2005 Annual Design Review Furniture Design Distinction

Posted inID Mag

Liberty ChairOften likened to menswear tailoring, the seamed mesh panels on the back of Humanscale’s Liberty chair (designed by Niels Diffrient, in fabric that also won an I.D. award; see page 140) stand up to the slouchiest lumbar regions. The foam seat looks potato-chip thin compared to most upholstered peers. Gel toppings for seats and arms are optional, as is a pneumatic control for conference rooms that automatically restores seats to standard heights after 10 minutes of nonuse. (That is, it won’t irritatingly pop back up whenever a petite user steps out for a coffee refill.) The jurors found the counterbalances held steady at any leaning position and even seemed a little prescient: “I love the way it pushes you up when you get out,” Somerson said. The translucent polyurethane wheels also drew raves, though the squared-off legs were deemed a rather jarring contrast with the seat and back curves. Sitters viewed from the rear looked, as McFadden put it, “kind of droopy-drawered.” Liberty ranks as an important step forward but not a giant one, Somerson concluded: “It’s not a whole new way of thinking, it’s in a lineage of chairs.”

Design Niels Diffrient, designer, Niels Diffrient Product Design (Ridgefield, CT). Tom Latone, industrial designer, Shea & Latone (East Greenville, PA). Mark McKenna, computer developerClient Humanscale (New York)Materials Aluminum; injection-molded plastic; Luminesce textileSoftware Alias; SolidWorks

Liberty Chair

Diffrient Task LightingIn seeming disbelief, jurors used only a finger or two to raise, lower, and rotate the counterbalanced aluminum arm of Diffrient Task Lighting for Humanscale (from $265). “I love the articulation, it’s like a bird’s wing,” said McFadden, who joked that the threadlike hinge wire could double as dental floss. (They were examining a double-arm model with a sinewy elbow; the lamps also come with single arms and in desk- and wall-mount versions.) Some disappointment did creep in when the jurors cast their eyes downward to the base plate’s stacked-disk forms and to twin pivots shaped like cupped hands, which seemed heavy and perplexingly Deco-ish for such irresistibly slinky lamp motion. The switch, however, “is very satisfying,” said Boerner, who also praised the quad-tube mini-fluorescent bulb that will keep the shade cool. Somerson compared the shade’s shape to a visor, as befits office users.

Design Niels Diffrient, designer, Niels Diffrient Product Design (Ridgefield, CT)Client Humanscale (New York)Materials Aluminum; ABS plasticSoftware SolidWorks

Diffrient Task Lighting

Sum ChairThe jurors agreed that Allsteel’s Sum chair by Marcus Curtis Design ($675-$800), was both eye candy and ergonomic entrಡe. “It has a Jean Harlow sexiness, it’s not so office-y,” McFadden declared from his orange polyurethane Maharam upholstered perch on a Dow Saranex core. Somerson studied how Sum makes users look from behind—the way they’re often seen at work, and yet an angle many designers and marketers neglect. “It gives you a waist, not a big butt,” she decided. Boerner happily manipulated the easy-snap arm controls and leaned forward and slumped to try out the well-hyped, knob-free adjustability of the air-displacement internal technologies AutoFit and Avatar 2. (Their formulas, patents pending, are secret.) The convenience and greenness of the parts attracted the jurors as well; the manufacturer promises that casters, arms, backs, seats, and bases can be replaced on-site, and 88 percent of the whole object can be recycled.

Design Marcus Koepke, industrial designer, Marcus Curtis Design (Indianapolis)Client Allsteel Inc. (Muscatine, IA)Materials Saranex; die-cast aluminum; nylon; glass-filled nylon; polypropylene; glass-filled polypropyleneSoftware 3D StudioMax; ANSYS; ErgoMax; ProEngineer; ProMechanica

Sum Chair

Shades and ScreensMany of the textile lines sent for award consideration this year contained a few stellar, prize-worthy patterns, but no clear overarching theme. Shades and Screens from Designtex ($40-$55 per yard), however, “is a very consistent collection,” Boerner said. Meant for partitions and window treatments, the seven striped patterns in Trevira CS and polyester are knitted, so the edges don’t fray much, and measure up to 118 inches wide so the stripes can be run vertically, horizontally, or both. Some are fused with aluminum for insulation and glare-resistance, and a blackout sheet is available in fiberglass and acrylic laced with titanium oxide. The jurors compared the delicate-seeming yet slightly stiff sheers to shirt fabrics and mattress ticking, and overlapped them into moirés and plaids. “They’re PVC-free, and the color range is absolutely beautiful,” Somerson said. “And what they do together is fantastic.”

