written by:
photos by:
June 18, 2010
Originally published in The Energy Issue
as
Design Within Research

Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic has done it all, from spoons to umbrellas to lights, but he’s best known for his data-driven chairs.  We dropped in on his Munich studio to sit awhile in his seats.

industrial designer Konstantin Grcic
Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic in his Munich studio. Photo by Oliver Mark.
Photo by 
1 / 26
Konstantin Grcic’s work 
is approaching its 20th year in production. His first releases, in 1991, were the Tom Tom and Tam Tam side tables for SCP Ltd. They were re-released in 2009 with sliding mechanisms on their support columns. The result? Adjustable
Konstantin Grcic’s work 
is approaching its 20th year in production. His first releases, in 1991, were the Tom Tom and Tam Tam side tables for SCP Ltd. They were re-released in 2009 with sliding mechanisms on their support columns. The result? Adjustable height built in.
Photo by 
2 / 26
Landen public seating for Vitra Edition, 2007.
Landen public seating for Vitra Edition, 2007.
Photo by 
3 / 26
Grcic’s father favored antiques while his mother decorated the house with brightly colored 1960s art and objects. As a result, said Grcic, he was used to contrast. In his own work, he is always honing in on the essential. “It’s totally unconscious,” he sa
Grcic’s father favored antiques while his mother decorated the house with brightly colored 1960s art and objects. As a result, said Grcic, he was used to contrast. In his own work, he is always honing in on the essential. “It’s totally unconscious,” he says, of what we look for and respond to in design. He constantly observes as people interact with their environments. “It’s about how we sit in chairs. But it’s also who is the one sitting in that chair, and how and when.”
Photo by 
4 / 26
The “terrace”, in his unassuming former factory space not far from the main train station in Munich, is a place where he and his cohorts can step outside for a breath of fresh air. A handful of classics as well as his own chairs—–like the Myto (foreground
The “terrace”, in his unassuming former factory space not far from the main train station in Munich, is a place where he and his cohorts can step outside for a breath of fresh air. A handful of classics as well as his own chairs—–like the Myto (foreground) and the Chair One (on the table at right)—–upstage the suddenly bashful designer.
Photo by 
5 / 26
An advanced mock-up for the stackable outdoor chair he's designing for Piazza San Marco in Venice sits on a workstation.
An advanced mock-up for the stackable outdoor chair he's designing for Piazza San Marco in Venice sits on a workstation.
Photo by 
6 / 26
Lunar was a light project for Flos in 2008.
Lunar was a light project for Flos in 2008.
Photo by 
7 / 26
Miura barstool by Konstantin Grcic for Plank.
MIura barstool, designed for Plank in 2005.
Photo by 
8 / 26
Grcic collects various objects—–including an old-fashioned trash can his sister salvaged for him—–in his studio, which he catalogs for inspiration.
Grcic collects various objects—–including an old-fashioned trash can his sister salvaged for him—–in his studio, which he catalogs for inspiration.
Photo by 
9 / 26
Grcic’s Mayday lamp for Flos was inspired by the lights used by automobile mechanics. The ES shelf for Moormann is delightfully canted. The Chaos family of seating for ClassiCon encourages sitters to perch, squirm, and fidget.
Grcic’s Mayday lamp for Flos was inspired by the lights used by automobile mechanics. The ES shelf for Moormann is delightfully canted. The Chaos family of seating for ClassiCon encourages sitters to perch, squirm, and fidget.
Photo by 
10 / 26
Umbrella for Muji, 2006.
Umbrella for Muji, 2006.
Photo by 
11 / 26
Odin couch for ClassiCon, 2005.
Odin couch for ClassiCon, 2005.
Photo by 
12 / 26
Relations stacking glasses for Iittala, 1999.
Relations stacking glasses for Iittala, 1999.
Photo by 
13 / 26
Osorom seating for Moroso, 2002.
Osorom seating for Moroso, 2002.
Photo by 
14 / 26
The Myto Chair, 2008, for Plank.
The Myto Chair, 2008, for Plank.
Photo by 
15 / 26
A poster on one of the doors of his studio  reads “No to war!”.
A poster on one of the doors of his studio reads “No to war!”.
Photo by 
16 / 26
Grcic is a very hands-on designer, whose work includes tableware.
Grcic is a very hands-on designer, whose work includes tableware.
Photo by 
17 / 26
2 Hands laundry basket for Authentics, 1996.
2 Hands laundry basket for Authentics, 1996.
Photo by 
18 / 26
ES Shelf for Moormann, 1999.
ES Shelf for Moormann, 1999.
Photo by 
19 / 26
Passami Il Sale utensils for Serafino Zani, 2007.
Passami Il Sale utensils for Serafino Zani, 2007.
Photo by 
20 / 26
The 360 degree Chair and Stool for Magis, 2009.
The 360 degree Chair and Stool for Magis, 2009.
Photo by 
21 / 26
The Diana side table for ClassiCon, 2002.
The Diana side table for ClassiCon, 2002.
Photo by 
22 / 26
Chaos family of seating for ClassiCon, 2001.
Chaos family of seating for ClassiCon, 2001.
Photo by 
23 / 26
Accento cutlery for Serafino Zani, 2009.
Accento cutlery for Serafino Zani, 2009.
Photo by 
24 / 26
Chair One by Konstantin Grcic for <a href="http://www.dwell.com/organization/magis">Magis</a>.
Chair One for Magis, 2004.
Photo by 
25 / 26
Crash lounge chair for Established&Sons, 2010.
Crash lounge chair for Established&Sons, 2010.
Photo by 
26 / 26
industrial designer Konstantin Grcic
Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic in his Munich studio. Photo by Oliver Mark.

