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Marc Newson's 1994 design of the interior of Coast, a London restaurant, reflected many themes in 1990s design from an organic palette and forms, technical experimentation and a futuristic spirit.

1990s
By the turn of the 1990s, the exuberant post-modernist spirit had faded and designers searched for a more purposeful approach to design with greater depth and meaning. Some, such as Marc Newson drew on the optimistic 1960s vision of the future. Others, like Jasper Morrison, returned to the origins of the modern movement to revive its attachement to simplicity of form and seriousness of intent.

W. W. stool, 1990
Varnished sand-cast aluminium
Design: Philippe Starck
Production: Vitra, Switzerland

W. W. Stool, 1990
Varnished sand-cast aluminium
Design: Philippe Starck
As one of the most dynamic furniture designers of the 1980s and 1990s, Philippe Starck (1949-) developed dozens of chairs to be put into volume production by different manufacturers, yet he also executed experimental projects by designing conceptual pieces. Starck described them as “surrealist or Dada objects? intended to liberate the user “from the humdrum reality of everyday life". Among them was the W.W. stool, which was originally designed by Starck as part of a fantasy workspace for the German film director Wim Wenders and named after him. The only object in the room to go into production, this stool seems to ignore all functional constraints by barely providing a surface to be sat on.

Soft Heart, Spring Collection, 1990
Steel frame, polyurethane foam, fabric
Design: Ron Arad
Production: Moroso, Italy

Soft Heart, Spring Collection, 1990
Steel frame, polyurethane foam, fabric
Design: Ron Arad
“There are virtually no limits,? said Ron Arad of the creative possibilities of technology. “Smart materials, sharp tools, sci-fi production, it’s all here. Now! The present is much too fascinating to stop and worry too much about the future. If you look at the present deeply enough, the future will become discernible.? Having studied architecture, Arad (1951-) taught himself how to make furniture, initially from found materials, in his London design studio during the early 1980s before welding exuberant forms from metals, such as steel and aluminium, in limited editions of sculptural furniture. Arad then developed mass-manufactured versions of those forms as upholstered pieces like Soft Heart.

Crosscheck Chair, 1990-1992
Bent and woven laminated wood
Design: Frank O. Gehry
Production: Knoll International, US

Crosscheck Chair, 1990-1992
Bent and woven laminated wood
Design: Frank O. Gehry
When Frank Gehry (1929-) starts work on the design of an architectural project, he begins by sketching the lines of the building in a fluid, almost abstract style. His sketch is then converted by computer into the precise technical specifications required to construct such a structure without losing the expressiveness of the original drawing. The complex curves of the Crosscheck Chair evoke the organic forms of Gehry’s architecture. Before the Crosscheck, even the most sophisticated plywood chair depended on a substructure or intermediary support for solidity. Gehry experimented for two years to produce this ingeniously interwoven structure which is remarkably strong, yet apparently light and transparent.

Louis 20, 1991
Blown polypropylene, aluminium
Design: Philippe Starck
Production: Vitra, Switzerland

Louis 20, 1991
Blown polypropylene, aluminium
Design: Philippe Starck
Best known as the post-modernist prankster who made his name by designing notoriously unstable three-legged chairs, and a lobster-shaped lemon squeezer that sold in tens of thousands yet squirted lemon juice unerringly into the eyes of its users, the French designer Philippe Starck (1949-) imbues his best work with a technical rigour that enables him to express his wacky humour. The Louis 20 chair is the product of lengthy technical experiments by Starck and the engineers of Vitra, the Swiss office furniture manufacturer. Eventually they succeeded in combining a shell and two legs made from blown polypropylene with an incongruous pair of aluminium legs to add Starck’s inevitable joke.

Aeron chair, 1992
Recycled aluminium, polyester
Design: Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf
Production: Herman Miller

Aeron, 1992
Recycled aluminium, polyester
Design: Donald Chadwick and William Stumpf
At a time in the early 1990s when many more people were working for longer each day, often on computers, the US furniture manufacturer Herman Miller decided to develop a new office chair – the Aeron – for “the person who sits in it longer than he or she should?. The designers, Donald Chadwick and William Stumpf, consulted numerous ergonomists and conducted intensive consumer tests to ensure that the Aeron was as adaptable – and as comfortable – as possible for people of different shapes and sizes. Among the Aeron’s defining characteristics is its biomorphic, curvaceous structure. As there are no straight lines in the human body, Chadwick and Stumpf saw no reason to add them to their chair.

