Cantonal, red, tricky
by Michael Kasiske
Dec 8, 2013

The magic tipping point appears to be 50. Before they reach this ominous age, architects are still considered young. And things are no different in design, for the three Zurich product designers who are being presented in conjunction with “Neue Räume” under the label of “young designers” are 37, 40 and 45 respectively. However, we need to distinguish between them and the budding talents who operate under the “young labels” epithet, and between them and the established designers, such as Alfredo Häberli and Studio Hannes Wettstein, for whom some of the trio have worked in the past.

For Moritz Schmid, the baby of the bunch, Häberli remains an important figure, namely as the curator of Atelier Pfister. This product line-up aspires to offer good furniture at a reasonable price. In the past three years this claim culminated in a remarkable collection, that pays due homage to Switzerland, albeit slightly tongue in cheek: The name of each product must stem from the home canton of the designer who created it.

This is why Schmid named his chair “Eriz” – after a small community in the canton of Bern. It seems to be the backrest, visibly attached with screws, that elevates the stool made of ash to the status of a chair proper. Besides glass, wood is the preferred material of the designer, who took the plunge five years ago and founded his own business in the up-and-coming Langstrassen quarter.

“Etage”, a shelf-cum-sideboard stocked by Röthlisberger readily reveals that Schmid devoted much time and effort to completing the oval shape and the precise finish to perfection. The base is made of solid oak, the sliding case of oak veneer and the slide rails of Arura Vermelho wood, with a perfectly smooth surface. Behind the eye-catching wooden handle is a catch that keeps the case in position. Inside, shelves and solid-wood bookends keep contents neat and tidy. For this homage to the “value of wood” Schmid was honored with the “Swiss Design Prize 2013”.

Schmid has once again teamed up with Röthlisberger to design a bench destined to welcome visitors to the Swiss stand at next year’s Leipzig Book Fair and persuade them to tarry a while. Switzerland will be the 2014 host country. The brief contained only one specification: The item had to be red – the national color. The item’s structural composition is readily comprehensible, the details that catch the eye are the tear-drop-shaped cross sections for the seating surface and backrest, though, as Schmid explains, the rear back slats’ only function is to “balance the object aesthetically”.

As an interior designer, Schmid first caught the eye with the Zurich showroom for the Danish fabrics manufacturer Kvadrat. To offset the basement location in conceptual terms, he presented panels of fabric as textile wall cladding that formed a kind of second level in the space. Moreover, Schmid is the brain behind the exhibition design for “Vintage”, currently on show at Zurich’s Museum für Gestaltung.

Forty-year-old This Weber can claim countless pieces of furniture to his name. His studio near the Zeughaus gives the impression of a workshop, which might be attributed to the fact that Weber trained as a locksmith and mechanic first. Following an initial stint in jewelry design, he spent some time in product development at Thonet as well as at both Häberli Marchand and Hannes Wettstein before setting up his own business three years ago.

In his designs Weber aims for a careful use of materials and it is in this vein that he developed “Ono” for Dietiker. The chair is a reference to Willy Guhl, who created a successful chair for the same manufacturer in the 1950s. Mass produced in beech wood, Ono can be stacked, even though its rear legs do not flare. A one-off to begin with, Weber gradually designed an entire product family, complete with an easy chair, a lounge chair, a bar stool and a table.

By contrast, the “Bellevue” series was designed as a versatile range right from the start. The reason: Weber intended the seating furniture produced by Very Wood, an Italian company, to be used in hotels. The primary focus here is on comfort: The seat edges of the objects are upholstered and therefore unobtrusively comfortable.

For Atelier Pfister, Weber succeeded with “Wila” in making a chair with a sales price of less than 200 Swiss francs (162 euros) – and thus comply with Häberli’s benchmark. Accordingly, Weber developed a shell seat made in plastic (or for a more expensive model, in leather); the underframes in metal or wood can be combined as desired. The elegant chairs are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

The luminaire “Watt” is yet another object Weber created for the Atelier Pfister range. The designer thinks of the “luminaire as a white shirt”. The manufacturing process for the cocooning material that has the look-and-feel of reinforced fleece, is quite extraordinary: A synthetic thread is injected onto a rotating stand, where it wraps around the form like the output of a silk spider and compacts into a fabric surface.

Product designer Jörg Boner has been self-employed since 2001. His talents are not strictly in product-making, but also in interior design, which is why he illustrates his ideas against the backdrop of a remise at the Rietberg Museum, which he planned and designed. During the day the venue is mostly booked for kids’ art education classes; in the evenings it tends to host such glamorous events as vernissages and dinners. The museum commissioned Boner to transform the “despicable multi-purpose hall” into a location that would serve both functions well.

In terms of materials, the designer envisaged a space that would draw its character from the quality of its surfaces, while in terms of the underlying idea he devoted himself to the concept for a studio or art space. Consequently, he opted for a flat water basin with fittings, the kind you would find in laundry rooms. To create storage space for the art education materials, he fitted two walls with shelves and wooden drawers. Made of high-quality solid oak, the infuse the space with a touch of sophistication. A charming detail is the metal rail that runs along the shelves and invites the kids to hang up their drawings with magnets.

Turning to seating furniture, Boner developed a timber folding chair that features aluminum steel details and a metallic finish. It is produced by Röthlisberger. The mimicry serves the aspect of comfort just as it brings to bear the desired workshop aesthetic. The same can be said of the three rows of luminous cones that direct the light to the center of the room, obscuring the shelves, which are not required for the evening events.

The focal element is a table made of a stone that has a very pronounced marble effect. Given its opulent quality, in times past this stone was mainly used to embellish Catholic basilicas. Weighing in at two tons, the table resembles an altar as a fixed point of orientation in the space.

All three designers ably prove that they are happy to take a step back from quintessential Swiss sobriety and address their clients’ individual wishes. The results tend to be products of a surprising, even playful quality. Let us hope that they will retain their freshness beyond their years as “young designers”.