Konstantin Grcic is on the edge of his seat. Granted, the elegant, somewhat retiring 45-year-old German industrial designer is about to give an interview. That, and his upholstered Chaos chair from 2001 features an upturned seat so shallow that there is really only a slim edge on which to repose. “Designing chairs touches issues of society, how we live,” he says, beginning to lay out the philosophy behind his sometimes very unusual designs. “How life changes—–that’s most interesting. How our needs change.”

He gestures at the Chaos chair he is sitting on. “For example, the idea most people have of ‘comfort’ is rather simple. Comfort is equalled with sitting in a deep sofa. But when you think of it, in some situations a soft sofa is not comfortable at all. Talking to you,” he says, doing his best to flop, sofa-style, on the Chaos chaise, “I don’t want to be sitting like this.” Then he sits back up in the active, erect position the chair encourages (I know, because I am sitting on one, too). Grcic smiles, then makes his point about the tilted, awkward-looking-but-in-fact-supportive chair, which he imagined being used for lobbies and waiting rooms—– places where people stop briefly, on their way to somewhere else. “In some situations, this is more comfortable.”

Konstantin Grcic’s work 
is approaching its 20th year in production. His first releases, in 1991, were the Tom Tom and Tam Tam side tables for SCP Ltd. They were re-released in 2009 with sliding mechanisms on their support columns. The result? Adjustable
Konstantin Grcic’s work 
is approaching its 20th year in production. His first releases, in 1991, were the Tom Tom and Tam Tam side tables for SCP Ltd. They were re-released in 2009 with sliding mechanisms on their support columns. The result? Adjustable height built in.

If there were a German version of the French concept of jolie laide—–maybe the Teutons would choose something closer to “ugly cool”—–Grcic’s work would be it. His creations are a little weird, full of hard edges, and not necessarily approachable.

At the same time, they’re stylish and functional; they know what they’re up to, even if you haven’t figured it out yet. Thanks to Grcic’s near-obsessive engineering-oriented design process, in which he deconstructs an everyday object then reconstructs it so that it is optimally suited to its own, very specific purpose, as often as not it’s true: This is a chair (or salad tong or desk) that knows more about what you want than you do. “He is very mindful of how we interact with and use objects,” says Zoë Ryan, who curated the Grcic exhibit, the first solo design show at the Art Institute of Chicago’s new modern wing last year.

Grcic, who is based in Munich, has made everything from lamps and jewelry to umbrellas, a plastic bucket, cutlery, and a pen. He curated the 2009 show Design Real at London’s Serpentine Gallery, where he chose brusque, useful objects like a Volvo tail light and a polypropylene broom to illustrate his concept of good, “real” design. But it’s furniture—–the chair, in particular—–that has his heart. “I like the scale of furniture, the relevance, the place it has in everyday life,” he says, standing in the slightly cluttered, chair-strewn loft that has been his office for almost 20 years. “Furniture reflects how we live.”

