Every year, journalists make the pilgrimage to Milan in the hope of finding products that are unique, that offer a new typology, and that may very well one day revolutionize the way we live. It’s a tall order—and one that rarely is fulfilled. At today’s press preview of British manufacturer Established & Sons' fifth collection, designer Sam Hecht sat down with Dwell to discuss a new piece, Table. Bench. Chair. Most likely too quiet to revolutionize the entirety of home furnishings, the new piece nonetheless offers something most unusual—furniture that doesn’t do anything, but rather, everything.
What inspired the design?
The piece started off from a conversation—which most of our designs do, especially with Established & Sons because they never ask us do to do anything, they just ask us to do something. It was a conversation between myself and Ippei Matsumoto, a Japanese designer who works for us. I asked him, why is it that on the subway trains in Tokyo you have this long bench and there is this strange colored zone which is not in the middle, and not at the end? I said, Is it for disabled people? And he told me no, it's a system for allowing maximum density on the subway. So when the first commuter gets on the train, they subconsciously gravitate toward this colored zone. When they sit down, by default they subdivide the whole bench for maximum density—so you don't have this situation where someone just plops down somewhere and then there's not enough space for the last person to sit. And I thought that was fascinating, and would you be able to apply that idea to a bench, where suddenly a chair pops out? That was really the starting point. And then of course the difficulty is that it becomes an in-between piece. It’s not really a chair that has to be easy to stack or easy to lift, and yet it has a surface to it, you can put it in a corner of a room, or you can use it for other things.
As the name implies, it’s something of a multi-tasker.
We’ve only started making furniture quite recently, but when we did that table for Herman Miller, we tried to get them to realize that no one buys a table for work. They buy a table and they use it for working on or eating on or all sorts of activities, so there is this very pluralistic feeling that I think is very relevant now. It’s harder for people to buy things or consume things which are very specific, because sometimes life changes and things become redundant. Where as things that are pluralistic, like a chair that you can use indoors as well as outdoors, start to feel more relevant and more appropriate for living. I say that with a piece that is totally untried and untested—some people might hate it or think it's completely nonsensical, but others might feel that its quite liberating because of it.
In the case of the shortest version, the form itself is quite reminiscent of the Link table for Herman Miller, with a ledge off to one end.
It is indeed, but it was very unconscious.
I suppose it doesn’t slide and it's not green.
Right. It does have this surface that you can put a coffee on or a newspaper, or you can put your shoes on next to your jacket or whatever.
And yet, for the unusual nature of it, the chair form is quite classic.
It’s got a little Chinese Ming. It’s Hans Wegner. It’s Thonet—all of that stuff. I’m not denying it. But the fact that it connected with the structure of the legs, it’s essentially a table that becomes a chair that is also a bench.
Would you say that it falls into the Supernormal category?
I’m a big admirer of Supernormal, but I’m an even big admirer of “Under a Fiver.” [a book project that Industrial Facility will release with Rizzoli in 2010, documenting design to be had for under five quid]. When I think about Supernormal, as far as I can gather, they are tried and tested pieces that have proven themselves. I don't know if you can label new things—which I have literally seen 15 minutes ago—as Supernormal. Nevertheless, the values are following that trajectory.
What does it mean to be working as a designer who deals in simplified and reduced forms rather than bombast?
Those kinds of ideas have been talked about for a while, but the problem is that if you talk about those things and everyone does it, isn’t that the same? Isn’t it just more consumption and more stuff? There’s a danger that those attributes just become another thing. What happens is that they become a style in itself and I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong, but it's inevitable.
Therein reduction becomes less about style, but meanwhile everything has some kind of style.
You can’t ever escape that. That is especially true in Milan because the pressure is to perform and to make impact. The real measure is what’s left after Milan—the stuff that is produced, and is consumed, and that lasts. Those are the pieces that give a different kind of feeling to the world.