Small is beautiful

Small, light armchairs such as populated our living rooms back in the 1950s and 1960s, with a wooden or tubular steel frame, are back in fashion. They are pretty perfect in an age when residential living is meant to be flexible and comfortable. Even if they are often a kind of nice compromise: Short chair legs that form the frame on which they pared-down version of an expansive upholstered armchair rests.

In the 1960s they had a name for this: “easy chairs”. Today, the moniker tends to be lounge chairs, even if these small armchairs have little in common with the spacious models designed by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames or Hans J. Wegner. Somehow a lot of things today are ‘loungey’, be it at work, at the after-work drinks location, or at home, when the kids have at long last gone to bed and a little quality time can be spent together.

So there’s many a good reason to present you a current selection of these pleasing and uncomplicated armchairs. (mm)

Frisch und vielversprechend

Rolling seat
“Morris Jr.” by Johan Lindau for Blå Station

As so often with Blå Station you’ll no doubt find yourself rubbing your eyes when you see this design for the first time: Are you guys serious? “Morris Jr.” somehow resembles a wheelchair, with its lightly curved tubular steel elements, the backrest set far to the rear, the reduced superstructure, but with precisely four small castors instead of two large and two small wheels. Is the cushion an ironic touch? Is it perhaps meant to ready us for care homes? You could be forgiven not putting this past Johan Lindau, the device’s inventor and creator. He’s regarded as off-beat, and back in 1986 founded Blå Station together with his father Börge Lindau. And it was likewise Börge Lindau who together with his partner Bo Lindekrantz developed the Morris back in the 1960s. The “Jr. Morris” by Lindau Jr. looks refreshed – with help from Stefan Borselius and Thomas Bernstrand Johan Lindau launched his “Morris” at the Stockholm Furniture Fair 2015.
Buggy seat
“Beetle Lounge” by GamFratesi for Gubi

Thankfully Volkswagen does not market its current “Beetle” in a special “Lounge” model. Because this is what GamFratesi has named an armchair and chair for Gubi. Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi view the “Beetle Lounge” as a pleasant companion that blends perfectly with the Gubi Collection, which features many a re-edition, and stylistically evokes the post-War era. Needless to say, the designers have been inspired by beetles: “The chair’s design interprets the key elements of a beetle, its shape, shell, seam, stiff covers and soft interior”. However benevolent we may be, it seems a bit improbable that the “Beetle”, launched in 2014, will be as great a success as the VW of the same name: from 1938 to 2003, the Volkswagen sold no less than 21.5 million times.
Sitting united:
“East River Chair” by Hella Jongerius for Vitra

Outfitting conference rooms with heavy armchairs is counterproductive, suggests Hella Jongerius. In 2009, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned her to conjure up an armchair for the “North Delegates” lounge in the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The result: “East River Chair”, brought out by Vitra last year and clearly intended to stimulate debate and create a friendly conference ambiance. Jongerius, who lives in Berlin and dreamed up a new color scheme for Vitra last year, evidently enjoyed playing with colors and textures in the process. Bright fabrics frame applications in darker colors and materials, including leather, which also have a protective function. A grip fitted on the backrest means the “East River Chair” can be swiftly and easily moved. A special edition model even boasts castors at the front. All in all, the shape and color lend these armchairs a playful and even naïve look-and-feel that is at times downright amusing. Thus providing a welcome contrast to the serious business and demanding debates at the United Nations.
Searching for pearls
“Oyster” by Michael Sodeau for Offecct

Many a designer has been inspired by the oyster, there’s the Berlin hall known locally as the ‘pregnant oyster’ which is now home to the “Haus der Kulturen der Welt”, and then there’s Rolex’s “Oyster”. And furniture designers have also flirted with the crustacean, such as Pierre Paulin with his “Oyster” easy chair back in 1960 or last year when Jörg Boner created his “Oyster” leather set for Wittmann, which with its grooved stitching skillfully imitated the shell. And now Michael Sodeau has revised his “Oyster” armchair, which he originally designed for Offecct in 2010, and brought it out in a small version. Instead of a metal swivel cross the frame of the “Oyster Wood Low” is made of flat bentwood elements. And perhaps because there are no striking wings, the clear allusions to a crustacean are unmistakable. Anyone seated in the opening shell can enjoy feeling like a pearl.
Japanese poem:
“N=N05” by Luca Nichetto and Nendo for Casamania

“How to link islands? Obviously by bridges!”, Luca Nichetto wrote Nendo, when they were busy developing their joint range back in 2012. The two felt it was time to form a new Italian-Japanese duo, following the footsteps of Ettore Sottsass and Shiro Kuramata. And the project was intended to grant much scope, be fun, and not be undertaken in haste with a focus only on profit. But how to collaborate if you are at opposite ends of the world? Nendo proposed the form of Japanese “Tan-ka” poems, whereby you alternate writing the lines. The result: a special friendship, and seven products presented in 2013 at the Milan furniture fair: room divider, stool, carpet, pouf, armchair and two shelves. But back to the beginning: The “islands” refer of course to the two upholstered sections of “N=N05” that are linked by the frame, the “bridge”!

