Beirut is an Ugly City / Red Chair by Assem Salam

Beirut is an ugly city. Well, at least that is what architect Assem Salam says about the war-torn city he spent his life living and working in until his death in 2012. He spoke to the BBC about how there is a jungle of grey concrete that towers over his garden, hiding what used to be a spectacular sea view. It is not the loss of the sea view that he mourned. It is not the commonplace nostalgia for the old and familiar that drives his bitterness about an extraordinary pace of construction in his city.

One of Lebanon’s most prominent modernist architects, Assem was a vocal advocate for, and active in, trying to improve Beirut’s built environment — his aim was to inspire the development of a unique and new form of Beirut architecture. His impressive projects like the Ministry of Tourism and the Khashoggi Mosque still stand as proof that the public sector and civil society are more effective at changing the character of the city. As a member of the Council for Development and Reconstruction during the visionary years, he brought his knowledge of post-War European reconstruction to bear on the processes of large projects. Like many architects of his time, he also excelled in reflecting the spirit of the times through contemporary furniture design.

“Of course all cities change, but change does not have to be so aggressive and so inhuman. Take London, for example” he says. “It has changed immensely since I first visited in 1942, but I can still take the same bus route as I did then, or walk the same streets. Beirut, on the other hand, has changed beyond recognition.”

[ref: BBC]

Up until the late 1950s, there were few architects in Lebanon and the region. Those who designed buildings were architectural engineers. Along with Raymond Ghosn, Assem Salam, who graduated from Cambridge in 1950, founded the School of Architecture [today, Department of Architecture and Design] in the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB.

It was this generation of mainly European-trained architects that would help the region start differentiating between engineering and architecture. “In the early 1960s we started the School of Architecture at AUB and local architects began to emerge,” Salam had said.

Assem Salam was a major actor in creating a generation of architecture graduates between 1954 to 1979. Any graduate of that period will remember his remarkable sense of criticism during juries. In one glance, he would find the strengths and weaknesses of any project. His opinion was revered by other jurors as well as students.

[ref: American University of Beirut]

Assem Salam and the Red Chair

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

So, it may seem flippant to celebrate his life work by looking closely at a red leather chair that Salam designed. His continuous fight to make Beirut, and more widely, Lebanon a better-designed country through architecture and interior design down to details of furniture. What interests me is how few creatives can move between these disciplines so freely and excel at so many of them. It was almost revolutionary to see this modern design aesthetic in Beirut, yet Salam and his peers were striving to move forward and creating an identity for Lebanon to proudly boast.

This red chair may be a simple red leather chair designed in 1955, but it embodies ideas that Beirut has been generating for as long as other modernists have been, yet in Europe we so rarely recognise their work and are not familiar with the names that hold so much importance to change in the Middle East. It is discoveries like this that make me realise how there is so much we are not aware of when we are led by the design press to feed our knowledge. When there is no marketing machine behind a design, we can often find little information about these.

How we find the long-lost icons of design in our past will forever be a challenge, so I encourage my fellow bloggers to help discover and share this work in the hope that we can mark a point on time for all great designers and architects who have, in some way, shaped our built environment and our interior designs.

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Red Chair Assem Salam Architect Lebanon Beirut

Designer: Assem Salam
Manufacturer: Unknown
Year: 1955
Price: Unknown

Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin for Umbra Shift

It was just over seven years ago that I first saw the Hanger Chair by Philippe Malouin, and have never completely forgotten about it. It was when I first began really reading blogs, and considering starting my own. I used to be an avid reader of Treehugger post some really interesting design articles.

Philippe’s chair was one of those posts. Although I was never sold on the idea that I would hang my clothes over the chair but I did like that it could hang in a hallway as an object until required for use.



I went looking for this chair to buy when I was in the market for folding chairs, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Fast forward to ICFF 2015 and the Hanger Chair is now available through Umbra Shift, an extension of Umbra that focuses on contemporary influences in the design community.

One thing that originally caught my eye about the chair was how the storing of the chair was built in to the design, and something which I would be keen to display at home. It was a clever idea that I hadn’t seen in a folding chair before and still haven’t.

When the Umbra press team dropped this release in to my inbox over the weekend I immediately spotted the chair, recognised Malouin’s name and thought, at last it is available. The only downside for me is the price…£230 puts it out of my reach and many others for a chair that could become a default for the new affordable folding chair. Even so, it’s a great chair and I’m sure it will do well.


Canadian-born Philippe Malouin holds a bachelor’s degree in Design from the Design Academy Eindhoven. He set up his London studio in 2009 and is also the director of Post-Office, the architectural and interiors design practice. His diverse portfolio includes tables, rugs, chairs, lights, art objects and installations. Philippe has won the W Hotels ‘Designer of the Future’ Award and Wallpaper Magazine’s ‘Best Use of Material’ Award.


Designer: Philippe Malouin
Manufacturer: Umbra Shift
Year: 2015
Price: £230.00

David Irwin’s TOR chair for Dare Studio

There are certain characteristics in design which help us to place when and where a chair, table or lamp was designed. As our knowledge and experience of design develops the global influences filter in to design like a big melting pot of style.



