Cologne – romantic, more or less
BY Thomas Wagner | Jan 8, 2013

Perhaps it’s the right question after all: “Isn’t it romantic?” Be that as it may, this is precisely the question asked by the Museum of Applied Arts, also known as MAKK, early this year (why they chose an English title in the land of Romanticism of all things, and during the 200th anniversary of the Grimm’s of all years, well, I’ll leave you to figure that one out...). And they even suffixed this question with “Contemporary Design Balancing Between Poetry and Provocation”.

Now wouldn’t that make a great headline for the new-year’s activities in Cologne? In fact, one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to strike at least two words from my vocabulary once and for all. The first to go is “stories” because apparently every thing and every photo and every postage stamp today has nothing better to do than “tell a story”. And the second, as you may have already guessed, is “poetic”. At a loss for words, any words at all, even the most functional of things suddenly becomes “poetic”. Take a moment to really think through what it means if everything truly were meant to be symbolic that is “poetic”, and that includes your washing machine and that carefully-cut BLT.

To go back to the MAKK exhibition. According to the accompanying pamphlet, the show is the curators’ attempt to “confront our modern-day understanding of romanticism and explore a renewed longing for romanticism in the present day.” I don’t know what a gas station attendant or a pharmacist would have to say on the matter and I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t sense any kind of “renewed longing”, let alone one for “beauty and harmony or a place of fulfillment.” “Our understanding of romanticism” – you what? For me, a garden chair with floral accents is still a garden chair; and the pattern sure doesn’t automatically render it an “alternative to Modernism”. Then again, maybe I’ve just missed a few new strands to the debate. As Eartha Kitt so eloquently puts it in her song “Let’s do it”: “Romantic sponges they say do it / Oysters down in Oyster Bay do it / Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.” iTune it! You might find a romantic sponge in the MAKK, I suppose.

Fortunately trade fairs, even furniture fairs, are anything but romantic. Even art fairs were invented in order to sell art and cannot be equated with exhibitions, even though the one or other fair window-dresses as a show. In any case, I’m pleased that there are no qualms to be had about what is going on in the trade fair halls in Deutz.

This year, as the organizers so wonderfully put it, we once again have a “trade fair duo”.

imm Cologne will be joined by the next round of Living Kitchen (in halls 4.1, 4.2 and 5.2.).

For imm Cologne, hall 11 will once again go under the name “Pure” (dedicated to “modern furnishing styles with premium appeal and complete interior philosophies”).

In hall 3.1 unsentimental and romantic contemporaries alike will find that the “Pure Village” with its “creative interior design as presented by product highlights from the areas of furniture, bathroom, lighting and accessories” unravels before you just as expansively as does “Das Haus” (this year devised by Venetian designer Luca Nichetto) and “The Stage”. Not forgetting “D3 Design Talents” also in hall 3.1.

Level 3.2 however has been reserved for “Pure Editions” (to quote the organizers: “Timeless and visionary product concepts with the feel of the special-edition about”) and “Pure Textile” (the “platform for textile furnishings by leading fabric brands”). Stylepark were also on board here as curators of the special exhibition “Featured Editions”.

As part of the 2013 edition the surrounding halls will also boast

“Comfort” = upholstered furniture,
“Smart” = young lifestyles + self-assembly furniture,
“Sleep” = mattresses, sleeping systems and beds, as well as
“Prime” = modern living room and bedroom furniture, solid wood furniture, children’s furniture, period and reproduction furniture.

On the whole, the pundits can really look forward to all the new, improved and rediscovered things that await them this year.

Happy-go-lucky Cologne definitely wouldn’t be half as attractive in January, were it not for the furniture frenzy that takes over the city around the imm Cologne – on show, to be tried and tested, debated, and celebrated. Not only based on the question “Isn’t it romantic?” but also with an expert eye, a tube of Kölsch or three, the inevitable hangover, and a whole bunch of critical gripes. They really do have everything here:

A&W Designers of the year 2013 are Breton-born bros Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. The accompanying show is now back on display in the exhibition space at Kölnischer Kunstverein. Although it is rather strange that the Bouroullecs have received such an honor, they can, after all, lay claim to a truly amazing track record given their tender age. But this really is of no relevance here – as their designs are really fantastic regardless and a far cry from some high-school woodwork project. (Sorry. Rebuke is no longer in order in an age that hinges on adults having to consent on everything. Everything’s roses, right?!) Well be that as it may we are pleased with the outcome. And while on the subject, the Audi Mentor Prize went to Miguel Vieira Baptista.

