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The Making of Modern Furniture

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We chat with the designers and the factories who produce some of the most iconic pieces of furniture. Plus, learn the real cost of rip-offs.
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  We visit the Bouroullec brothers' studio in Belleville, France, and discuss the process behind their designs. "All our projects are site-specific, created for a particular company," Erwan Bouroullec said. "All have their own logic and character—none are a copy-and-paste of something else. They generate from a simple question: how do you build this, how do you use this?" Shown, the Osso chair’s different parts. Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec. 

    We visit the Bouroullec brothers' studio in Belleville, France, and discuss the process behind their designs. "All our projects are site-specific, created for a particular company," Erwan Bouroullec said. "All have their own logic and character—none are a copy-and-paste of something else. They generate from a simple question: how do you build this, how do you use this?" Shown, the Osso chair’s different parts. Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec. 

  • 
  “Good design is something that pleases the eye,” says Jens Risom. The Danish designer has indeed created many eye-pleasing furnishings, including the most iconic of his designs, the eponymous lounge chair, among the first to be produced by Knoll.  We share examples of his designs in situ, including in his own family home on Block Island, Rhode Island.

    “Good design is something that pleases the eye,” says Jens Risom. The Danish designer has indeed created many eye-pleasing furnishings, including the most iconic of his designs, the eponymous lounge chair, among the first to be produced by Knoll.  We share examples of his designs in situ, including in his own family home on Block Island, Rhode Island.

  • 
  Designer Inga Sempé delights in things both great and small—even if she doesn’t own any. “People are ashamed to say they like objects. It’s always art they praise. You know, ‘Art, it’s the noblest thing, it’s superior, I couldn’t live without it,’” explains Sempé, “but I think you’d live a lot less well without a sink than without a painting on the wall.” Photo by Jessica Antola.

    Designer Inga Sempé delights in things both great and small—even if she doesn’t own any. “People are ashamed to say they like objects. It’s always art they praise. You know, ‘Art, it’s the noblest thing, it’s superior, I couldn’t live without it,’” explains Sempé, “but I think you’d live a lot less well without a sink than without a painting on the wall.” Photo by Jessica Antola.

  • 
  “When you see a finished object, you can rarely imagine all the work that went in to it,” muses Inga Sempé. “All the sleepless nights for the designer, who stays up thinking about just one curve, all the people who built it.” We tour Ligne Roset’s factory near Lyon, France, to learn just what it takes to make a Ruché sofa.

    “When you see a finished object, you can rarely imagine all the work that went in to it,” muses Inga Sempé. “All the sleepless nights for the designer, who stays up thinking about just one curve, all the people who built it.” We tour Ligne Roset’s factory near Lyon, France, to learn just what it takes to make a Ruché sofa.

  • 
  It takes nine sheets of veneer, two layers of cotton backing, up to five coats of paint, and 11 days to make a 3107 chair. We take you to the floor of Fritz Hansen's stackable-chair factory to show you how it's done. 

    It takes nine sheets of veneer, two layers of cotton backing, up to five coats of paint, and 11 days to make a 3107 chair. We take you to the floor of Fritz Hansen's stackable-chair factory to show you how it's done. 

  • 
  Here's how a designer makes money: One day she dreams up a chair. She spends months developing the concept, selecting materials, devising the exact curve of the arm, the dip of the back. Satisfied with the piece, she works with a manufacturer to produce it. The manufacturer refines the design, invests in tooling to build it, promotes it, and gets it to market. You, the consumer, buy it. This is an original, authentic design. We discuss why knockoff furnishings may be cheap, but for the design industry, they come with a heavy price.

    Here's how a designer makes money: One day she dreams up a chair. She spends months developing the concept, selecting materials, devising the exact curve of the arm, the dip of the back. Satisfied with the piece, she works with a manufacturer to produce it. The manufacturer refines the design, invests in tooling to build it, promotes it, and gets it to market. You, the consumer, buy it. This is an original, authentic design. We discuss why knockoff furnishings may be cheap, but for the design industry, they come with a heavy price.

  • 
  Collaborations between academic institutions and design greats have exposed students around the world to masterful lessons in furniture. We share six of some of the smartest partnerships from the past century. Eero Saarinen’s first commission for Cranbrook’s Kingswood Middle School for Girls in Michigan was the 1930 auditorium armchair, made of tubular chromed steel and wood with light-green woven upholstery. 

    Collaborations between academic institutions and design greats have exposed students around the world to masterful lessons in furniture. We share six of some of the smartest partnerships from the past century. Eero Saarinen’s first commission for Cranbrook’s Kingswood Middle School for Girls in Michigan was the 1930 auditorium armchair, made of tubular chromed steel and wood with light-green woven upholstery. 

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