Reissued classics at the Cologne furniture fair

Despite the financial crisis and an anticipated drop in exhibitors at this year’s IMM Cologne, the fair is still expecting some high-profile launches. Anna Richardson is enamoured with the reissued classics

The sturdy workhorse to Milan’s giddy thoroughbred of furniture fairs, IMM Cologne is traditionally not a place of abundant, show-stopping product revelations, with many furniture brands opting to hold out for Italy. Nonetheless, a number of launches are in the diary, and some of the most eye-catching are looking to the past to make their mark.

For German furniture giant Wilkhahn, Cologne is the perfect place to present its latest wares. Wilkhahn, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is reissuing the 1955 three-legged wooden chair by Walter Papst, the late industrial and product designer and long-time Cologne resident whose design credo was the ‘artistic design of purposeful form’.

Relaunching a mid-20th century classic is a popular ploy, but the latest examples emphasise enduring design values and functionality rather than a retro aesthetic. Wilkhahn’s Burkhard Remmers says that the Papst chair reissue was not ‘a quest for the 1950s’, but rather in recognition of Papst’s pioneering approach, particularly his interest in workmanship, craft and ergonomics. Wilkhahn itself was an early proponent of the principles of the Deutscher Werkbund, Bauhaus and the Ulm Academy, combining a reduction of form, better functionality, sustainability and longevity – principles that endure today, says Remmers.

Originally inspired by the ‘archetype of the chair’ (a three-legged stool of wooden components), the Papst chair promotes use in different ways. The curved backrest, the tapered rear legs and the seat shape encourages different seating positions – normal, sideways or back-to-front – and its shape allows it to be grouped in a circle to encourage interaction. ‘It is a strong design icon that also fits perfectly into the work environment,’ says Remmers, pointing to the increasing importance of creative breakout and brainstorming areas in office spaces.

With the initial input of Papst, who died last March, Wilkhahn has adopted the materials, forms and proportions of the original design, but used modern technologies to ensure stability and durability. For example, joints have been optimised for use of solid wood and a modern DD lacquer is used as surface protection. Launching the chair in Cologne ties in perfectly with Papst’s love for the city and the famous Cologne Karnival, and will be accompanied by a Papst exhibition from 16 February.

Also adding a modern slant to classic designs at Cologne is Ligne Roset, which is building on last year’s collaboration with 20th century design pioneer Pierre Paulin with four relaunches as well as two new designs. The Archi is a new version of an original Thonet/Paulin design from 1955, which employed the techniques of automotive leatherwork and used an elasticated fabric from the Serolatex brand as seat cover for the first time. The TV chair (1953), the Lupo side table (1953) and the Curule foldable chair (1982), along with the new Anda chair and the Ursuline desk, complete the 2009 range. Paulin says he has recaptured ‘some of the traditional elegance and simplicity of the pieces’, but that it is important to use materials and techniques relevant for today. The Archi features a sloping, ergonomically designed, sculpted seat back, using Bultex foams to support the body, with a satin-black lacquered or chrome tubular steel base.

‘Today many so-called designs are made to be great as photographs; things are made to be seen, less to be used,’ adds Paulin. ‘My designs must be functional, as well as being the realisation of my ideas. An ounce of poetry has to be added, which usually makes a product stand the test of time.’

According to Ligne Roset creative director Michel Roset, the 1960s were especially important in the history of design and creation, ‘because the focus of this period was incontestably about quality’. And Paulin was unique. ‘He is above all a very talented man who has an innate sense of proportion and volume. He is also a very curious person, always on the look-out for solutions and new materials,’ says Roset.

Also famed for his approach and attention to balance and form is Franco Albini, the late architect, urban planner and designer, who will feature as part of Italian brand Cassina’s offering. Cassina, which has been relaunching classics in its I Maestri (The Masters) range since 1965, will present a new range from Albini – the first Italian ‘master’ in the collection – to the wider European audience at Cologne.

The range comprises the Luisa chair (1949/55), which originally took Albini 15 years to design, the Cavalletto table (1950), the small, round, three-legged Cicognino side table (1953) and the Infinito bookcase (1956/7). Again, the curator of I Maestri, Filippo Alison, based his approach on original documents, prototypes and existing models, combining traditional techniques with contemporary production processes.

With such a varied batch of reborn classics kicking off 2009’s first major furniture fair, today’s appreciation of past quality and form looks set to continue for some years yet.

IMM Cologne runs from 19-25 January

As well as the main IMM at Cologne’s fairground, the city also hosts the Passagen interior design week. Twenty years old this year, it includes 190 studios, retailers and installations at venues across the city.

Germany debuts
Established & Sons arrives in Germany for the first time with an installation at Magazin. It includes a full collection of Sebastian Wrong’s designs to date, such as the Wrongwoods and Font clock and the Surface table by Terence Woodgate and John Barnard.

Mirzat Koc’s New York-based design studio +Mkd celebrates its expansion into Germany with a Munich showroom during the Cologne Passagen. Mkd will present its latest furniture and lighting collections with a preview of two new shelving systems, the Wave and Radiate.

E15 launches its first collaboration with Paris-based designer Arik Levy at the fair, the Arie shelving unit. Springing from an ‘endless’ design idea, the Arie’s invisible structural elements mean it has no front or back and allows it to be freestanding. It can also be flipped horizontally or vertically by 180 degrees and comes in a sideboard version. ‘This piece fits into the category of sculpture to use or “functional art”,’ says Levy.

Sneak peak
B&B Italia previews some of its 2009 designs, such as the new JJ rocking armchair by Antonio Citterio, while Belgian company Materialise will show the Tulip design by artist Peter Jansen as a taster for the Bouquet collection, which will be launched in Milan.

Street installation
Dornbracht debuts the new exhibition Global Street Food, Mike Meiré’s latest contribution to the Dornbracht Edges exhibition series, which explore the interaction of architecture, design and utopia.

Fitting into the recent trend towards the bubble and organic shapes, Belgian furniture designer Peter Donders launches his Morph seats, made of solid foam and finished with a weatherproof coating.

Other countries
The Dutch Corner presents contemporary design from the likes of designer duo Dennis & Bert with its latest foam-pressed range, David Lindberg’s epoxy dividing walls and Jorre van Ast’s demountable table.

Icelandic designer Erla Sólveig Oskarsdóttir shows her first Ames line product, a chair in which she seeks to unite simplicity, functionality and elegance.

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