Design Svensson Markspelle (Kinna, Sweden)Client Designtex (New York)Materials Trevira CS; polyester; aluminum backing; fiberglass; acrylic; titanium oxide

Shades and Screens

LuminesceTextile designer Elizabeth Whelan wove Luminesce for Humanscale’s Liberty chair (another Design Distinction winner, see page 136), after experimenting with two dozen hand-loomed sketches in nylon and polyester monofilaments. The mixtures chosen for production are shot through with copper wire and silver-plated yarn, though along the way Whelan toyed with paper, wool, leather, plastic, and some urethane made for BMW motorcycle clothing. Luminesce stretches less than 5 percent, while nonabrasively and diaphanously ventilating sitters’ backs and rejecting most dirt. “It’s luxurious in its plasticity,” Boerner said. Humanscale now hopes to apply the fabrics beyond Liberty, to upholstery, partitions, and window treatments ($60-$70 per yard). “It’s so difficult to get this much structure out of such thin, translucent material, to create something that’s hard but doesn’t feel that way,” Somerson said. “You could make jewelry out of it.” McFadden promptly tried on the copper swatch as a glittering cuff.

Design Elizabeth Whelan, principal, Elizabeth Whelan Design (New York)Client Humanscale (New York)Materials Polyester; nylon; silver-plated yarn; copper wire; paperSoftware Pointcarré


Kiru Storage SystemLosing the top spot to Foamz in a cliffhanger final discussion, Kiru appealed to the jury’s taste for versatility, affordability, ease of construction, and humility. The flat and featherweight box is easily carried home, and the frame and slotted walls snap together without tools. The piece, designed by Martin Borgs of Berlin, in silvery Alucobond sandwich or blackened birch plywood, then slides onto four aluminum feet. The company estimates assembly and disassembly time at 30 seconds for sets that start at $100 and don’t include accessories like smooth-action drawers, AcrylPanel backs, and clip-on LEDs. When modules are stacked, channels for wires form in between. The black core of the Alucobond and the plywood’s tan innards aren’t disguised, and resemble piping. “It’s a very honest design, and there’s a refined quality to it,”
Boerner said. Only the product name wasn’t immediately intelligible to the jury: Kiru means “to cut” in Japanese.

Design Martin Borgs, Diplom Ingenieur, Borgs Furniture (Berlin)Client Borgs FurnitureMaterials Alucobond; birch plywood; AcrylPanelSoftware MicroStation

Kiru Storage System

Fold TableWho needs creaky classroom desks or overbearing boardroom-style tables at a 21st-century WiFi conference? Toronto-based Jonathan Crinion came up with a lightweight, portable alternative, Fold ($426), with ABS tops in six colors and scissor-closing aluminum legs. Keilhauer is producing an almost exact replica of his original wood-and-plastic model, without much in the way of computer-rendering intermediaries. A niche running the width of the table front can hold pens, and another niche at the back doubles as a carrying handle. Crinion also designed a dolly that can haul up to 10 Folds. He reports many cases of non-seminar use: children carrying their own Folds to the TV at mealtimes, offices breaking out Folds to control paperwork overflows. “Tons of people are working on folding chairs—so a table is a welcome change,” Somerson said. Boerner said he’d “never seen anything quite like it. And the foot is slightly human. It has character.”

Design Jonathan Crinion (Toronto)Client Keilhauer (Toronto)Materials ABS; aluminumSoftware Ashlar-Vellum Xenon

Fold Table

Topo SystemThe basic component of Metro’s Topo office system is “a beautiful extrusion,” Somerson said of the component frames, whose triple channels are thin-walled and sinuous, like a cryptic letter. “They should use it graphically somehow, to spell out Topo,” she added. The T-shaped troughs are meant to grip layers of scrims, tack or marker boards, and pullout screens and shelves, topped in slim storage towers that preserve sight lines. The work surfaces—wood veneers, laminates, metals, Melamine—can be homogenous or mixed. For maximum desktop acreage, wires run through shelf brackets, and file dividers and penholders can be cantilevered from ribbed sheets of Slatwall tiles. McFadden admired “all the effects of light, privacy, shadow, and open space. It would be a very civilized office environment.” Somerson called the kit of parts “not so self-conscious that it draws attention to itself, yet not boring.” Boerner noted that the T channels look like charming retro molding when curving around wall tops, and he wished only for lower prices (workstations start at $3,000, private offices at $5,000) and more elegantly proportioned feet.

Design Metro Design Group (Oakland, CA): Jess Sorel, director of design; Otto Williams, principal designer; Joe Nobles, designer; Todd Sorel, product design engineerClient MetroMaterials Choice of laminates or four different wood species; plastic; anodized aluminumSoftware Ashlar-Vellum Graphite; SolidWorks

Topo System

Vero WashbasinShaker precedents and soapstone farm sinks came to mind as the jury passed around images of the white vitreous-china slabs trimmed in chrome on Duravit’s Vero washbasin by Sieger Design (from $450, in widths from 19.5 to 39.5 inches and depths from 14 to 18.5 inches). With narrow rims, optional integrated backsplashes, and minimal or missing taphole shelves, the basins don’t waste space on plateaus or curves. They’re efficient to manufacture—the slip is injection-molded, a process that squeezes out most of the water, so the clay dries almost instantly and shrinks little during firing. Integral brass mounting rods mean there’s no need for a sealant edging. The company promises that the proprietary WonderGliss finish is 1,000 times smoother than most ceramic bathroom fixtures, so dirt and bacteria rarely cling. The glossy, white, hygienic product, Boerner remarked, “is totally new. I’m probably going to order it for my home.”

Design Sieger Design (Sassenberg, Germany)Client Duravit (Duluth, GA)

Vero Washbasin

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