MORE on Stylepark: The cooperation of Luca Nichetto and Nendo

Immer noch jung,
aber fast schon klassisch

Not a quote
“Traffic” by Konstantin Grcic for Magis

Konstantin Grcic loves allusions, be it to industrial structures and elements or to predecessors in design history. And he once again demonstrated this with “Traffic”, the line of upholstered furniture that Magis presented in Milan in 2013: The filigree steel frame, with a coat of colored lacquer, is reminiscent of slender heating pipes and simply surrounds the flat, rectangular upholstery. “Traffic” caused a real stir back then at the Salone. Not only because it was the first time Magis had fielded upholstered furniture, and not only because the team of Magis and Grcic had already spawned the highly successful “Chair One”. But also because with “Traffic” Grcic cited an icon of modern furniture design, namely Le Corbusier’s “LC” upholstered furniture series. Not that Konstantin Grcic was thinking of a nostalgic re-design for a moment. “Traffic” is absolutely independent and contemporary.
Chew candy with your cocktail
“Shrimp” by Jehs + Laub for Cor Interlübke

Anyone who likes crustaceans will just love this. As will those who don’t. “Shrimp” by Markus Jehs and Jürgen Laub for Cor Interlübke. The two Stuttgart-based designers, whose restrained and well-conceived designs stand for urban elegance par excellence, confess they were inspired by Fritt chewing candy. They likewise have such strips. All you have to do is bend them and then you have an armchair shell. An armchair with a molded plywood shell and especially flat upholstery – available in an expansive lounge version and a lower cocktail version.
Agreeable all-rounder
“Morph Lounge” by Formstelle for Zeitraum

It’s likely that Munich designers Claudia Kleine and Jörg Kürschner – together they operate under the moniker of Formstelle – watched the series “Mad Men” in recent times. After all, the shapes and materials of the chairs, sofas and armchairs in their “Morph” range brought out by Zeitraum most definitely seem to have popped out of the staid 1960s. Nevertheless, the “Morph Lounge” with its solid oak or walnut frame and fully-upholstered polyurethane shell (covered on the outside by leather and on the inside by fabric) exudes a sense of all-purpose quality without adhering to some clear style strategy. Be it a country home, a city loft, or a terraced house in the suburbs, the “Morph Lounge” will no doubt look good in all of them.
Refined luxury
“Aston” by Rodolfo Dordoni for Minotti

Most of its dainty cousins like to make a grand entrance, but this lounger likes to exercise restraint: “Aston” by Rodolfo Dordoni for Minotti. “Vintage” is the word that immediately springs to mind – despite the fact that it blends harmoniously with the subdued refinement of the ambiances that Minotti so skillfully creates with his feel for urban elegance, Italian style and high-quality artisan craftsmanship. The small “Aston” chair, which comes with or without armrests and is part of an extended family of easy chairs, sofas, chairs, bar stools, a recamière and even outdoor furniture, reveals its true qualities only to those who dare to look more closely: extra-soft upholstery and aluminum feet produced in a state-of-the-art die casting process. Added to which Minotti stocks textile and leather coverings for its Aston – choose between linen, chenille and velvet, or patterns such as houndstooth, chevron and diamonds, between water-repellent or anilin-dyed leather.
Granny’s darling
“Emma” by Färg & Blanche for Gärsnäs

They buy their clothes at hipster flea markets and love vintage furniture – sure, young designers turn to Granny and Grandpa’s living rooms for inspiration. As was the case with “Emma” by Fredrik Färg and his partner Emma Marga Blanche for Gärsnäs. Blanche had always been fascinated by her grandmother’s “Emma” armchair, a traditional upholstered armchair that was the privilege of women and especially mothers in Sweden, with its slightly rounded, low sides. Blanche was thrilled when she inherited her granny’s armchair, and even more so when, together with her partner Fredrik Färg she was commissioned by Swedish manufacturer Gärsnäs to update the traditional armchair. A stroke of good fortune, as “Emma” has, since first taking the stage in 2014, swiftly emerged as a new favorite in Scandinavia and marked the breakthrough of Färg & Blanche.

