Design: Flexible friends

The latest modular furniture systems can be stacked or linked to make unique combinations. Jessica Cargill Thompson played with some of them. Photographs by Oscar Paisley

The late great designer Verner Panton once said that his chairs should create "a kind of chair-landscape, which refuses to be just functional". Originally proposed in the Sixties, his idea of furniture as an interior landscape seems particularly pertinent today amid the late Nineties mania for flexibility, where domestic space is often required to take on more than one function.

While Panton's philosophy was captured most dramatically in his undulating Pantower (1968) - moulded polyurethane foam shapes which could be arranged to create benches, enclosed seating chambers, or even whole rooms - today's designers are adopting a similar philosophy, albeit with calmer results (white ceramic, bent ply, wenge wood and stainless steel supplanting moulded foams and plastics as modish materials).

Modular systems of stacking and linking elements invite people to play with their furniture, adding more and more to suit their needs. Meanwhile, aesthetic pleasure can be derived from watching individual items take on a new significance when duplicated and arranged as part of a group. Though the cynic might see it as a ploy to get us to part with more money, design-conscious shoppers are enjoying the dynamism of duplication.

Taking up where Ikea's Sten shelving system leaves off, Italian studio Zerodisegno has developed Silvergate, a stainless-steel shelving/cupboard system consisting of ladder uprights of various heights, stainless steel or beech shelves, and clear polycarbonate doors. This designer Meccano can create anything from a wardrobe to a cocktail cabinet, with far chicer results than the mass- produced pine sold in edge-of-town superstores.

The possibilities of the curve as an interlocking element have also been utilised to great effect in storage systems, witness many a coloured plastic CD rack. The most recent traveller on that bandwagon is Platt & Young's Blister cabinets for Driade. Tall, laminated MDF cabinets sport coloured plastic doors in a choice of orange, blue or cream, the undulating edge of one unit neatly locating into that of the next.

Shamelessly exploiting a desire to play are Jam's Freeforms, 68 cm-wide Zotefoam blocks made up of two U-shapes enclosing a square. Described rather loosely by the designers as "multi-functional objects", the elements can be combined to create benches, thrones, footstools, magazine racks, futon beds, coffee tables and even a rocking horse.

Modular units provide flexibility and interactivity, but when the same single element is endlessly repeated it can also instil a satisfying sense of calm. Werner Aislinger's Poro shelving takes a simple cube-shaped box and goes on to replicate it on the same grid ad infinitum; Michael Sodeau's white ceramic Scooped Brick, a wonderfully tactile object in its own right, can help form anything from an ashtray to a dimpled wall; Olgoj Chorchoj's beautifully smooth Matrjoska V laminated wooden lozenges balance unattached on top of each other; while Wonky's drum-shaped Tom-Tom storage units stack one on top of the other like giant bits of Lego to create a multi-coloured totem pole.

One of the most talked about pieces of furniture to emerge this autumn has been Nigel Coates' OXO chair for Hitch Mylius, launched at September's 100% Design exhibition. Originally created for his Oyster House, the futuristic housing prototype that caused a stir at this year's Ideal Home Exhibition, it was conceived as a solution to flexible living in an open-plan space, allowing you to create private seating areas. The organic O and X seats (covered in a wide choice of fabrics, with fashionable boucle already a best-seller) provide stylish individual chairs or can be fitted together in a line of O-X-O.

On a smaller scale, Jasper Morrison has created the long-awaited sequel to his much imitated stacking bottle rack for Magis - a hanging file. Made from the same jelly plastic in the same flat-pack configuration, the unit consists of two X-shaped side pieces with A4 hanging folders suspended in between. Moulded tabs on the top of each X correspond with holes on the bottom to allow a whole tower of files to be built up.

More noughts and crosses for Babylon's white moulded concrete OXO lights (no relation): O-shape from front, X from side, with the bulb set in the centre of the O. "The whole idea is that you can not only stack them, but you can lay them down and make other forms," say the designers. "When the light shines out of the top and out of the sides, you can achieve some really interesting effects."

Fernando Rihl of Procter-Rihl, designers of the Perspex Synapse vases, which can be linked together like a series of nerve cells, sees flexibility and stackability as an architectural way of thinking (not surprising, then, that both Procter-Rihl and Branson Coates are RIBA-registered practices). "A lot of architects now like to use sliding panels to create changeable space, and with our designs it's a similar idea of connections and flexibility," he says. "Some designers create pieces that are just to be looked at, but we like to create an interaction with the object. It's like having toys that you can play with and link together to create different structures." So whether it's an interior landscape you are looking for, or your own giant toy box, bypass the garden centre and Hamleys and head straight for your local design store

Stockists for items not pictured

Scooped Brick, pounds 6.50 each, by Michael Sodeau, from Same (0171-247 9992). Wardrobe/shelving system, from pounds 1,600, by Zerodisegno, from UFO-Modern Living (0161-819 2880). Freeforms, approximately pounds 300 for a three-part block, by Jam (0171-278 5567) at Same. Poro shelving, from pounds 183, by Werner Aislinger, from Same. Tom-Tom storage system by Wonky, pounds 76, from UFO-Modern Living

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Manager - £50,000

    £49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

    £48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

    VB.Net Developer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

    SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

    Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit