Typological inventions: Do not design only sofas

Typological inventions: Do not design only sofas

by Marco Romanelli

In English 19th century Victorian homes, there was an almost infinite variety of furnishings. Smoking chairs were different from boudoir chairs; dining chairs were different from formal chairs. The same goes for accessories, from sewing boxes to pipe stands and walking stick stands, bedside cabinets for chamber pots, corner cupboards, étagères and plate racks. With no thought, needless to say, for a domestic system that suited the favoured few and in any case entailed an almost equal variety of strict codes of conduct.

On the other hand, however, whoever would have dreamt that the imagination of furniture buyers these days could stretch no further than three ‘major’ items: a cooker, a sofa (matched by a huge television screen, obviously) and a bed? Imagine for a moment, following Umberto Eco’s theory of semiotics, that an alien is observing this trilogy of choices ‘from the outside’ – what might he infer about our way of life? Just eating, isolating oneself (sofa+TV) and sleeping (without even making love).

This is why we felt it important to flag up some of the typological discoveries, or rediscoveries, that we picked out during the 2018 edition of the Salone del Mobile in Milan. They are testament to an approach to design that still has the power to infiltrate our lifestyles and come up with triggers and different pieces full of potential. An approach that should be instilled in young designers, but especially in the manufacturers to make sure they aren’t all left with only a single string to their bow.

Andrea Anastasio, "Pillow" stool/pouf, Et al.

Pillow is inspired by our need to recharge our batteries and rest during the course of the day and by observing the convivial and social rituals that human beings adopt in different cultural contexts, says Andrea Anastasio, à propos his hybrid piece, part seat and part pouf or footstool. Pillow appears to lack any sort of frame, looking like an upholstered piece, yet load-bearing. Despite its small size, it looks (almost) like a comic character.

Pillow, stool/pouf with a tubular metal frame and plywood top, entirely upholstered and fabric-covered. Dimensions: L49 x D37 x H54 cm

Ichiro Iwasaki, "Kiik" seats and tabletops, Arper

Ichiro Iwasaki says he designed Kiik “By observing spaces where people come and go – parks, museum, airports, and the like – I began to think not about shape, but the ways of gathering. As a result, Kiik was designed to be in harmony with a variety of spaces, an idea illustrated beautifully as well as practically through virtual reality.

Iwasaki starts off by studying contemporary lifestyles, profoundly altered by the use of personal devices, and then designs not an object but a landscape. The result is a ‘space’ that, while respecting personal privacy, postulates the possibility of renewed communication.

A modular system of seats and tabletops. The upholstered, metal-framed modules measure 63x63 cm, while the wooden consoles, with structural reinforcement bars, are 252 cm long and either 58, 72 or 105 cm high, suitable for a variety of uses.

Junpei & Iori Tamaki Design Studio, "Tonbo" coat stand, Living Divani

Can furniture resemble ideograms? Can furniture take on the role of sculptures? Tamaki Design Studio’s intimately minimalist design poses similar questions. Tonbo is in fact an absolute object in its purity, to the point that even the use for which it was designed, hanging clothes, seems to ‘sully’ it. Best left unencumbered, leaving it to make a poetic mark on the domestic space.

Base available in black Marquinia, white Carrara or red Levanto marble, and in high-strength concrete. Structure in lacquered tubular steel. Comes in two different heights (H 160 or 130), fitted with metal and leather hangers.

Benjamin Hubert, "Basket" magazine stand, Fritz Hansen

There was a time when it was well nigh impossible to find a house that did not contain at least one magazine stand, from baskets to tubular metal containers, usually found next to the main armchair, the one belonging to the master of the house. As a type, it has virtually ceased to exist these days (and with it the armchair of the master of the house and the habit of reading) – can you imagine coming across a Kindle or even an iPad in a basket? Benjamin Huver has revisited certain Sixties images and gestures, coming up with an open shell shape with a tall handle. It looks fantastic all on its own, but we’d love to see it piled with interior design magazines!

Solid bent wood handle and tray in moulded veneer. Also available in a lacquered version. Dimensions: L53 x D37 x H36.5 cm

Spalvieri Del Ciotto, children’s "Roof Chair", Magis

Not yet forty, Simone Spalvieri and Valentina Del Ciotto are one of the most interesting young duos on the Italian design scene. After studying at the Milan Polytechnic Design School, they bravely returned to their birthplace, the Marches, and are based in Tolentino, demonstrating that aesthetic updating and typological research can happen anywhere. At the 2018 edition of the Salone, they not only tapped into a forgotten product market - design for children - but they did so by creating a totally innovative object (a chair that replicates the archetypal shape of a house), requiring no little research into materials.

Children’s chair with a tubular aluminium frame; the upper central crossbar is protected with flexible polyurethane padding. Entirely covered with special polyester net fabric (petrol blue or orange). Dimensions: L73 x D51 x H55 cm

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, "Rayures" screens, Glas Italia

Screens are a largely superseded furniture type, as dictated by their purpose: the idea of taking your clothes off behind a screen or of shielding an alcove with a screen is highly unlikely these days. That said, the beauty of an object made up of several different panels articulated in a space, with surfaces ‘of pure pleasure’ remains undimmed.

The Bouroullec brothers accentuate this factor by employing just one single material, glass, in special colourways and striations. The eye is partially deflected, but the light shines through the panels, creating extraordinary effects.

Modular screen with hinged panels (hinges in anthracite chromed glass) made of laminated, tempered and coloured glass. Also available in a smaller, mirrored version. Panel dimensions: W36 or 110 cm and H90 or 200 cm.

Front, "Resting Bear", Vitra

China or rag dolls were still being placed in the middle of double beds during the Sixties while, perversely, children’s parents used to rush around just as guests arrived, tidying away the cuddly bears, tigers, marmots and rabbits scattered all over the house. Now things have changed – a relentless ‘cosy’ spirit has led even the historic Swiss Vitra brand to produce a pouf shaped like a sleeping animal, specifically a bear (which, as the results of a broad-based questionnaire drawn up by the Swedish designers show, is the emotionally enriching and transitional object par excellence). Are we to rest our feet on them while sitting on an outstanding Eames or Aalta chair? An interesting trend marker is the fact that these days, it seems to be the mix of high and low, austere and playful and soft and hard that counts. Even when it comes to iconic pieces and toys.

Made with moulded foam and plastic micro-beads, covered in elasticised knitted fabric, base in velvet-covered plywood. Dimensions: L.92 x D53 x H34. Comes in mauve or petrol blue.