Immer wieder überraschend

Finnish for beginners
“Kiki” by Ilmari Tapiovaara for Artek

Count yourself lucky if Finnish products – and furniture in particular – are plainly named “Kiki”. For they could just as easily be called “Taideteollisuuskeskuskoulu”. Which is the name of the Helsinki school where Finnish designer Ilmari Tapiovaara and “Kiki” mastermind completed his studies. The word is a compound and consists of “art” (“taide”), “industry” (“teollisuus”), “center” (“keskus”) and “school” (“koulu”). Fresh from college, in 1960 Tapiovaara launched “Kiki”, a series of stackable chairs, lounge chairs, sofas, benches and tables he firmly intended to be a solid and affordable system. Unlike most Scandinavian designers when developing it Tapiovaara did not rely on wood but instead used modern tubular steel. The “Kiki” range swiftly became a huge success. And deeply impressed the curators at the Milan Trienniale, who awarded the Gold Medal to “Kiki”. In 2012 Artek launched a re-edition of the range, which is exemplary in terms of sheer simplicity.
A big hug
“Munich Lounge Chair” by Sauerbruch Hutton for Classicon

In 2012, the private Brandhorst Collection was transformed into Museum Brandhorst, featuring art from the second half of the 20th century: Beuys, Warhol, Hirst… The architects at Sauerbruch Hutton masterminded the building that now houses Museum Brandhorst in Munich’s Maxvorstadt district, located only a short walk away from the Pinakothek der Moderne, and the result is typical of the Berlin firm’s oeuvre: The façade of the solid block is embellished with ceramic bars gleaming in 23 different colors. In addition Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton designed matching sets of furniture for the museum; however, these items don’t spell pared-down refinement but are decidedly “statement pieces”. “Munich Chair” and in particular “Munich Lounge Chair” exude elegance and antiquity in equal measure. The wide armrests give the person sitting in them a supportive big hug. Asked for the reasoning behind the design, Sauerbruch Hutton revealed that they wanted to transpose the maxim of Museum Brandhorst, a private collection opened to the public in an act of democracy (and a crowd-puller ever since) to their seating furniture.
Modernism and Chesterfield:
“Haussmann 310” by Robert and Trix Haussmann
for Walter Knoll

Recent years saw the rediscovery of the oeuvre of Robert and Trix Haussmann. Among other things, the Swiss architect and designer duo masterminded the makeover of the central train station in Zurich. In 2011, the Victoria & Albert Museum included some of the couple’s pieces in its Postmodernist exhibition, and in 2014 Kunsthalle Freiburg devoted a solo exhibition to their design output. Most recently, the exhibition “Reflexion und Transparenz” that they themselves curated opened in the KUB Arena of Kunsthauses Bregenz. In 2014, Walter Knoll retrieved the “Haussmann 310” armchair and sofa from the archives and gave both a new lease of life. With its typical button stitching the “310” shows parallels to classical Chesterfield upholstery, but with its delicate tubular steel feet consciously refrains from conjuring up the image of massive club settees. “Haussmann 310” follows the philosophy of the two architects, who continue their exploration of Modernism, forging links between new and old in a move to create ambivalence and ambiguity and thus disperse with conventional semantics.
Having a smoke with George Pompidou
“Élysée” by Pierre Paulin for Ligne Roset

Pierre Paulin left his mark on 1960s and 1970s design with his Pop culture-inspired seating furniture – an influential figure on a par with Verner Panton. Paulin designed the upholstery sets “Pumpkin” and “Élysée” Paulin for George Pompidou’s private rooms and the smokers’ lounge in the Élysée Palace in Paris. While the “Élysée” sofa brings to mind images of full sensual lips, the small fully-upholstered armchair with the semi-spherical silhouette is simply adorable – and very “Pop”. Just imagine George Pompidou himself in this chair, which Ligne Roset re-issued in 2012 complete with the sofa and pouf, wearing a tailor-made dark suit and an astute countenance as he devotes himself to smoking a cigarette.
Folding friend
“D.270.2” by Giò Ponti for Molteni

Designers and architects often lack an understanding of the basics determining our day-to-day lives. “D.270.2” by Giò Ponti, which also comes in a lower version called “D.270.1” and which Molteni recently launched as a re-edition, is a prime example. When it originally came out back in 1970 Ponti had intended the chair to be used for casual chats, for reading a book or watching TV. “Sitting comfortably, crossing your legs – this calls for a small seat and a large backrest,” is how Ponti explained the reasoning behind his design. The re-edition comes with an oak frame, natural or painted black, the upholstery is made of fabric, leather or rattan. Added to which “Poesia del mare”, the special upholstery that Giò Ponti conceived in 1970, is now also available. Moreover, Molteni has invited budding design talents from the UK and Italy to design additional covers for Ponti’s little folding friend, now brought out by Italian fabric manufacturers Dedar and Rubelli.