Contract killers

Nicky Churchill highlights some of the most impressive work in her round up of this year’s furniture fairs in Cologne, Milan and London

Four months into 1996 and we are already inundated with new products, both Continental and homegrown. In particular, a whole host of contemporary furniture designs have emerged from the spring fairs in Cologne and Milan and more recently, last week’s Spectrum exhibition at London’s Royal College of Art. Printed information will soon be arriving on the specifier’s desk or in the practice library, but if you want to know the latest designs in advance and get ahead of the furniture reps, read on.

January’s Cologne furniture fair is known to be the place to do serious business. In recognition of this, most of the European manufacturers use this venue as a launchpad for their new designs, and it is only the Italians who make us wait until Milan’s April event. The SIDI Group from Spain always has a large presence, and this year was no exception, with new products launched by Casas, Indecasa, Amat, Disform, and Punt Mobles. Three of these companies showed new products by British designers – Casas with the Canasta chair and sofa series by Terence Woodgate, now in production, Punt Mobles with Woodgate’s Home range of domestic storage, and Disform giving us Matthew Hilton’s range of upholstered armchairs. From Denmark came Fritz Hansen with the multi-functional Spin office chair by Burkhard Vogtherr, and Fredericia, which launched Tuba, a new chair by Nana Ditzel.

Tasters from the Italian manufacturers included the new Frank Lloyd Wright collection of classics from Cassina, the structural Cler glass shelving unit by Ron Arad for Fiam, and Miss Trip, Philippe Starck’s “cash and carry” chair design for Kartell. But the majority of the Italians held out for April’s Salone del Mobile, which this year celebrated its 35th anniversary in style, playing host to a number of special events which included two extensive exhibitions on Joe Colombo and Achille Castiglione.

In Milan, Hall 20 was the place to be for new products, housing the likes of Moroso, Schopenhauer, Zanotta, Arflex and SCP. Here the central area was dominated by Kartell, which had used a mirrored metal floor to lure people into its arena – great idea, but had Kartell considered all the women wearing skirts? New furniture on display included Maui, a coloured polypropylene programme of chairs and accessories by Vico Magistretti, and Dolly, a plastic folding chair by Antonio Citterio and Glen Oliver Lw in vibrant oranges and yellows. Chairs on show by Starck included the new Doctor No, yet another design in moulded plastic and pastel colourings. Aimed at outdoor use, Doctor No is the first of a new product line that will include tables, chairs with castors and rocking chairs.

The ubiquitous Starck was also evident on the XO stand with two very different designs – Monsieur X and Dadada. Monsieur X takes the form of a director’s chair. But Starck has cleverly extended the thought process to produce an elongated version, so you can put your feet up, and a director’s rocking chair. Very un-Starck, but very nice. His other new creation, Dadada, is dubbed as a minimalist rocking horse stool in coloured plastic. It seems to be an all-purpose object for young and old – and should you want more than one, it is stackable.

There was a good showing from the British design contingent led by SCP with new seating from Hilton, a bar stool by Geoff Hollington and a wall-mounted shelving system by Woodgate. Interlubke showed its Interlife collection, also seen in Cologne, which includes a clever chair and sofa programme by David Chipperfield, and Fasem unveiled the Crop chair by Ross Lovegrove. Crop is a simple design with a one-piece plywood shell, chromium-plated steel structure and white nylon feet, and while the shape is undoubtedly familiar, it comes into its own with the addition of armrests. Lovegrove’s other new design for Italian company Ceccotti is, however, more sculptural, combining wood and leather. Unfortunately, the “Do Not Touch” sign deterred us from trying it, but it looks both uncomfortable and unstable.

A walkabout of the showrooms revealed the Gypsy writing desk by Hilton for Sawaya and Moroni, together with a stunning range of silver accessories designed by prominent architects (Zaha Hadid included), the new Irta stacking chair by Jorge Pensi hidden among the kitchen designs at Aleph/Driade, and new soft seating from Vico Magistretti at de Padova. Cassina launched Met, a new system of seating units and sofas designed by Piero Lissoni (which I am told can be stripped of their covers in just three minutes), and showed us the classic Berlino table and Ingram chair based on early designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Those who visited the Ron Arad sideshow were greeted at the entrance by the man himself wielding a bat on a metal table tennis table – which I have since been told is going into production. For 1996, Arad has continued his exploration of shelving, producing “reinventing the Wheel” or rtw for short. This is a circular shelving unit which moves freely across the room while the shelves maintain the horizontal position – even when fully loaded, it can apparently be moved with ease. Rtw comes in various sizes housing different internal configurations, some see-through, some with radially sliding doors – great for room dividers in large loft spaces.

More Arad products could be found at Zeus, where the Anonimus range of stools, chairs and tables has been extended to include a coat stand in graphite metal and natural birch. Of more interest is his new easy chair called Sitting Duck, which has a padded back and seat upholstered in Alcantara or microfibre with the option of either a high- or low-backed chair.

The idea of opening city centre showrooms to coincide with a trade show is now catching on in London. Both Viaduct and SCP held special events during last week’s Spectrum exhibition, introducing new designs launched at Milan. But the main exhibition at the RCA continues to flourish and seems to be going from strength to strength. Some 60 companies took part this year, with products ranging from office and contract furniture to floor finishes, fabrics, lighting, ironmongery and even cutlery and artworks – yes, it is a diverse exhibition. On the contract furniture side, a number of the designs from Cologne were on display – such as Fredericia’s Tuba chair by Nana Ditzel, coincidentally complemented by the launch of a new fabric by the same designer on the Kvadrat stand opposite. In the same vicinity, Fritz Hansen was giving Spin its UK launch, while upstairs Wittmann Designs displayed the Kunsthalle stacking chair by Adolf Krischanitz and showed off the highly adaptable, one-armrest version of the Fifty-Fifty dining chair by Wolfgang Hints.

In terms of new product, the contract furniture element was dominated by the British. Boss Designs, Hitch Mylius, RDS Solutions and Wales and Wales all showed new pieces, with the smaller one-off and bespoke companies being represented by Nicholas Dyson Furniture and John Coleman. First-time exhibitor Englender chose Spectrum to launch itself into the contemporary furniture market with new contract designs from Rob McPetrie and Paul Sayers.

Hille previewed two chair designs in prototype form, one by Fred Scott and Paul Logan and the other by Michael Dye, designer of the Meridio chair for the same company. Both ranges will be given their official launch at Orgatec in October. Also in prototype were four new seating designs from UKII – the Dandy sofa by Steven Smith, Trafalgar seat and sofa by Paul Sayers, Thames meeting chair by Paul Heritage and an unnamed public seating system by the same designer.

All in all there was little to excite at Spectrum, the best of show going to lighting manufacturer Foscarini, aka Catalytico, in terms of both stand design and new product – not just a striking stand packed with colourful product, but 10 of the 16 new designs launched just one week earlier at Milan’s Euroluce exhibition.

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