When David Irwin first presented the designs for TOR, a new chair for British design house Dare Studio, I was struck by its sophisticated lines, the understated glamour and clean silhouette he designed in to this stacking chair. Dare Studio are well known for producing products with hand-crafted heritage and for using contemporary manufacturing methods.

This chair, the first design by David Irwin for Dare Studio, would not be out of place in cultured surrounds of Claridges Suite or the Orient Express. Yet it has the modernist charm and graceful curves of contemporary Danish design that transcends it to an avant-garde building in the City.


As with all David Irwin products, there is a practical element to the design to allow it to move beyond a single application. With an inset seat, you can stack the chair making it ideal for contract use in restaurants or conference seating, and home use where space may be at a premium. Where most practical stacking chairs may suit that purpose, TOR’s simple clean lines put it alongside the likes of Gio Ponti’s Superleggera chair, yet as practical as Robin Day’s Polyprop chair.

Now for the science bit; a refined solid wood frame wraps around a formed seat. Slender in form, the TOR chair is ideal for modern residential and commercial spaces. The solid timber frame is available in colour lacquered beech or in oiled American black walnut / white oak. The chair is available with and without arms. An optional upholstered seat, with beautiful fabrics or your own material.




Designer: David Irwin
Manufacturer: Dare Studio
Year: 2015
Price: £TBC

Cardboard furniture. An affordable way to furnish your home.

In 1972 (yes, it’s going to be one of those stories), there was a little revolution in furniture when the architect Frank O. Gehry created a side chair made from sixty layers of corrugated cardboard held together by hidden screws with fibreboard edging.

I’m sure there were examples of cardboard furniture before 1972, but this chair reached the public domain like no other and continues to sell today.


The sculptural form of the Wiggle Side Chair makes it stand out. Although surprisingly simple in appearance, it is constructed with the consummate skill of an architect, making it not only very comfortable but also durable and robust. It’s said that it can hold thousands of pounds, which is testament to the strength of corrugated cardboard.


NewspaperWood was the unique collaboration between Dutch supercyclers Mieke Meijer and ViJ5, who put together the first NewspaperWood collection. The collection was presented in the AutoOfficina courtyard in Ventura Lambrate during Milan Design Week 2011.

I saw these pieces again at 19 Greek Street in London, where they were part of a sustainable collection of furniture and artistic pieces. The NewspaperWood is created when newspaper is pressed with glue to form a solid object. After slicing through the paper, the newspaper created a grain reminiscent of the wood they originally came from.


But wait a minute, this post is about affordable furniture and both of these are terrible examples of affordability within cardboard design. Of course, which leads me on to some great examples of where the same cardboard and paper construction have been considered for an affordable market, which so rarely sees the results of innovation.

Karton, who designed the cardboard bed above created an affordable and very practical design for bedroom furniture. The Paperpedic Bed is a system of cleverly folded paper panels which connect to form an incredibly strong and beautiful cardboard bed base.


A favourite desk of mine happens to cost just £149, and yes that is one of the main reasons why I like it, because this sturdy desk is no poor substitute for a metal or wood desk, but a genuinely strong and well designed product, with the attention to detail I expect from a more expensive product.

A cardboard desk that is contemporary, attractive, easy to lift and move about, and will do a good five years of hard labour, after which you can take it to the recycling centre. That’s the thinking behind Flute Office’s FlutePRO desk, which has won a FIRA Innovation Award.

If you are furnishing an office and dash to Ikea to see what you can pick up, it would be worth considering how desks such as Flute can fit into your environment, making it easier to move offices around, customisable to brand colours and recyclable when they have lived a good life.


It might have struck you that this blog is about ‘made to last’ products and cardboard furniture is hardly made for this purpose. You would be correct, many of the products have a lifespan less than their usual competitors, however there are times when this furniture may be used for temporary periods of time, or indeed that you foresee an end to their life so choose inexpensive, poor-quality furniture that you “don’t mind throwing away” because it costs little.

Which brings me back round to ‘made to last’, where by recyclable furniture can continue it’s life later after it has served its purpose to you, without harm to the earth’s resources and without the intense production methods. I would advocate considering the lifespan of the product you will buy, and whether you can reduce your impact on the planet by choosing to buy a great-quality cardboard product over a poor-quality metal or wood product.

Where to buy:
Desks from £149, Storage from £79 at Flute Office
Wiggle Side Chair, £655 at Aram
Cardboard Bed, AUD $299 at Karton
Newspaper Wood, available from various stores via Vij5

Further resources:
EcoFloots Cardboard Furniture
Smart Deco Furniture

Form Us With Love democratise design for Ikea

What should I do if I can’t afford to buy a chair for £200? That’s a question that I naturally get asked a lot because I tend to write about design classics and products #madetolast…which, in turn, tends to cost more for quality materials.

So I set upon a challenge to find an affordable chair that you or I could afford with our modest budgets, given the high cost of living in London. I discovered this is easy enough to find, but difficult to fully endorse because the design is often compromised.

In walks Ikea, who was the last on my list for good design, who teamed up with Form Us With Love, a Stockholm-based design studio, whom, for almost ten years have put dialogue and relevance at their core.


“Our collaborative objective was to find the perfect multi-purpose chair, easy to fall in love with and quick to maintain,” says Form Us With Love “using neat yet durable frames, a new collection of chairs and stools are presented, BIFMA tested* and sold at a remarkable price”.

