Spring action

The local teams were the stars of this year’s Cologne fair, with the Italians and Spanish caught between shows. Lynda Relph-Knight reports

Are you ready for this? Yellow is tipped to be the colour for furniture over the coming months.

The first startling sighting of this phenomenon was at last week’s Cologne fair, where Austrian company Wittmann drew the crowds with a canary-yellow leather rendering of Josef Hoffmann’s historic Kubus chair. After years of absence, yellow is back on Wittmann’s shade chart, confirms the company’s UK agent Gillian King. And while there was nothing else at the fair to quite compare with the bright Wittmann’s leather, the event yielded scraps of evidence that others were opting for sunnier shades too. What will exhibitors at April’s Milan Fair make of this colourful shift?

As ever, Wittmann had much to offer by way of new launches in Cologne. A notable addition to its design stable is thrusting German designer Andreas Weber, who contributed Adesso, a classic sofa and armchair set and a sofa bed featuring separate back cushions. The bed serves as a reminder that in Germany the market for contemporary domestic furniture is vast, and the Cologne fair is a great platform for this, but elements of Adesso might equally meet contract needs.

Also domestic is Gerard van den Berg’s Aladdin suite for Wittmann. But for the contract trade there was ORF, an extraordinary “open” armchair designed by Christoph Tamussino for the political interview style of Austrian TV’s Press Hour programme. Only two sides of the cube seat are enclosed, leaving sitters free to gesticulate at will. Then there was the Kunsthalle stacking chair by Adolf Krischanitz, exceptionally roomy and upholstered, featuring an ingenious lightweight folding frame.

Again for the contract market, Danish firm Fritz Hansen launched Spin, a highish-backed multi-functional office chair by German designer Burkhard Vogtherr.

Do we need another office chair? Fritz Hansen thinks so, especially one which dispenses with the gaslift mechanism at the top end of the range in favour of a newly patented spindle to adjust the height. A top executive doesn’t need to be constantly pumping the seat up and down to carry out different tasks and is better served by a “screw” device which can be turned before you sit down to adjust seat height. For lesser beings the chair is also available in other configurations with a gaslift.

There was little of genuine novelty from the Italians – the Milan fair is just too close for Cologne to merit a major launch. News here was that UK dealer Robert Webster was about to clinch an agency deal with Italian giant Cassina, bringing selected lines to London. That deal has now been signed. Meanwhile, Cologne proved a showcase for additions such as the Imperial Tokyo sofas and chairs (1916-22) and stunning Lewis coffee tables (1939-56) to the Italian company’s Frank Lloyd Wright collection.

Fellow Italian Arflex also went the classic route, re-introducing a historic range which includes 13 post-war pieces designed by greats such as Marco Zanuso, Cini Boeri and Franco Albini. This launch was away from the fair, as was the stunning display by Porro, which showed its amazingly simple but beautifully made range of tables, chairs and shelving in a former dockside warehouse.

A diversion from the sea of soft furnishings was the Cler glass shelving system designed by Ron Arad for Italian company Fiam. The launch of the collection brings Arad to a design stable that already boasts Danny Lane and other celebrated glass artists.

Like the Italians, the Spanish seemed to be playing it down a bit. We were told that most of their new lines had made their debut at the Valencia Fair last autumn. Casas, for example, showed Silla Pila, a stacking chair by Alfredo Arribas which was launched last year, while Amat displayed the aluminium and wicker Biarritz by Eduard Samso (not a patch on Ricardo Bofill and Marta de Vilallonga’s Marta chair). Meanwhile, Punt Mobles sported British-born Terence Woodgate’s Home range of domestic storage.

Of the Spanish firms, Indecasa took the boldest step, developing its popular aluminium leisure chairs to create an office chair and bench seating range. The photographs are more flattering than the prototypes we saw on the stand, but it is an interesting move for the Spanish company.

Now established in the bench-seating market following the win of the Las Vegas airport seating contract is UK designer/manufacturer Alan Zoeftig (DW 12 January), who was showing off the prototype Zenky bench seat. Until now a regular at the Cologne fair with his bar stools, Zoeftig plans to shift allegiance and return to Cologne for a debut at Orgatec this October.

Other Brits doing well at Cologne included Paul Newman and his chums at Aero. A prolific designer, Newman’s array of light-fittings and accessories were, as ever, going like hot cakes. An interesting addition to the Aero offer this year was a pack of greetings cards based on international pictograms and conceived with Pentagram partner Justus Oehler. A departure, yes, but one which might tempt more customers into Aero’s west London shop.

So it was a mixed bag at Cologne this year, with few show-stoppers but a fair display of good international design. Several of the newer designs are likely to make it to these shores, with a handful of UK agents looking forward to a showing in London at Spectrum in late April.

But be warned. Yellow doesn’t suit every interior – or every complexion.

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