When in the mid-19th century French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire followed how the artist became a painter of modern life, he discovered in the artist several figures at once: a man of the world, a man of the masses, and a child. The first is a sharp-minded citizen of the universe, the second sucks up all the different currents in life and ardently pursues all traces of the unknown, and the child is utterly a sensitive creature of curiosity who sees everything in the light of novelty. Now, 150 years later, we, meaning both men and women, have all become artists. And we thus rush through the present as people of a completely globalized world, as creatures of the masses and as curious children.
What does "contemporary" mean?
We could also ask the same question differently. For example: What is the meaning of that little word ‘contemporary' in the feelgood worlds of Western design of our spheres? Does it mean that we must find our place in a fundamentally opaque world? Does it actually attest to a "new sense of comfort" - or would a sharp ear merely hear marketing slang? What has become of the opulent draperies and decorations, with the help of which once an ostentatious setting could be created? Is it perchance any manner of inheritances drawn from the troves of the past in order to be remixed, sampled and deconstructed? Is the contemporary simply being defined by a hodgepodge of multiplied homes within which anyone can find what he and his taste prefers? And where is the sense of unhomeliness in design?
No better place to discuss such questions that an interior design fair. Here you can find everything you need to create your home, be it alone or en famille and outfit your own small feelgood bubble, and by everything I mean the full, mutually-contradictory raft of items that no curator could have dreamed up in his or her right mind. Precisely because there is limited scope for a sovereign hand to crate order what you see is the real lie of the land, for the man of the world, the man in the masses, and for kids.
Wish I were a Red Indian
Cologne, January 2011. At imm Cologne, the German market fair for interiors, the child in us will scream with joy on spotting the new "kids collection" at the Richard Lampert stand. Instantly wiped from our minds all those nagging questions. Who would not like to immediately sit on the small "Rocker" devised by Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien and practice the bygone childish art of wishing to be a Red Indian, or be whisked by our imaginations at a gallop out into the great wide open - "perched aloft," as Franz Kafka writes, "till one threw away the reins, for there were no reins, and then scarcely saw the country in front as a smooth mowed heath, with no horse's neck or head." Because the "Rocker" is definitely not a rocking horse. The two designers have consciously eschewed any form of naturalism. The small apache in us sits and rocks on a kind of spindle shaped like an egg-timer, which closer inspection reveals to be the abstract version of a saddle. You hardly need more to set your imagination in motion than such a saddle made of white plastic and the movement of the natural wooden runners.
Or the child in us jumps on the big black and cool tires at "Pit Stop", which Bertjan Pot dreamed up and immediately morphs into a racing car or tractor driver. The skin of the "seating sack" on which you can simply sit or lounge about, is made in a single piece using a specially developed knitting pattern. Even details such as the profile, shoulders and sides including the logo are woven into the single process, which thus produces no off-cuts or waste.
Alexander Seifried weighs in with "Famille Garage", a system of modular furniture that can be used by children of different age-groups. With its colorful and true-to-food display cases, in shapes reminiscent of DIY cellar shelves, the line (it consists of a bench, table and shelves, that can be adjusted into a nappy table) functions as storage space, shelf, seating element, toy and workshop rolled into one. You see, it is not just the one item that is excellent. Lampert's entire "kids collection" shows that quality design is also possible for children's rooms. For the small kids and for the adult kids.
Sound basis for extension
That said, the man of the world, by his nature less child-like and prone to give in to fits of the imagination, speaks: A fair is a fair is a fair. Put differently: A fair, be it for furniture or for autos, abides by rules of its own. Here, the emphasis is on closing deals, and thus in the case of a furniture fair primarily on informing the purchasing managers of the large furniture stores, interior designers and kitchen outfitters and kindling their enthusiasm for innovations, frequently those of a technical nature. The things displayed are the things to be sold. Outstanding design only plays a role to the extent it fosters the bottom line. And precisely this mixture has been achieved by imm Cologne, which has thus succeeded in consolidating and repositioning itself. The Cologne organizers have evidently made a lot of effort. Meaning, what counts is not so much the glamour, but the result. Overall, spectacular high-end products remain a quite marginal phenomenon. Aficiondos may bemoan the fact, but it's the reality of the day. At the same time, the Cologne trade fair has shored up its clear basic structure: with the division into sections for "Prime", "Comfort", "Smart", "Basic" and "Pure", and superlatively and decisively expanded the range to include "Living Kitchen" and "Pure Textiles". From bedroom to bathroom, from wall and floor through to the illuminations and the accessories - the entire world of living is covered. Above all, the debut of the "Living Kitchen", which will henceforth take place every second year, impressively demonstrated the potential that this sector boasts. Even is many of the novelties are of a technical nature, here there's cooking and steaming, roasting and poaching going on as if there were only first-class foodstuffs available. Objectively speaking, the organizers in Cologne seem to be prepared to take the next step and achieve a persuasive mixture of the tried-and-true with the best of high-end design.