*BIFMA is the not‐for-profit trade association for business and institutional furniture manufacturers. Since 1973, BIFMA has been the voice of the commercial furniture industry.



And they certainly live up to the remarkable price tag…the chairs are £40 and the stools £100.

Janinge started out as a challenge – to create a chair that could handle the everyday wear and tear of a restaurant, yet be well-designed enough to take home. Form Us With Love needed to design for strength, durability and stability, as well as high quality and comfort. Thanks to close cooperation and team spirit, they managed to solve the equation of combining design, function and quality in the same chair – and at a low price.

“The great idea behind the Janinge collection is the democratization of design, to create a durable construction, based on the needs of both domestic and public environments” says Ikea.

Ikea’s UK press office told me that development of the chair started in 2011 and is produced in Italy. This was an interesting and encouraging sign that you can produce quality furniture at affordable prices within Europe. We all know that it is possible, but so rarely do we experience that these days.

Made from reinforced polypropylene plastic, the same material that Robin Day’s polyprop chair is made from, I am pleased to see some commitment from Ikea to change their production principles from incredibly unethical processes to promising change over the coming years.

“For many years we have worked with others to increase the supply of wood from responsibly managed forests. We are one of the founding members of the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) and we now have 21 foresters working to ensure that all wood is sourced in compliance with our forestry standards and to increase the share of certified wood in our supply chain.”

This is a vast improvement on a previous statement whereby “the company declines to pay a premium to ensure that all timber is legally harvested, citing costs that would be passed along to the consumer.”



Designer: Form Us With Love
Manufacturer: Ikea
Year: 2015
Price: £40-£100

The Nàdurra Dram Chair by Gareth Neal

I’m lucky enough that my work gives me regular visits to some of London’s finest emporiums and on one such visit I spotted a whisky drinking chair that demanded my attention.

New & exclusive to The New Craftsmen is the ‘Dram Chair’ by Gareth Neal, inspired by The Glenlivet Nàdurra – a connoisseurial whisky crafted in small batches using traditional techniques.



I do love whisky, catching the taste of it during my years bartending in five-star hotels, being shown the best way to drink it depending on whether it is single or blended. Tip: adding water to any single malt changes the composition of the spirit and unlocks more flavours and aromas. Yum.

And lest not forget how confused people are by the spelling of whisky, or whiskey, which differs geographically. As a rule, American and Irish prefer ‘whiskey’ and the Scots, Canadians and the rest of the world’s single malt makers prefer ‘whisky’. This originated during the 19th century. Around 1870, for exportation to America, the Irish distillers wanted to differentiate their product from the poorer Scotch whisky, thus they added the ‘e’ to mark the crucial distinction. It’s easy to remember… there’s no ‘e’ in Scotland.

Where was I, oh yes, this marvellous chair. Intended for relaxation and enjoying a ‘dram’ of whisky, expertly hand-crafted by Gareth Neal to imaginatively capture the spirit of Nàdurra (meaning “natural” in Gaelic) in both function and form.





Gareth Neal spent time up at the distillery meeting the producers of the whisky and gaining a detailed understanding of the production process. The wide open landscape, the huge copper stills and the passion of the makers, all inspired and informed the final design.


The chair is formed from the oak which is crucial to the maturation of the prestigious single malt whisky. A dram can be nestled comfortably on the chair’s arm while the back and seat are made from a single hide of oak bark tanned leather, skilfully cut and fitted to the oak frame. Copper rivets, mirroring the copper stills used in the whisky production process, provide a subtle flash of highly contemporary detailing. Each chair will be marked and numbered, not only reflecting the uniqueness of the piece but also the growing value and demand for Gareth Neal’s exciting and original approach to contemporary furniture making.

The original design is on display at The New Craftsmen store in Mayfair, from 14th October 2014 through to 24th December 2014, after which time it takes up residence at The Glenlivet Distillery in Scotland. A limited number of chairs can be commissioned to order, with orders open only to those who have registered as Guardians of The Glenlivet.


Manufacturer: The New Craftsmen
Designer: Gareth Neal
Year: 2014
Price: £6,200

Recto Verso by Martino Gamper at Ace Hotel (#LDF14)

A funny thing happened during London Design Festival 2014… a little collection of installations occurred at the Ace Hotel, curated by Laura Houseley of Modern Design Review… and it was… a marvel to behold.


This inspired collection of installations took over areas of the Ace Hotel, from the entrance, to the restaurant and even the soft seating area in the workspace room.

The café was home to my favourite piece – Martino Gamper’s Recto Verso chair – a simplified, modernised version of the traditional bentwood café chair which Gamper plans to produce himself. This quirky installation, with cute dog included, was also the international launch of this new functional chair.


“It is a bit about my fascination with the bentwood chair and a bit about my frustration with the furniture industry that I wanted to manufacture a chair myself. The chair is strong, easy to use; it stacks.”

Martino Gamper



At £299, it is more than twice the price of the Thonet chair that Gamper is basing this chair upon, although Thonet have the advantage of having sold more than 50 million chairs worldwide… and that was just before 1930!

Instead, this chair is in the region of some of the most popular chairs today, Ercol’s stacking chair or Case Furniture’s 675 chair by Robin Day.