But Design Post, which you should definitely visit one way or another, went a large step further than simply displaying a selection of the Breton brothers’ products by way of congratulating them on their win. An exclusive: the unveiling of a new product for Kvadrat, with the designers’ themselves present. Not to forget, the “Clouds” (I can see why some might find these “romantic”) will be exhibited in a range of new colors.

Finally, as usual we have the “Passagen” Interior Design Week to thank for the fact that there masses to be seen beyond the pale of all the showrooms and flagship stores – those who prefer to steer clear of the trade fair halls should drop by the new Poltrona Frau, Cappellini, Cassina and Boffi stores in the Spichern Höfe complex in Cologne’s Belgische Viertel district. Here’s a small selection to whet your appetite.

Kartell is holding a preview of “Mini Taj”, Ferruccio Laviani’s latest design for his collection of luminaires. Meaning the LED lamp “Taj” is now available in a new “mini” version. No, not designed for the mini among us, but for norm-sized peoples’ nightstands. Then VitrA Bad will be presenting the shooting stars on the Istanbul design and architecture circuit as part of the “Projektwerkstatt” series: SUPERPOOL – that is, Turkey’s Selva Gürdoğan and Denmark’s Gregers Tang Thomsen and their team. They recently produced a fascinating urban development concept for Istanbul within the framework of the Audi Urban Future Award 2012 curated by Stylepark. The duo will be holding a talk (in English) on the subject of “Positioning architectural practice in Istanbul” on January 19 at 7 p.m. in VitrA Showroom, Agrippinawerft 24 / Rheinauhafen.

Thanks to the new partnership with ECHTWALD an initial selection of products from the first four kkaarrlls collections, which you will be familiar with from Milan, is now going into mass production. They allegedly share a penchant for quality and originality. Genuine enough, but not necessarily romantic simply because there’s a fairy tale story behind it. (kkaarrlls for ECHTWALD, Mauritiuswall 35, 50676 Cologne)

Not to be forgotten: Wohnkultur66 will be presenting the first models from their new in-company collection – while it has overtones of Vienna between the wars, it nonetheless fits into the context of the company’s hitherto purely Nordic feel. Produced by contract manufacturer Brdr. Petersen, who has extended its collection (with designs by Nanna Ditzel, Ib Kofod-Larsen and Vilhelm Lauritzen) to include Ib Kofod-Larsen’s Penguin Series, the collection includes a rocker, lounge chair and dining chairs. (You can view all products on display in Hotel Chelsea, Suite no. 12, Jülicher Strasse 1, 50674 Cologne.)

That just leaves Finn Juhl. But don’t fret the House of Finn Juhl will also be along for the ride this year, albeit in the form of a temporary installation in Hotel Chelsea. Finn Juhl is incidentally the only designer who would warrant a description as “poetic” without us running the danger of sliding down a slippery slope into the overly romantic and kitsch – after all he did design the “Poet Sofa” back in 1941, a design that is as vivacious as it is modern.

Furthermore, in 2013, Alvar Aalto’s three-legged Stool 60 will be (big drum roll please!) 80 years old. Occasion enough for Artek to join forces with the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft to stage an exhibition presenting the production process behind the famous stool. (Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft, Belvederestrasse 60, 50933 Cologne)

And then for the little trend scout in us all, there’s the “Hochschulforum”, displaying projects by 14 different design faculties from across the country: all in a huge hall on the premises of the former ship propeller factory (Lichtstrasse 25, 50825 Cologne), and the “Designers Fair” at the heart of Cologne’s, ahem, “creative hotspot” Ehrenfeld – with around 40 exhibitors having signed up.

“Institut français” Cologne has collaborated with Hyères’ Villa Noailles to showcase the winners of the “Grand Prix” at the Design Parade 2011: France’s Jean-Baptiste Fastrez and Iceland’s Brynjar Sigurdarson. (Antwerpener Strasse 7, 50672 Cologne)

Anyone who still thinks there must be scope for the romantic, kitsch and sentimental in design can slake their longing for romanticism in Café Hallmackenreuther where bordbar is presenting its new, Pan Am-inspired collection. (Brüsseler Platz 9, 50674 Cologne,

So in the official anniversary year of the Grimm’s Tales (which in fact began in 2012 as we all know that the first edition of the Grimm brother’s “Children’s and Household Tales” was published on December 20, 1812, don’t we) we’ll round things up on a rather unromantic note: And if they are still in their furniture frenzy today, if they haven’t drowned.