This is why the apt description for 2011 is: imm Cologne stands out as a well-structured and sound trade fair for furniture, the kitchen and exclusive fabrics, but is not a cornucopia of design innovation. Put differently: Not only meteorologically has January imbued Cologne with a little breath of spring this year. But everyone knows: It is not yet spring, we are just seeing some early signs. Many of the important international makers are still absent, and at "Pure Village" (despite the great presentation of makers from the design glossies) things are a bit too colorfully mixed up and banal. And however spring-fresh and sweet life may be on the stands of textiles publishers Nya Nordiska, Création Baumann, Kinnasand or Sahco, the frame the fair sets for this segment is nevertheless sober. In fact, the "Boulevard of Innovations" is a heap of isolated products, abandoned with no care at all, and you could happily have done without it. Moreover, the idea of tearing the "D3 Talents" apart and limiting the space they are granted proves to be a step backward, even is AKKA (Oscar Terbom and Petter Danielson) and their "Ola" table not to mention Harry Thaler and his pressed aluminum chair were definitely worthy winners of the "Young Designers Competition".
Here and there
So the child enthuses and the man of the world simply keeps an eye on the bottom line. To ensure that the man in the mass interested in design does not get lost in the sheer mass of things, there are some finds he should consider, I feel, and even if my choice is of course subjective and incomplete, they show just what the Cologne hodge-podge holds in store.
The decision-makers at Schönbuch have committed to the "Corridor" and "Entrance" area, neither of which are always easy to design - those passageways where inside and outside mix like fresh water and saltwater at the mouth of river. "Dice" is the name of a cloakroom line that Stefan Diez has created for Schönbuch. It is made of individual elements of different depths and fulfilling different functions, each with lacquered walls and a fabric-covered front. Making the ensembles not only practical, but homely, and the combination is especially fresh and compelling. At e15 there's a borderline object of a quite different kind. For the "Munken Cube" is essentially nothing other than a 50cm-high stack of paper, with 33cm sides, glued on one side, and resting on a plinth of solid oak: seat, table, sculpture and notebook rolled into one, concept furniture that invites you to twist and shape the 2,200 sheets. Certainly original. Wogg presents, among other things, "Wogg 50", a finished chair available in eight colors and designed by Jörg Bohner. Classicon has extended the "Munich Lounge Chair", devised in 2009 by Sauerbruch und Hutton for Munich's Museum Brandhorst, to include a coffee table and a sofa, wrapping the products in fresh upholstery colors, and Cassina is busy asking whether in one or two years we will still want to see the ubiquitous "LC 2" with a frame in colored lacquer, and also what secrets Le Corbusier hid in his "LC 14" wooden box, closed on all sides bar the holes allowing you to carry it. That said, Gio Ponti's refined "Supperleggera" chair with its colored upholstery is definitely a great sit.
Ablaze with new products
Not because the rivals at Vitra, Magis or Moroso decided not to exhibit at Cologne, and because comparisons are therefore difficult: Ligne Roset is increasingly emerging as one of the most innovative makers. This year, the company is ablaze with thoroughly convincing new products, of which a few really caught the eye in Cologne. Inga Sempé has supplemented her "Ruché" sofa with a bed, which is as light as it is elegant and unique. The high, stitched backboard and the raised surface of the bed blend naturally with the quite original aesthetics. In the form of the "Ploum" sofa, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are consistently traveling further down the path they took with "Quilt" for Established & Sons. "Ploum", now straight, now curved, seems at first sight to be a piece of swollen crispbread, but soon transpires to be a smart reinterpretation of the casual spirit of the 1970s. With an unmistakable organoid shape, it stands for a life style of youthful and leisurely flexibility, that appropriates from the past what it needs when sitting or lying. And delivers great comfort into the bargain.
Not to forget François Azambourg's armchair "Grillage", which is simply French for ‘wire mesh'. It's made of sheet metal, perforated and stretched with a staggered pattern and then folded like a piece of origami, such that the manufacturing process itself becomes visible. It's available in an indoor version, and also in bright blue for outdoor use.
Anyone wanting things to be both aesthetical and practical, will find what they are looking for at the Pascal Mourgue stand. There's a sofa thee named "Janus" which shows that a bed-sofa for guests need not be tedious. The upholstery seems to float above the ground, borne on a slender frame of chromed tubular steel, an adjustable backrest delivers comfort, and Janus looks good even when flat as a bed.
It remains to mention the "Etagère de coin", which, as the name suggests, is a corner shelf. But one of a special kind that arose from young French designer Marie Dessuant's interest in "inexact objects". High up in the corner, at the point where architecture and furniture meet, is where the imagination resides, where books and other personal objects are temporarily stored, tucked away slightly out of everyday life. Definitely not for a man of the world or a man of the masses, but for everyone who still feels that wish to be a Red Indian.