This chair has a simplicity to make it timeless and a design to make it popular with a price to make it sell. Good luck Gamper, I hope to see hundreds of these chairs in every dining room or café.

Designer: Martino Gamper
Manufacturer: Martino Gamper
Year: 2014
Price: £299.00

Plain, Simple, Useful. The America folding metal chair

Once upon a time there was a chair, a plain, simple, useful and inexpensive folding metal chair, which appeared in cupboards and sheds all over the nation. The Conran Shop’s America chair was not the first folding chair to grace our homes but it is my favourite. And it is my favourite folding chair because of the incredibly great value price-tag it comes with… just £12.95. Or at least it did, as this chair has now been discontinued and there is very little information about this chair.

habitat macadam folding metal chair office 001
Habitat Macadam chair

But of course, there are many other versions of the chair including the Macadam by Habitat who are the rightful owners of this chair when it was introduced into their stores in the 1970s.

Now, we owe this product to the work of Sir Terence Conran, who opened the Habitat stores and later The Conran Shop which should help determine the origins of the chair, and in-turn the original version of the chair. If anyone knows which came first… the Macadam or the America then I would be delighted to update this post. It is not known if Terence Conran had a hand in the design of this chair but as a retailer he has put it in to both collections over the years so must also be fond of this utility product.


Now here comes the tricky part… because I am a fan of the Conran Shop’s version with the integrated curved brace bar at the back of the chair with a far more elegant way of connecting the legs. The front brace bar is welded on to the legs with a seamless joint making this chair a more sophisticated version of the classic folding chair.

When hung upside down, the America chair has a sturdy bar from which to hang, whereas the Macadam chair has the attached bars which look clumsy. In my view, the Macadam chair is precisely why folding chairs are given a bad name, they look cheap, rather than inexpensive. They appear unrefined to those of us that love the details of a product.

Habitat creative director Polly Dickens recently took a trip to the factory where the Macadam chair is made and the Habitat blog kept a nice record of the trip…

habitat macadam folding metal chair factory 001

habitat macadam folding metal chair factory 002

habitat macadam folding metal chair factory 003

I’m very lucky to have bought six America chairs before they were discontinued as the perfect temporary dining room. I love the utilitarian design that bring people together when more chairs can be added to those without seats. This chair was designed for large gatherings and therefore only brings with it good memories.

So begins my campaign for the Conran Shop to bring back the America chair. Plain, Simple, Useful.

In the absence of the America chair, you can still pick up the Macadam chair for £10 at Habitat, or join my crusade for detail.

habitat macadam folding metal chair office 002

Designer: Unknown
Manufacturer: Habitat and The Conran Shop
Year: 1970s
Price: £10.00 and £12.95

Lina Bo Bardi’s Bowl Chair by Arper

I might not have seen the Bowl Chair before January this year but something about it made me instantly think that it was a classic design. The shape and concept of the vessel-like chair is an idea so impractical, yet so practical.

Designed in 1951 by an activist of the Italian resistance movement, Lina Bo Bardi, the Bowl Chair echoes Lina Bo Bardi’s love for simple, functional, organic forms. The seat can be swivelled in different positions and perform multiple functions.


The key element is our interaction with the object, which was revolutionary for the 1950s, the Bowl Chair reinvented the way people sat–favouring natural and relaxed postures–and testified to a cultural change already underway when it was designed.

Arper has tackled the process of industrialisation of the production of Bo Bardi’s Bowl Chair for the first time, much to my delight. However, the Bo Bardi Bowl Chair will only be produced in a limited, numbered edition of just 500.


Each step of this process has been shared with the Instituto Lina Bo e P. M. Bardi, so that the limited edition Bowl Chair complies with the original design aspiration of Lina Bo Bardi and comes with a certificate to prove it.





In addition to the original black leather version, the Bowl chair is available in seven fabric colour options. Each colour option comes with three different sets of cushions to choose from, these include a set of one-colour cushions to match the colour of the shell, two-colour cushions or a pair of patterned cushions inspired by Lina Bo Bardi’s original sketches.




Designer: Lina Bo Bardi
Manufacturer: Arper
Year: 1951
Price: £4435

Barber Osgerby for Bodleian Library // #LDF13

Something rather special just happened and I don’t know how many people realise it. The world famous (indeed it is) Bodleian Libraries in Oxford have just announced the winner of the chair competition to design a new chair for readers to use in the library.

Of course, on its own that doesn’t light many fires but when put in context that this is the third such commission by the library with the first being the 1756 chair, and then the 1930s redesign by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (architect of Battersea Power Station and designer of the red telephone box), this third chair had a lot to live up to and indeed will go on to be known within the library long after the designers have passed putting their names firmly in the hall of fame of great 21st Century designers.

1756 chair

Who are these designers… well the title of the post is a giveaway as it is none other than Ed Barber and Jay Osgerby, toasts of the town already with their Olympic torch and numerous other commissions. The duo have proved yet again why they deserve such accolade as their design is most certainly fitting of the project and not a hint of a signature style from the designers which would be all too tempting to do but this chair is more than another to add to the collection, it will become an icon in itself with the designers names become a footnote to most who use it.

