Design: Design Icons
Friday 19 June 1998
Italian maestro of design Mario Bellini says that designing a chair is harder than designing a computer. He has designed both. I am sitting on his "Cab" chair for Cassina, its skeletal frame covered tautly in leather with zips running saucily up its legs, even as I work on an Olivetti "Creative" computer and he's convinced me. A lot of energy has been poured into their detail; but the chair is workmanlike as well as eloquent. I like its simplicity. Chairs designed for the contract market (as they call office chairs) are often aggressively styled. If I had to choose an office chair, it would be from the Vitra collection. You can see some of the best-sellers at the Vitra shop in Bruton Street, London W1.
In 1991 the owner of Vitra, Rolf Fehlbaum, set up a chair museum designed by Frank Gehry in Basel near the factory. The collection begins with Thonet's bentwood cafe chair, the kind you find in bistros with a U-bend wooden back and a cane seat, to mark the point where chairs rolled off the factory assembly line, and includes such futuristic designs as the Wim Wenders stool (right) designed by Philippe Starck for Wenders' movie Until the End of the World and Ply Chair (middle) by Jasper Morrison, the master of minimalism. Every year he not only commissions a new chair from a designer - Alberto Meda is his latest prodigy (left) - but he adds to the museum collection. When I asked him what chair he'd take with him if there was a fire in his museum (Vitra's factory burnt down in the Eighties) he unhesitatingly pointed to a Charles Eames plywood chair made for a child.
Vitra make the entire collection of Eames chairs and you will be able to see some of them from 15 September in the exhibition "The Work of Charles and Ray Eames" at the Design Museum in London, sponsored by Gucci. The creative director Tom Ford, who is passionate about modern architecture and design, acknowledges the importance of the Eames. Many of today's new designs are drawn from things that Charles and Ray did in the Forties and Fifties.
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