Well actually of course it's not.

To start at the end of the sequence, for the person who buys amazing cutlery or has incredible lighting in their home or buys a beautiful chair, then design and the work of a designer as a job is probably - as far as they can see - all about being creative and imaginative. Vaguely arty. Possibly, if they have thought about it at all, they see the design process as making lots of interesting sketches on thick water-colour paper and with loads of notes and doodles. And maybe involves the odd colour swatch. So even at that superficial level there is an odd mismatch between the buyers perceptions and the reality of the design process.

Or for some buyers ‘design’ … or perhaps I mean Design … is about fashion, so about simply wanting to have the latest and possibly the best chair or table for lots of complex personal reasons … buying a certain brand or a recognised name (or at least a name they vaguely recognise) from the design world to express, in their home, their own status … or their perception of their own status … or the status they would like the world out there to think they have … Or it’s about telling the world about their taste or their ambitions or their income or their need to conform or their need to appear daring and adventurous. For those people information about the actual process of design and manufacturing are probably of no interest.

And that doesn’t begin to address the practical problems any buyer has to consider like whether or not a dining table will fit in their room or look OK with the curtains or extend to take the whole family on the two days a year the family get together or fit with the other furniture that can’t be chucked out at the moment or work with five place settings rather than four or cope with sticky fingers and toy cars during the day and wax from candles and stains from wine glasses in the evening. All incredibly complex.

And that doesn't even take into account that final point when the buyer, having decided it is exactly what they want, has to decide if it is exactly what they need and what they can afford or should spend their money on. 

Not simple at all even at the end of the process when the cutlery, lamp or chair is finished and in the shop and waiting to be bought.

So - to go back to the start of the process - for the designer and that first creativity bit.

Essentially the idea, the concept, is simply the very first stage of the incredibly complex process of turning the ideas and the sketches or, more likely of course the CAD drawings, into a fully realised product.

That process requires an understanding of the intended purpose - so for instance is the posture of a person the same when they are sitting at a desk as when they are sitting at a dining table ... the ergonomics ... so would the same chair design work for both situations? The designer has to have an understanding of the materials to be used - is it right for the job in hand or will it bend or snap with heavy use? - and a designer has to have a very clear understanding of how you cut and fix and finish those materials.

Quite often, I'm sure, the buyer has little understanding that what they have bought is that shape or that size or that form because that was the only way the materials could be shaped and fixed together.

Designers also need an understanding of the context of the piece they are producing - so, for instance, understanding if their design is building deliberately on an established tradition or on the other hand are they trying to produce something truly innovative - or does it have to reflect a brand style, a national style or appeal to the taste and wealth of a specific market or will it try to be broadly international in appeal and is the design to be sold at a particular price point in a specific sector of the market? That obviously effects choice of materials - mdf or seasoned oak, cloth or leather, chrome finish or powder-coated steel - and of course the designer has to have a clear understanding of the manufacturing process for the mass production of their design and, increasingly, an understanding of packaging for transporting the item safely, and packaging to show the piece at its best when it is displayed in the shop or improve how it will look in the on-line catalogue photo. 

A designer won’t get very far in their career if they design something that is impossible to make, or impossible to make at a realistic cost, or is impossible to pack and ship. And they don’t deserve to succeed if they design a knife that won’t cut or a light that gives you an electric shock or a chair that is impossibly uncomfortable.

Broadly all this is the technology part of design that brings that first idea through to its final and successful realisation. And it is, curiously this, the technology side of production, that the consumer, generally, understands and appreciates least.

And my take on this is that if the buyer doesn’t understand the technology - the how and the why of a design - how can they make a rational judgement about the relative merits of the things in the shop when they are trying to choose between the different options on offer and how can they decide if it is good value let alone if it’s well designed and well made or badly designed and badly made? I’m mystified. 

So that's both ends of the "simple" sequence and we haven’t even considered the factory end, transporting, advertising, marketing, sales and after sales servicing …….

Copenhagen Crafts Fair

The annual Kunsthåndvækermarkedet, or Crafts Fair, was held just over a week ago on Frue Plads in Copenhagen - that is the large long open space on the east side of Nørregade with, on one side, the north front of Vor Fruhe Kirke ... the cathedral of Copenhagen ... and on the other side,  the main building of the university. 

The fair is organised by Danske Kunsthåndværkere (the Danish Craft Association) and this year it was open over three days with over 130 stalls displaying work by ceramicists, textile designers and carpet weavers, glass makers, and jewellers. Many of the exhibitors were from Copenhagen but exhibitors had come from all over Denmark and there was a goldsmith and a ceramic artist from Malmö and seven makers from Iceland. 

Representing education and training in the crafts of ceramics and glass in Denmark there was a large display from the the Danmarks Designskole on the Baltic island of Bornholm - since 2011 a department of the Danish design school of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

The work of Anne Rolsted of Regstrup

The works displayed ranged from modestly-priced pieces, that are meant to be used daily, to expensive and unique works that were aimed at serious collectors; the range of styles and the quality of the work and the very large number of visitors to the fair showed clearly that the work of craft designers and makers in Denmark has strong support.

The basket maker Anne Mette Hjørnholm from Hjerm

Two prizes were awarded - the jury awarded the prize for the best new unique work to the jewellery designer Helle Bjerrum and the prize for best new product to Sally Xenia Christensen for her “beautiful and simple” drinking glasses.

What was interesting, above all, for me was to see how many exhibiting their work here have the same problems as product designers working in the furniture and ceramic and glass industries. That is not surprising because, clearly, there are no obvious demarcation lines: someone who produces a single piece and signs it is usually defined as an artist or, if working in wood or silver or clay, a craftsman; make ten or twenty similar pieces and you are a maker and presumably 100 or a 1,000 makes you a designer and thousands and thousands of identical pieces defines you as a product designer.

Also, of course, many crafts people had a formal training in design and then chose the freedom and independence of opening a workshop and many if not all “commercial” designers take as their starting point the knowledge and experience they gained in their training working directly with wood or wool or linen or silver or clay or glass to produce one-off pieces to understand completely the materials they are working with and to understand what can or cannot be done with those materials.

The divisions and definitions do not seem, to me, to be clearly defined or, come to that, strictly relevant. I spoke with a number of the makers or craftsmen at the fair and over the coming year I hope to profile a number of craft designers and craft galleries … to visit them to explore their attitudes, find out about their training or background and discuss the starting point and development of their work and their problems marketing and selling craft pieces.