Image copyright Jamie Smith

Image copyright Jamie Smith

Let me tell you a story about how it all started…in 2012 the University of Oxford’s historic Bodleian Libraries launched a competition inviting designer/manufacturer teams to create a new reading room chair. The competition continues the Bodleian Libraries’ history of commissioning bespoke reader chairs dating back as far as 1756.

After receiving over 60 entries at the first stage, six teams were selected for stage two to develop initial designs that met the requirements of: comfort, practicality, longevity and character. These six designs were then reviewed developing full scale working prototypes which were then tested by readers within a library environment.

The new chair will feature in a number of reading rooms in the Weston Library, formerly known as the New Bodleian Library, which re-opens in 2014 after a three-year remodelling and refurbishment by Wilkinson Eyre Architects. The new Library, originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930s, will create a high-quality environment for the Libraries’ valuable special collections, expand public access through new exhibition galleries and develop the Libraries’ space for the support of advanced research.


With judges ranging from Sir Kenneth Grange CBE, Professor Martin Roth (Director of The Victoria & Albert Museum), Professor Jeremy Myerson (Director of Design at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design), architecture critic Tom Dyckhoff, Jim Eyre (Director of Wilkinson Eyre Architects) and Richard Ovenden (Interim Bodley’s Librarian at Bodleian Librarie) the expert panel were always going to be a tough set to impress. Collectively, they have seen it all and know everything there is to know about what this chair should do so unveiling the winner was not much surprise to me having seen the competition.

Image copyright Jamie Smith

Image copyright Jamie Smith

The chair had to be comfortable for readers to sit for up to 10 hours a day, avoid scraping sounds on the floor when chairs are moved in and out which might disturb other readers and of course sit within the architecture of these historic buildings.

Barber Osgerby took the approach of a three-legged chair with horseshoe base and arms which perfectly reflect each other yet offer the function needed for each element. By steam-bending the tips of the feet upwards they could make it easier to move in and out of the spaces, just like a sledge might do. This trick was something they learnt on the 2011 Tip Ton chair for Vitra but it is great to see how the idea is used in a completely different way.

The chair is a wonderful piece of furniture that defines our time yet continues a line of succession incredibly well, which I am sure will be well received and used for many years. It will be available to buy from the Bodleian Library shop in due course just as the original 1756 chair is.




Designer: BarberOsgerby
Manufacturer: Isokon Plus
Year: 2013
Price: £TBC

Thonet 214 Bentwood Chair

Let me start by saying that, despite popular demand, Thonet is not pronounced ‘Tho-nay’ as it might be if Michael Thonet were French however the German-Austrian cabinet maker pronounced his name as ‘Ton-et’ with a hard beginning and ending with the T.

Now on to the chair, the famous coffee house chair which became an icon and is considered to be the most successful mass produced product in the world, even more than the Polyprop chair by Robin Day.


During the 1850s, Michael Thonet developed and perfected his technique of bending solid wood and became the first time serial furniture producer, and thus became the No. 14 chair (or the 214 chair as it is no known). But it wasn’t just this process which made it a huge success, it was the distribution model which added to this: 36 disassembled chairs could be packed into a one cubic meter box, shipped throughout the world, and then assembled on site. And all of this long before Ikea was even a twinkle in Ingvar Kamprad’s eye.


The chair is made of six pieces of steam-bent wood, 10 screws, and two nuts. The wooden parts are made by heating beechwood slats to 100°C, pressing them into curved cast-iron molds, and then drying them at around 70°C for 20 hours. This process also meant that the chairs could be mass-produced by unskilled workers and disassembled to save space during transportation.


With his invention of bentwood furniture, Thonet laid a cornerstone in industrial production methods. More than 865,000 bentwood chairs were produced per year in today’s Czech Republic, Hungary, and Russia totalling 50 million chairs between 1859 and 1930. After Michael Thonet’s death in 1871 his sons took over running the company and during the 1930s created some iconic tubular steel furniture, but we’re not here to talk about that.


As part of a collobration between Japanese retailer Muji and Thonet, designer James Irvine revisited the chair design in 2009 to create a version of the bentwood chair. “It was so interesting to ‘find’ the table for the ‘No. 14′. Totally old and totally new,’ Irvine told Architonic. This allowed Irvine to consider how the two pieces work together and this resulted in the horizontal panel across the back at the height of the table top.



Today, 5th generation Peter Thonet, is running the family company and working with renowned contemporary architects and designers such as Claudio Bellini, Stefan Diez, Naoto Fukasawa, Hadi Teherani, James Irvine, Glen Oliver Löw, Lepper, Schmidt, Sommerlade. They continue the work of Michael Thonet and the established company that he created more than 160 years ago.


Designer: Michael Thonet
Manufacturer: Thonet
Year: 1859
Price: £545 from

Alvar Aalto 403 Hallway Armchair for Artek

I’m very familiar with the work of Alvar Aalto but when I first saw the 403 Hallway Armchair I was sure that it was a product made by the Finnish manufacturer Artek but it looked so modern that I was unsure if this was a new product or something designed by Aalto.

I had convinced myself that this was a chair designed recently with the spirit of the traditional products which Aalto produced to fit in to the market for occasional seating in the home or office. The shape is so simple yet something that looks like it was designed in 2013.


So to discover that this chair was designed in 1932 was quite a surprise as this 81-year old chair is as good as anything being produced now, and stackable as if the same values that we design for now were an exact copy of those from the 1930s.