A Munich native, Grcic grew up in Wuppertal, an industrial center in western Germany. After high school, he tried to find a woodworking apprenticeship in Germany. Unsuccessful—–perhaps because his schoolwork tracked him for higher education—–he left for England, where he trained as a cabinetmaker before getting a degree in industrial design in 1990 from London’s Royal College of Art.

Landen public seating for Vitra Edition, 2007.
Landen public seating for Vitra Edition, 2007.

He describes his experiences in England as stirring his creative potential. “In Germany,” he says, “we have this traditional handwerkskultur”—–artisan culture. “It has very high standards, based on formal training. If you call a plumber in Germany, you’d find someone who really knows his trade. But there’s also something lacking with this. In England, if you call a plumber, you might get someone extraordinarily ingenious. This ingenuity and individual creativity is what I sometimes long for in Germany.”

Grcic’s work blends these two modes. He credits England with opening his eyes to approaching his full creative potential, but his penchant for amassing large amounts of data before he starts to work is nothing if not German. “Information is the only tangible,” he says. “Otherwise, designers are totally subjective. There has to be a foundation of knowledge.”

For a recent project designing school chairs, he and his team of five read official reports about what children’s bodies need, conducted interviews with teachers and students, and learned about how financing impacted the school furniture industry.

An advanced mock-up for the stackable outdoor chair he's designing for Piazza San Marco in Venice sits on a workstation.
An advanced mock-up for the stackable outdoor chair he's designing for Piazza San Marco in Venice sits on a workstation.

And, of course, they watched people sit. “I watch people endlessly,” he says. “How they sit, why they sit, do they feel comfortable? Who is sitting in that chair, and how, and when?”

In his office, he points to a gray stool-like item whose seat looks like a capital L lying on its back. “This,” says Grcic, “was my own little obsession. I wanted to contradict the idea of what a chair should be.” He looks at me. “I think you should sit down on it.”

Once seated on the 360° chair—–designed in 2009 for Magis and so named because it swivels in a complete circle, the degrees of which are marked on the chair’s base—–it’s easy to imagine its uses. It would be great for pulling over to somebody’s desk, swiveling to chat with a colleague, then rolling over to the next desk. You may not want to sit here for hours, but something about it feels right.

Grcic’s father favored antiques while his mother decorated the house with brightly colored 1960s art and objects. As a result, said Grcic, he was used to contrast. In his own work, he is always honing in on the essential. “It’s totally unconscious,” he sa
Grcic’s father favored antiques while his mother decorated the house with brightly colored 1960s art and objects. As a result, said Grcic, he was used to contrast. In his own work, he is always honing in on the essential. “It’s totally unconscious,” he says, of what we look for and respond to in design. He constantly observes as people interact with their environments. “It’s about how we sit in chairs. But it’s also who is the one sitting in that chair, and how and when.”

“Objects have a certain reading, based on intelligence and experience,” he explains. “You sat with the upright part sideways. This was more or less correct. But if someone reads it like a chair, and uses the upright element as a back, it’s uncomfortable. Then the question is, do people try again?” 

High-end manufacturers like Magis,  Flos, ClassiCon, and Plank commission most of Grcic’s work, which gives him the freedom to ask this kind of question. “Because we work for small companies, I can design more radical things—–we don’t have to please a broad market.” Nonetheless, he hopes that some of his ideas might be picked up by a wider audience.

Taking a seat in his plastic cantilevered Myto chair from 2008, Grcic describes his pursuit in terms that sound almost existential: “Everyone has to find their own ways to put some kind of order into all this material—–what you see or hear or know. Otherwise, it’s just chaos,” he says. “We think about chairs more than normal people. Why does a chair have to look like a chair? No, it’s more specific: Why does a specific chair have to look like a specific chair? It gets to the roots of understanding.”

Lunar was a light project for Flos in 2008.
Lunar was a light project for Flos in 2008.

So, what does he do in his free time? Stand up? Grcic laughs. “Jump in the air!” he says. “No, no. Work is life and life is work. It’s never easy, it’s still hard work. But we can do the hard work because we enjoy it so much.”

