Making a stand

Last month’s Orgatec fair saw a much smaller pool of exhibitors than in previous years, but Hannah Booth thinks it was still well worth the visit

Veterans of Cologne’s long-established biennial office furniture fair, Orgatec, will have noticed a major difference in this year’s exhibition. The size. The current climate of purse-tightening means trade shows are often the first expense to go. As a result, many smaller companies didn’t have stands.

But more established companies have a duty to attend and keep face, according to a spokeswoman from Thonet, which showed several new products. ‘If the larger companies don’t attend, it can be a huge blow to the confidence of the whole industry, not to say the exhibition. We were a bit nervous before, but it was the right decision for us to come. Smaller scale fairs are a great opportunity to get noticed,’ she says.

Some manufacturers took pared down scales to extreme. Fritz Hansen showed one product only – its new Ice indoor/outdoor café-style stacking chair, designed by young Dane Kasper Salto. A combination of anodised aluminium and a metallic-looking plastic, Ice is ‘a turning point’ for Fritz Hansen, says Salto, as it usually manufactures wood-based furniture. An Ice table is on its way.

This year, trends were not obvious at first glance, but certain deeper themes revealed themselves. Designers are paying closer attention to workplaces themselves, questioning actual working environments rather than just creating products for them. Bene, for example, introduced Coffice, a set of furniture designed for networking and information communica-tions under its banner ‘Cappucino Working’. Designed by Johannes Scherr, it comprises an easy chair, sofa and bench as well as power connections. ‘Coffice embodies today’s working zeitgeist,’ says a Bene spokesman.

Vitra launched Joyn, an office system by young French design stars Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. It incorporates a communal table with easily movable, slotted sideand front-screens and is ideal for ‘hot-desking’. ‘Simplicity was the most important thing,’ says Ronan Bouroullec. ‘Shifting desks around an office can be hard work, but Joyn is very light. We spent a lot of time thinking about the way people work – laptops are the future,’ he says.

Joyn also incorporates a clever semi-circular desk/office store hybrid. ‘It’s a fax machinestationery-coffee machine store where you could also work in private,’ says Bouroullec. Good for space-deprived offices, too. Similarly, Dauphin launched Join Me, designed by Martin Ballendat for smaller spaces. It comprises a folding table and a sideways stackable chair that removes unsteady tall stacks.

Jasper Morrison designed a piece for Vitra – a simple conference table in pastel colours. And the company also launched Meda, a large, ‘fun’ executive desk, designed by Alberto Meda.

‘In the current economic climate, employers are looking at ways of holding on to good people without raising their salaries. Meda is a creative, wacky desk, not an ego desk,’ says Vitra managing director Tony Ash. ‘Often the best way is to improve their working environment – it’s a subtle way of praise.’

Joyn is the first piece of office furniture the Bouroullec’s have designed, and that helped, says Ronan Bouroullec. ‘[As a non office-specialist] you approach things differently,’ he says. Companies such as Bulo, of course, have known this for years. Its Carte Blanche range has, in the past, worked with fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester as well as furniture designer Maarten Van Severen. ‘We like to bring in external thinking, particularly from designers working outside the office arena, to open our eyes in-house,’ says a Bulo spokeswoman.

This year, it has collaborated with Australian designer Danny Venlet, who has worked for many years with Marc Newson, on the Easy Rider chair. The thinking behind the model is to provide instant space for a laptop or papers, catering for people dropping in somewhere, or in a waiting area, with time to catch up on a bit of work. Easy Rider is a round, wheeled chair with large, flat arms.

Office screens were popular at Orgatec. Public area specialist Mabeg introduced a lightweight screen, almost 1930s-inspired. Vario showed some new flexible models and British consultancy Pearson Lloyd introduced its Mabeg Wall System, a room-in-room system for the architectural market. Further screens were shown by Gesika, which launched Working Wall, a flexible shelf and storage unit.

Despite the attention paid to alternative working agendas, there were still some elegant pieces on show that wouldn’t look out of place in leisure or even domestic environments. Andreu World showed sumptuous reception area seating in shades of brown and camel, with its Toi + Moi corset-backed stools and children’s chairs providing a touch of humour.

Walter Knoll showed Kite by Pearson Lloyd – an elegant sofa, chair and footstool in sumptuous pink. It also launched work by Swiss group Eoos, including its Capa chair and updated Nelson armchairs.

Colour at Walter Knoll was key – pinks, reds and oranges

– as it was at Danish company Fredericia, which launched its stunning Icon and Icon Lounge chairs. By Nanna Ditzel, Icon comprises individual ellipse chairs with rounded backs that come in lime green, among other shades. Fredericia also showed a bench version of Icon, designed for waiting areas.

Spanish collective Sidi usually sets high standards in public seating, and it showed some interesting work. Josep Lluscà‘s work for Oken included Rail, an aluminium bench with the option of upholstery. It is designed for waiting rooms, inor outdoor. Oken also showed Neko, a camel-and-black, wheeled office chair by Lluscà, also available as waiting area multiple seating on a bench.

The traditional black office chair was, of course, prevalent, with models becoming ever more ergonomic. Breathable gauze backs were everywhere, including Citterio’s updated chairs at Vitra, but ergonomics were taken to extremes by Herman Miller. It has updated its Aeron chair, designed by Bill Strumpf, with Posture Fit, which provides custom support for the lower back and is based on medical research.

Sedus presented a wide selection of ‘rockable’ officeand footstools, including designs by Mathias Seiler, as did Interstuhl’s Silencio. Designer Christophe Marchaud’s translucent office chair for ICF split opinion. Inspired, seemingly, by the iMac’s clear shell, it used the same plastics found in ski equipment, says Marchaud.

The market may have picked up in time for the next Orgatec in 2004, or even next year’s UK Spectrum fair. But despite the smaller turnout, there was still a lot to see this year. And, for the weary, lots of places to sit.

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