Theatre of design

Futuristic houses, cocooning sofas and retro reissues of 1960s classics – there is much to appreciate at Cologne’s furniture fair, although John Stones is rather put off by the heavy emphasis on marketing. Meanwhile Natasha Edwards sees what the furniture

IMM Cologne 2007

If you can’t have new, then go for big. That seems to have been the tack of this year’s of IMM, Cologne’s international furniture fair, where the selling and promotion of design is the primary fare.

The ‘ideal houses’ of Naoto Fukasawa and Zaha Hadid, this year’s invited duo, were ideal marketing opportunities for the international brands that both most definitely are. After all, what could be more ideal than a home where not only is every product and piece of furniture designed by you, but the actual space itself? Perhaps the ideal the houses embody is that of the big ‘I’?

Yet both houses managed to create intriguing spatial concepts. Fukasawa’s eerie, white, free-standing and very tall walls became a blanched forest dwarfing the household products below, while Hadid’s non-Euclidean mattress pointing towards an ovoid window suggests a similar disorientation achieved by different means.

Within IMM’s halls, novelties were, predictably, largely restricted to Northern European manufacturers. Perhaps the most interesting developments on show were sofas whose inspiration was as much psychological as it was aesthetic.

Austrian design consultancy Eoos, responsible for all of German manufacturer Walter Knoll’s new products, designed a clunky but interesting sofa, called Lazy Island, which can be pulled together to form a double day bed. German manufacturer E15, best known for beautifully resolved furniture made of wood, showed a series of three new sofas. Drawing inspiration from the Arab world and Iran in particular, these low sofas designed by Philipp Mainzer and Farah Ebrahimi (with the accompanying tables and trays) came across as fresh and original.

Again suggesting an Arab influence was the Pas Si Classique sofa designed by Pascal Mourge for Ligne Roset, which allows the backrest to be pulled round for added cosiness. Inga Sempé’s Moël series, also for Ligne Roset, offered similar cocooning possibilities. Perhaps most eye-catching of all among the impressive line-up of new products by Ligne Roset were the Jellyfish and Paranoid lights, designed by Swan Bourotte, using aircraft technology.

Italian manufacturers try to keep their powder dry for the Milan Furniture Fair. However, MDF Italia presented a table called Intersection by the American designer Cory Grosser. And, as always, there was a plethora of 1960s retro on show. Zanotta did the most honest thing – it simply reissued the 1966 Karelia armchair by Finnish designer Liisi Beckmann with a new shiny fabric.

The cultivation of the personality of the designer as a marketing tool shows little sign of abating. Selected as designer of the year by a German magazine, Konstantin Grcic was the subject of a show held as an adjunct to Stylepark in Residence, one of the fair’s associated fringe events. Like the ‘ideal house’ feature for Fukasawa and Hadid, it was an exclusive platform for Grcic’s products, plus he designed the exhibition himself. In the shape of auditorium, with life-size cut-outs of himself and the legendary Achille Castiglioni on stage, it unintentionally exemplified the current theatre of design.

Grcic, in designer’s outfit of black plus heavy-rimmed glasses, told us how honoured he was to hold the baton passed on to him by Castiglioni. Did any journalist have a question? Embarrassed silence. In the face of genius, what could you ask? In the main halls, the new table he designed for Plank was presented to complement his ubiquitous Miura bar stool, the subject of a book the great man would sign.

Inspired by Cologne, part of the new talent section called D3 proved to be one of the highlights, and young British designers were well represented. It’s a bit of a misnomer – perhaps Inspiring Cologne might be better, particularly as Stylepark seems to have taken a dive.

Stylepark’s organisers have decamped from the charming old railways headquarters to a 1940s building that houses the Kölnisher Kunstverein. Instead of the buffet of delights of previous years, they put on a dour show under the rubric ‘Touchy Feely’. This, we were assured, was intended to surprise us. The surprise was a new materials library, and samples were available upstairs.

Downstairs was devoted to Patricia Urquiola, darling of the top-end Italian furniture manufacturers. The display consisted of her designs in various states of completion, suspended from an industrial production line going round and round. This was yet another opportunity for unfortunate metaphors. But Martino Berghinz (Urquiola’s studio partner) said the idea was to present her work as industrial and mobile, rather than as static and fixed art on a plinth.

Meanwhile, the merry-go-round continues. At the Milan Furniture Fair in April more novelties should be on show, which will then be marketed at IMM next year.

Salon du Meuble 2007 and Maison & Objet 2007

The 2007 Salon du Meuble attempted to reposition itself, focusing on innovation, and creating the associated Futur Intérieur fair around four trendspotting ‘Dream Houses’ designed by Paola Navone, Carlo Colombo, Christophe Pillet and Simone Micheli. Nonetheless, despite more exhibitors, the halls of Paris-Expo looked ominously empty and the fair is increasingly overshadowed by the vast Maison & Objet and Now! fairs at Paris-Nord later in the week, and seems to be favoured by some of the bigger manufacturers.

Now!, which moved this year to its own 2000m2 hall designed by Lacaton & Vassal, also saw the launches of new French design house, ENO, with items by Gijs Bakker, Sebastian Bougne, Arik Levy, Paola Navone and Inga Sempé.

Some things could be spotted at both places, such as Patrick Jouin’s One Shot stool and chair designs by Christophe Pillet and Jean-Marie Massaud for Emu. As usual, Via’s Carte Blanche’s were among the most interesting things at the Salon du Meuble, this year financing projects by Sempé, notably a stylish bookcase system, and Matt Sindall, with a chair that looked as if it had just been pulled through a wind tunnel.

However, it still says something about our mental perception of modernity (or our retro tastes) that the most futuristic-looking display at Futur Intérieur was the recreated set from Jacques Tati’s 1958 film Mon Oncle.

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  • Temenouzhka Zaharieva November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    From this article the biggest design event at the beginning of the year seems as if it is something small and not very interesting

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