He pauses to consider. “I don’t have a settled family life,” he says, adding that he keeps his books and music at the office because he prefers to spend time there than at home. “I have friends who have families,” he says, “and the way they interact with their furniture, it’s totally different. That’s one set of information I’m missing.”

On the way out, we pass a kind of cardboard throne that curves in a single sheet creating a protected, hidden-away place that invites passersby to stop and rest. It’s something to sit on, but it is not a chair, as such. Rather, it’s a vehicle for showing a new type of laminate developed by Swarovski in collaboration with Abet Laminati. Grcic takes a seat in the cardboard display, and a few moments later, he stands up again. From behind the thick brown plastic frames of his glasses, he studies the cardboard model. “In the end, it is a chair,” he says, quietly. “I want people to sit in it.”
 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Concrete floor, white walls, Bend sectional sofa, Metropolitan chair by B&B Italia, and Arper pouf in living room of Rhode Island family vacation home by Bernheimer Architecture.
Create comfortable areas to lounge, sit, eat, and entertain with these designs.
February 12, 2016
São Paulo apartment dining room with local wood floors and HAY chairs
From concrete to wood, these South American homes enjoy nature inside and out.
February 12, 2016
Custom cabinetry and trim in Chicago apartment renovation.
The Second City is second to none when it comes to inventive modern architecture, from Louis Sullivan to the present day.
February 12, 2016
Kitchen of 1956 midcentury modern Palm Springs home.
Celebrate Palm Springs Modernism Week, which runs from February 11–21, with a look at some of our favorite modern desert oases.
February 12, 2016
Gustav bicycle by Coh&Co
Designmuseum Danmark unveils a permanent collection highlighting new developments in Danish design.
February 12, 2016
A Seattle studio's courtyard
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 12, 2016
Chalet in the French alps
An innovative glass addition adds contrast to a timber mountain lodge in France.
February 11, 2016
Aumas' assorted collectables.
Bright colors and vintage furniture are abound in these French homes.
February 11, 2016
Kogan designed a number of the built-in furnishings, including the headboard and cupboard in the master bedroom.The cupboard is deliberately reminiscent of a mid-century stereo speaker. The vintage lounge chairs are by Percival Lafer.
Need to relax? Make your bedroom an oasis from the rest of the house.
February 11, 2016
Modern Florida seaside home with corian island, dornbracht faucet, cees braakman combex chairs and marble knoll table in the kitchen
Read more about Knoll's impressive career here, but in the meantime, explore just a few of her works in these contemporary homes.
February 11, 2016
Modern small box home in Mexico
Letting the warm climate indoors is a common thread through these diverse dwellings.
February 11, 2016
Modern white cabinets under the stairs with skylight above
What could be better than a modest-sized house in a quaintly historic city?
February 11, 2016
dining room lighting
These renovations connect rustic, classic, and modern design in Italy.
February 10, 2016
12362509 211441865858796 1743381178 n1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 10, 2016
modern outdoor garden room plastic polycarbonate
From colorful living rooms to a backyard retreat, Belgian designers reimagine vernacular forms and materials for the modern world.
February 10, 2016
Tel Aviv kitchen with custom dining table and Smeg fridge
Would you go for an out-of-the-box palette for your major appliances? See how these kitchens tackle the trend.
February 10, 2016
Exhibition view, of Klaus Wittkugel works at P! gallery, New York
On view through February 21 at New York's P! gallery, a new show explores the politics of Cold War-era graphic design with a presentation of works by Klaus Wittkugel—East Germany's most prolific graphic designer. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy walks us through the highlights.
February 10, 2016
Reclaimed cedar and gray-stucco home outside San Francisco.
The new kid on the block in a predominantly Eichler neighborhood, this Menlo Park home breaks the mold and divides into three pavilions connected by breezeways.
February 10, 2016
A third floor addition and whole-house renovation modernized a funky cottage on an unusual, triple-wide lot in San Francisco.
From modern interiors hidden within historic structures to unabashedly modern dwellings, these seven renovations take totally different approaches to San Francisco's historic building stock.
February 10, 2016
Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen and gyrofocus fireplace in living room of Villa Le Trident in the French Riviera, renovated by 4a Architekten.
The Aegean's all-white architecture famously helped inspire Le Corbusier; these five dwellings continue in that proud modern tradition (though not all are as minimalist).
February 10, 2016
San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016