I know it is hard to see it now with so many designs emulating this, but take yourself back to the 1930s where most homes were still very traditional in style and only a few were beginning to bring more modern styles in to their homes with designs of art deco or modernist style.



Aalto was commissioned to design a tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio, Finland which was completed in 1932. The building served exclusively as a tuberculosis sanatorium until the early 1960s, when it was converted into a general hospital. But Aalto didn’t just design a building, he and his wife Aino designed all of the sanatorium’s furniture and interiors including the 403 Hallway Armchair.

Now part of the permanent collection of MoMA, the 403 chair has become a lesser-known icon of 1930s design. A vintage version of the armchair made by Finmar (between 1948-1965) is currently on sale through Sigmar for £3800 whereas a new version would now cost just £441.


Designer: Alvar Aalto
Manufacturer: Artek
Year: 1932
Price: £441

Why Terence Conran loves the Karuselli chair

Almost three years ago I was invited along to the launch of the Conran Classics collection, a series of 54 (later became 63) products which the Conran family added to a hall of fame forever.

An interesting discovery of the collection was reading about Terence Conran’s favourite piece, the Karuselli chair designed by Yrjö Kukkapuro in 1964, a Swinging Sixties chair if there ever was one, in fact the manufacturer Avarte refer to the chair as ‘Swiveling and swinging Loungechair’.


In the collection booklet, Stephen Bayley wrote:
“After a pleasant lifetime of after-dinner experimentation with a glass of marc de Bourgogne in one hand and a Hoyo de Monterrey in the other, this has become Terence Conran’s personal favourite chair. Kukkapuro is one of Finland’s leading designers, although – while pleasingly ergonomic – this chair was not so much the product of research as the result of playing in the snow with his daughter, Isa. The snow chairs they made were so inspiring, he went to his workshop atelier to create something similar out of ‘real materials’. While elegantly austere, the chair is superlatively comfortable. A sticker beneath the seat will say: ‘Avarte. Made in Finland, designed by Yrjö Kukkapuro’.”

Image © Fears and Kahn


Born in 1933, the Finnish furniture designer Yrjö Kukkapuro is a central figure of Finnish functionalism. Kukkapuro has been working as a freelance designer since the 1950s and much of the furniture he designed at the beginning of his career is still in production.

“Does it make any sense to design a chair which is not good to sit on?” says Kukkapuro. He studied at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki and has been influenced substantially by his teachers Ilmari Tapiovaara, Werner West, Runar Enblom und Olli Borg.

In 1958 he founded his own studio in Helsinki and after creating groundbreaking designs like the Karuselli lounge chair, Kukkapuro was offered a role teaching. In his role as Art Director of Finnish manufacturer Avarte he influenced the product portfolio substantially and created an unique corporate design and identity.

During his career Kukkapuro has been awarded many prizes including the Lunning Prize in 1966, the 1st Prize at the International Chair Design Competition in 1972 and the Kaj Franck Design Prize in 1995. His pieces are part of the permanent collections in museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the MoMA in New York and the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.


Designer: Yrjö Kukkapuro
Manufacturer: Avarte
Year: 1964
Price: £4,080

Karimoku New Standard: four years on

Back in April during the Milan Furniture Fair I was introduced to a product collection that I hadn’t discovered until this point. Japanese furniture makers Karimoku, known for making furniture over the past 70 years and in more recent years creators of mid-Century inspired furniture.

Fast forward to 2009 and Karimoku decide to enter a more modern furniture market, employing the skills of new designers to breathe fresh life in to the company. Their new company Karimoku New Standard is borne out of a collaboration of some of the most promising international design talents featuring innovative, versatile objects that blend into your individual living environment to find a place in your daily life.





Karimoku’s New Standard brand is a collection made from solid Japanese hardwoods, maple, chestnut and oak although this is not how we traditionally see these materials. Their tradition derives from a deep understanding of craftsmanship, bound together with innovative technologies to build furniture that meets the highest requirements of quality and sustainability.

In an attempt to preserve and revitalise Japanese forests and resume a balance with the local industry, the
hardwood used is gained from low-diameter trees that have previously remained significantly underused, ending up mostly as wood chips for paper pulp.

The collection is certainly “of its time” making use of popular pastel colours, distinctive patterns, shapes and the mixture of materials. With a feeling similar to pieces by HAY and Muuto, Karimoku New Standard should manage to fit in to the contract market well. The question is, how will Karimoku evolve the company over the coming years as styles change and their designs need to continuously update? If this collection is anything to go by, I think they will do well.





Designer: various
Manufacturer: Karimoku New Standard
Year: 2009
Price: furniture from £292

Why I’ll never buy a Tolix chair replica

What’s the point of blogging about design if you don’t put a stake in the ground and say what really interests you and what you really think about something? After all, I’m not a journalist tied to the story that my editor gives me… I can choose what to say and when to say it.

And replica furniture is a real bugbear of mine, not because I am a snob or rich (neither feel true) but because I think about the effect of buying a copycat over an original design. I know first-hand how expensive it can be to design, develop, manufacture and market an original design so to see copies appearing on the market takes some of the income to be generated away from the designer.


