August 21 is a significant date for Shadowy Chair, Tord Boontje’s colorful new outdoor seat for Moroso. Not because that’s when the product launched (the introduction happened back in April during the Milan Furniture Fair, alongside its sister piece, Sunny Lounger) but because the date helped to determine Shadowy’s scrolled armchair–meets-exotic-insect profile.
“I wanted to do something for lying in the sun, but I also love reading outside, so I wanted to be able to sit in the shadows,” Boontje explains. Made from nylon cord woven onto a steel frame, Shadowy’s backrest curves forward to provide a canopy. To optimize the amount of shadow cast, Boontje instructed his computer’s 3-D modeling program to illustrate how the shade would behave at midday in Miami on August 21, the date when the sun is at its highest in the northern hemisphere. Why Miami? Because it’s a seaside city that the Dutch-born Boontje, who lives in rural France, is fond of. And Miami, with its glossy hotels and apartments, presumably sports plenty of potential clients. Besides, the designer reasons, “If it works in the midday sun there, it should work anywhere.”
Glamorous Miami turns out to be something of a red herring, however. Both Shadowy and Sunny (plus a forthcoming matching dining chair and footstool) are fair-trade products, hand-built and hand-woven in Senegal using existing materials and techniques. According to Boontje, Moroso’s creative director Patrizia Moroso had long admired his studio’s collaboration with the U.S. company Artecnica, which enabled the TranSglass series he designed with Emma Woffenden to be successfully reproduced by artisans in Guatemala. “Patrizia’s husband, Salam, is from Senegal, and in January they came to me with this proposal,” says Boontje, who visited the West African country himself shortly after the launch (the final prototypes having arrived in Milan on Alitalia a day before the show).
The finished pieces are being made in an independent furniture workshop in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, where Moroso guarantees the rapidly expanding workforce a decent wage. Rather than introducing expensive new equipment, Boontje stuck to what the workers could do using simple wood formers and steel tubing coupled with an existing palette of vibrantly colored fishing-net plastic. He then chose patterns inspired by traditional West African weaving. “It’s very important that the artisans can relate to the product they’re making,” Boontje says. The main technical change was to lacquer the welded joints with an epoxy paint to prevent rust.
Shadowy’s dramatic back (the seat is more than 5 feet tall) is part flamboyance, part practicality: “You don’t want to hit your head every time you stand up,” Boontje says. But inspiration for the scrolled profile of both pieces came from watching the weaving in action and noticing how increasing the tension on the threads could cause a flat surface to distort. It reminded Boontje of the double curves in a Naum Gabo sculpture, proving that a little creative globalization can be a very good thing; $2,340 (Sunny), $2,722 (Shadowy).