Recliner revived - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 12/5/2021

The Monocle Minute
On Design


From every angle

Almost 100 years since Gio Ponti started his design career, his work remains fresh, unique and beautiful to the eye. As we uncover in our review of the latest book of his work (see story seven), there’s still so much in the Italian’s archive to be inspired by today, from architecture to furniture. I was particularly enamoured by the clean lines and masterful minimalist touch he applied to the steel cutlery he made in 1936 for Krupp – have a knife and fork looked as good since?

Gio Ponti’s approach should be looked at by every aspiring creative practitioner. His work embodied the idea of total design and, from ship interiors to churches, chairs and town planning, no project was too big or too small for this man. Despite the eclecticism of the projects, there was always harmony in the outcome. It’s an approach that has been adopted with success by many later generations.

Japanese firm Nendo, pioneered by polymath Oki Sato, delivers everything from shopping-centre fit-outs to a novel reworking of the traditional door key that lends it an effortless turn. The result is a portfolio imbued with a universal approach that’s steeped in the sparse, light design character that the company has become known for. Architect David Chipperfield, celebrated for designing magnificent museums and corporate towers, told me recently that he works on smaller items such as bags and chairs not because he has to but because varying the scale of such projects keeps his creative lens in sharp focus – and he simply enjoys the challenge.

Too frequently, talented creatives become siloed and feel a little stuck. A look at the output of Ponti and the designers that have followed his lead shows that being something of a jack-of-all-trades can lead to remarkable individual success.


Changing gear

“How often do you want to hang out in a shop?” says Thomas Lykke, head of design at Copenhagen’s OEO Studio. “Not very often.” He kept that in mind while designing the new Taipei flagship for Danish cycling-apparel brand Pas Normal Studios and aimed to create an exception. The result feels more like a clubhouse than a shop.

Customers do buy cycling gear here but they’re just as likely to stop by after a ride for a coffee or to watch a race on the in-house televisions. Pas Normal’s products are often hyper-technical but the space is designed as a contrast: it feels warm and homey, with an emphasis on natural materials, such as oak and stone, and large windows providing a significant amount of natural light. Set in the historical neighbourhood of Minsheng, the exterior intervention is subtle, with a clean white finish and low-key signage to let visitors know that they’re in the right place.

The shop has been open for just under a month but it’s already become an attraction – and not just for the hordes of cycling enthusiasts. “People are even having their wedding pictures taken outside,” says Lykke.


Young at heart

The challenge for any architect working with a storied building is to balance the old with the new. For Claire Bourgès-Maunoury and Laurent Lustigman, founders of French architecture studio Boman, renovating the 1896-built Paris Bourse du Travail (the city’s labour exchange) was no exception.

For their modern intervention, the designers walked the line between monumentalism and lightness of touch, with new elements – from tables, to lighting and wayfinding signs – made from hot-rolled steel. It’s a move that has meant that any interior additions are traceable throughout the building, creating a clear distinction between the new and the historic. And, in the process, it breathes new life into a neoclassical structure without covering up its past.


Building character

Part love story, part architectural tribute, Aalto is a documentary that tells the tale of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and the design partnership he formed with his wife Aino Mariso. Directed by Virpi Suutari, the film is screening at festivals and cinemas around the globe. Speaking to Monocle 24’s Monocle on Design, Suutari told us about her inspiration for making the film and how the human relationships and built works of one of the 20th century’s most famous architects translated to the silver screen.

Before we get into the Alvar Aalto love story, why make a film about him in the first place?
I have been preparing to make this film since childhood. In the 1970s, I often went to the library that Alvar Aalto and his office had designed in my hometown of Rovaniemi. That was a very, very important and significant place for me. And even as a child, I felt that I was dealing with something special. It wasn’t just the books that seduced me to go there day after day but also the special atmosphere in the architecture. And I guess, since then, I have had that feeling in me. Growing older, I feel that now I am mature enough to deal with this film, to do the proper research and to be independent enough to make my own interpretations of Alvar Aalto and his architecture.

You documented the influence of Aalto’s first wife, Aino Marsio. How did you uncover her importance to his success?
One of the decisive moments for me in making this film was when I got permission from the Aalto family to use the love letters between them as key material for getting closer to their personalities. I wanted to combine the intimate side and the professional side of the couple and these beautiful letters really give this film a heart. They show that Aino and Alvar had a very symbiotic relationship; they were two young architects researching and exploring the modern world, as well as the architectural world of the end of the 1920s and early 1930s. Together they were creating the Aalto design language and the Aalto vocabulary as we know it today.

What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?
They will learn a lot about how creative couples work together, or how creative people work. I also hope that they start to think about contemporary architecture in a new way because for Aalto the human was always in the centre. I felt that as a child in my hometown library; Aalto was able to create the right scale for a human and make a monumental space feel very cosy, warm and uplifting.

To hear the full interview, listen to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle 24.

Illustration: Anje Jager


Slim slider

Danish mid-century designers Tove and Edvard Kindt-Larsen are admired for their simple, warm furniture. So it might be surprising that the couple spent their summers in an experimental, aluminium-painted house that gained the nickname Kufferthuset (“the suitcase house”) for its resemblance to the boxy travel essential. “Edvard designed it as a bachelor pad with makeshift furniture,” says Andrew Duncanson, founder of Stockholm and London-based gallery Modernity, which obtained this bespoke beech cabinet from the house’s new owner. “When he married Tove in 1937, they set out to make proper interiors.”

The unconventional holiday home measured just 40 sq m, which explains the cupboard’s clever design. Intended to stand against a wall, the tambour slides smoothly along the rounded edge to the back rather than opening into the room. If produced today, this beautiful space-saving solution would no doubt find a home in many more small residences than the one it was originally designed for.

Image: twentytwentyone


Recliner revived

If you were to ask Paula Day what constitutes a good chair, the daughter of fêted British designer Robin would tell you that “it must be comfortable and strong enough to withstand decades of use”. And judging by the new version of her father’s Reclining chair, made with upholstery by Mourne Textiles, the same could be said for design partnerships too. The designer and textile brand first worked together for exhibitions at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in the early 1950s, where Mourne’s rugs were the backdrop to Robin’s wares. And the collaboration has now continued thanks to retailer Twentytwentyone (with oversight from Paula) for an edition of the celebrated lounger to mark the shop’s 25th anniversary.

The new iteration uses wool upholstery, inspired by Mourne’s archive, and American walnut arms large enough for resting an equally generous drink on. It’s a comfortable combination and, if this enduring design partnership is anything to go, means that the new Reclining chair will likely be a living room favourite for decades.


Body of work

It takes a hefty tome to tackle the task of documenting the life and works of Italian design great Gio Ponti but Taschen’s giant new title on the subject delivers. The German publisher’s luxurious, extra-large 572-page hardback offers masses of text and imagery profiling Ponti’s oeuvre, from the minimalist 1936 steel flatware cutlery he created for Krupp to the elegant, skeleton-like structure of the Taranto Cathedral in 1970.

The book also takes in the handsome villas that Ponti designed in Caracas and Tehran, and surveys his famous cruise-liner interiors, which were the pride of the Italian merchant marine. Featuring writing from his late daughter Lisa Licitra Ponti and intimate family photos, the book succeeds in introducing us to Gio Ponti the man, as well as showcasing his talents.


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