This has a longer-term effect of meaning the process needs to be shorter, or faster in order to keep costs lower. This also affects the research and development of products that might never become great sellers but aid designers thinking to help them become better designers and produce better designs. We want these things, so we need to realise our involvement as consumers in this process.

So, let’s talk Tolix. If you didn’t know this companies designs before, you would have sat on the Tolix chair outside cafe’s and restaurants or even in your own garden. If you haven’t say in the exact one, you will have sat in something inspired by the Tolix chair. Sometimes designers of the imitations might not even realise that they’ve seen the chairs before, but they have been nevertheless.

Photograph by Wunderlust Hotel

Photograph by Chelsea Fullerton of Go Forth Creative.

Photograph by Market Lane Coffee

“Over the years, this Tolix chair (sic) has come to symbolise what I like to term democratic excellence, meaning that it’s mass-produced and universally acceptable.” Terence Conran

Xavier Pauchard (1880-1948) was a pioneer of galvanisation and shortly after the first world war he found himself in charge of a flourishing manufacture of galvanised sheet-metal domestic items, which at the time, embodied household comfort. It was in 1927 that he registered the trademark TOLIX, at the same time changing to the production of chairs, armchairs, stools and metal furniture. The Model A chair has become an icon of industrial design, crafted in sheet metal to become solid, durable and produced at an inexpensive price.

You’ll find a lot of Tolix chair replicas, saving you a massive £101 per Tolix chair in some cases but when you are about to enter your credit card details in to the checkout just consider the true cost of the chair, even if the quality seems comparable… how would you feel if your work was copied and others profited from it?


Elle Decoration fought the fakes recently with the Conran Shop Get Real campaign. The campaign was originally conceived to address the disparity between intellectual property laws in the arts, which saw product and industrial designers receive significantly less copyright protection than was granted to artists, writers and musicians. In my mind, this was not where the matter ends, as it may add protection in law but doesn’t begin to change the perception of ‘fakes’ in the minds of consumers… consumers who have less money to spend and a lured by the replica prices for well-known designs.

“By protecting new designs more generously,” says Terence Conran, “we are encouraging more investment of time and talent in British design. That will lead to more manufacturing in Britain, and that in turn will lead to more jobs – which we desperately need right now. Properly protected design can help make the UK a profitable workshop again. We have the creative talent – lets use it.”

Cult Furniture, who make money selling replicas of the Tolix chair, even make a statement on their product page that they are in no way affiliated with the company Tolix. “Our furniture is inspired by the designs of Xavier Pauchard and not to be confused with those which are manufactured and sold by Tolix.” This token gesture might help them in law to give the consumer the choice but who are we kidding?

Whichever choice you make, I hope that you consider these points and make informed decisions so that when you sit on your Tolix chair you know exactly how you feel about it. Real versus replica, the debate continues…


Designer: Xavier Pauchard
Manufacturer: TOLIX
Year: 1927
Price: Genuine Tolix chair from £156

How to weave a PK22 wicker chair

Following on from last year’s moving window display, Skandium called in big guns Fritz Hansen to create a PK22 chair in wicker for passers-by to watch and discover why it comes with the £2,407 price tag.

Taking all day to create, the PK22 chair in wicker was being shown by Skandium to draw attention to the craftsmanship and the people who create these products. So often are we far removed from the process that we almost have an in-built assumption that all products are produced by putting raw materials in to a machine and ta-da a chair is created. It’s difficult to imagine the full extent of the work involved in creating products and making them look so simple that we marvel only at the beauty rather than the story and history of that product before it made it to the shop floor.

In my view, this one-day-only exhibit is a great showcase for products that really do need to be shown to people for what they are and mine, and our, jobs as bloggers to take great photos and post it for all to see.



The discrete and elegant lounge chair PK22 epitomizes the work of Poul Kjærholm and his search for the ideal type-form and industrial dimension, which was always present in his work. The profile of the steel frame structure originates from his graduation project, the “Element” Chair (PK25™), from the School of Applied Arts in Copenhagen. On the PK22, the structure was divided into separate elements due to design improvements and for economical production.


The PK22 was an immediate commercial and critical success. In 1957, the chair was awarded the Grand Prix at the Milan Triennale, the world’s premier design fair. The prize catapulted Kjærholm’s career and immediately he became a name on the international scene and has enjoyed this position ever since. The PK22 is available in wicker, suede or leather with a base in satin-brushed stainless steel.


Designer: Poul Kjaerholm
Manufacturer: Fritz Hansen
Year: 1957
Price: £2407.00 from Skandium

Kevi chair by Jørgen Rasmussen

In my constant quest to record design classics, learning more about them as I do, I make my way towards the Kevi chair which has been on the list for some time now.

Sat in many times but never owned, the Kevi chair is, in my opinion, the best task chair you can purchase. And this is for many reasons beyond its ability to perform as a task chair. The chair is so light in design that a room filled with Kevi chairs is not overrun by the attention-hogging task chairs that we so often see in workspaces.


An elegant task chair, which is usually an oxymoron, the Kevi started life in 1958 when designer Jørgen Rasmussen created the first model of the groundbreaking classic chair series, of which 2.5 million were sold.


The Kevi range, which also includes upholstered models, was designed in 1958 by the Danish architects and twins Ib and Jørgen Rasmussen. In 1965 Jørgen Rasmussen invented the ´twin-wheel castor’ for the chair, which has since made everything from Kevi chairs to Philips televisions easy to move. The castors were added to the list of ”Danish cultural products”—as one of the 12 most important design and craftwork pieces of Danish culture.

Designed by an architect, the Kevi is suitable for homes, offices, schools and workplaces where one solution must satisfy many demands. Everything is visible, nothing is superfluous: seat, back, base, and controls designed to functional perfection. A simple well-balanced formula that incorporates aesthetic appeal with freedom of movement plus the flexibility you would expect from a full-service program.

Kevi chair by Jorgen Rasmussen for Engelbrechts A:S 002

There have been many versions of the Kevi over the years. I’ve very fond of the original but the padded version is extremely comfortable. This model is called Kevi 2534u (shown here with a Paul Smith stripe). I do have a penchant for the leather upholstered version.

The Kevi is now available in multiple colours, multiple upholstery types and now even an Air version with a perforated seat and back allowing more airflow for longer sitting times. This is one chair that can be played with in many ways but still is identifiable by how simple the ideas are.

Long live the Kevi chair.

Kevi chair by Jorgen Rasmussen for Engelbrechts A:S 004

Designer: Jørgen Rasmussen
Manufacturer: Engelbrechts A/S since 2008
Year: 1958
Price: £495.00 from twentytwentyone

Zig-Zag chair, 1934

Not all chairs make it in to the hall of fame category that is being classed as a ‘design classic’ but the Zig-Zag chair has stood its ground in this category more than half a century.

Gerrit Rietveld designed the Zig-Zag chair comprising four planar elements, originally constructed from oak with brass fittings and later changed to cherry with more complex dovetailing, it was, and still is, radically different from traditional chair design. Minimal in section, and easily stacked, it is both practical and revolutionary.

Rietveld was very much aware of the discrepancy between the simple shape and the relatively complicated construction and said himself, it is not a chair but a “designer joke.” The actual goal of the design was to create a functional form which does not displace space but allows it to be perceived as a continuum.

Now officially produced by Italian furniture makers, Cassina (who purchased the rights in 1971), the Zig-Zag chair is, like most design classics, frequently copied and sold. You can spot a Cassina chair by looking on the underside for the Cassina mark and the number etched in to the wood.


The Zig-Zag (not to be confused with the Irish puppets) is an expression of the ‘De Stijl‘ movement and is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1918 Reitveld joined the De Stijl movement which had sprung up around the review of that name founded the year before by Theo van Doesburg, translating certain laws of composition that had already been expressed by the Cubists.


The work of Rietveld is defined by continual experimentation. The brilliant Dutch architect of neoplasticism designed and proposed numerous variations on his most famous models. He loved raw surfaces and sometimes whitened wood with natural reagents such as sunlight or salt. Rietveld created several variations of the Zig-Zag chair, including some with varnished colours and white sections, which are displayed at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht.

Reitveld possessed a duality of character which was exhibited in two ways. First was as a craftsman cabinet maker, working in a primordial idiom, reinventing chairs and other furniture as if no one had ever built them before and following a structural code all of his own; the second is that of an architect working with elegant formulas, determined to drive home the rationalist and neoplastic message in the context of European Architecture.

Cassina have produced a video showing the modern construction of the chair. Turn your sound down to avoid to bad muzak, sit back and enjoy craft and manufacturing goodness…

How to make a CH24 Wishbone chair by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen


Hans J. Wegner designed the CH24 back in 1949, inspired by antique Chinese “emperor’s chairs”. European chair making traditions and Wegner’s own restless curiosity and sculptural aesthetics no doubt also played an important role.


Wegner designed the chair to be beautiful and functional – not to be easy to make. It was up to Holger Hansen and his team of craftsman to figure out a way to make the chair in serial production – and then try to sell it. The curved top rail had to be steam-bent under pressure, a technique that was still relatively new at the time. The characteristically sinuous front legs had to be turned in a process so demanding that it defied the limits of serial production.



All pieces had to be joined so precisely that even the smallest mistake in one joint would ruin the overall structural integrity of the chair. And then skilled weavers had to figure out how to create a comfortable and long-lasting seat with a material that had never been used in furniture production before: paper cord. And through it all, Wegner demanded that every CH24 – from the very first to the first few dozen (and later, thousands) lived up to his exacting standards: museum quality, no matter whether you make one or one hundred.

Every CH24 is still the result of more than 100 manual operations. And worth every 564 hard-earned pounds.


Skandium had the genius idea of using their window in Marylebone to show the process of making the CH24.


Florinda chairs by DePadova

Monica Förster has created some fantastic contemporary products for companies such as Modus, Poltrona Frau, Cappellini and De Padova. Based in Stockholm her work has a strong sense of pure form mixed with a never-ending curiosity for new materials and technology.

florinda chair depadova Monica Forster

The Florinda chair, designed in 2011, is a mixture of beech wood and plastic combined in a simple shape that was conceived to erase the boundaries between zones, and lends itself to a wide range of different interpretations: from the dining area to the home studio, it can also easily adapt to restaurants, cafes and public areas, due to its contemporary look and versatility.

florinda chair depadova Monica Forster

florinda chair depadova Monica Forster