Fibreglass Felt Chair, 1994
Fibreglass, aluminium
Design: Marc Newson
Production by Cappellini, Italy

Fibreglass Felt Chair, 1994
Fibreglass, aluminium
Design: Marc Newson
A few years after leaving art school in his native Sydney, the Australian designer Marc Newson (1963-) moved to Tokyo, where he became fascinated by Japanese culture – from the purity of traditional ukiyo-e, to the candy-coloured kitsch of kawaii. Newson was also fascinated by the Japanese craft of origami, or paper folding, aesthetically and in terms of its functional possibilities. When creating the compound curved form of his 1988 Felt Chair, Newson applied the origami principle of working from a flat piece of thick felt – of the type he admired in Joseph Beuys’ sculpture. He later worked with Cappellini to remake the Felt Chair in fibreglass.

Jack Light, 1996
Plastic
Design: Tom Dixon
Production: Eurolouge

Jack Light, 1996
Plastic
Design: Tom Dixon
Fulfilling a dual function as a light and a seat, the Jack Light was developed by the British furniture and product designer Tom Dixon who also put it into production through his manufacturing company Eurolounge. Now the creative director of Artek, the Finnish furniture manufacturer, Tom Dixon combined design with manufacturing and retailing in his earlier career as a freelance designer. Frustrated by the difficulty of finding UK manufacturers willing to put his work and that of other London-based designers into production, he set up his own manufacturing company Eurolounge in 1996. Dixon’s most successful design for Eurolounge is the Jack Light which also functions as a seat.

Memo bean bag, 1999
Plastic, styrene beads
Design: Inflate and Ron Arad
Production: Inflate, UK

Memo bean bag, 1999
Plastic, styrene beads
Design: Inflate and Ron Arad
After the British designer Nick Crosbie gave a lecture to the product design students at the Royal College of Art in London on the inflatable furniture he was developing, the department head Ron Arad suggested that they work together to rethink the Transformer seat which he had developed in the 1980s. Having agreed to create a seat in the form of an air-tight bag with an adjustable valve and styrene beads inside to add rigidity once it was inflated, they developed a series of prototypes in the hope of producing a comfortable and robust bean bag. Memo was unveiled as a pre-production prototype at the Milan Furniture Fair in April 1999 and went into full production a few months later.

Air-Chair, 1999
Gas-injected polypropylene
Design: Jasper Morrison
Production: Magis, Italy

Air-Chair, 1999
Gas injected polypropylene
Design: Jasper Morrison
Supremely practical, the stacking chair has fascinated modernist designers for decades. The British designer Jasper Morrison (1959-) began work on his stackable Air-Chair when Alberto Perazza, the owner of Magis in Italy, showed him a length of tube made by gas injection, a new plastic moulding technology. “The design began from the leg up, describing the tubular structure of a chair to which a thin skin is applied for the seat and back, in much the same way as the earlier Plywood Chair uses a thicker plywood for the structure and a thinner plywood for the seat,? recalled Morrison. “I think we succeeded in delivering a combination of angles and curves which give a lot of comfort.?

Low Pad, 1999
Steel, plywood, foam, fabric
Design: Jasper Morrison
Production: Cappellini, Italy

Low Pad, 1999
Steel, plywood, foam, fabric
Design: Jasper Morrison
Long an admirer of the Danish designer Poul Kjaerholm elegant 1955-1956 PK22 day chair, Jasper Morrison (1959-) decided to create a contemporary version of “a comfortable low chair with as little volume as possible? in the 1999 Low Pad chair he developed for Cappellini. From the start of the project, Morrison was intent on developing a slimmer, but equally comfortable variation of traditional foam-filled upholstery. Inspiration struck when he spotted the densely padded silhouette of an airport bench and the moulded leather sole of a trainer. Cappellini found a car seat manufacturer which could press leather and most fabrics to Morrison’s specifications. He inserted a plywood panel to provide support for the chair and Cappellini upholstered over it.

Spring Chair, 1999
Polyurethane, stainless steel, foam, wool
Design: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
Production: Cappellini, Italy

Spring Chair, 1999
Polyurethane, stainless steel, foam, wool
Design: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
Whenever the French brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec (1971- and 1976-) approach a new design project, they begin by analysing how it can enhance their and their friends’ lives. Typically they develop compact, versatile and portable furniture and objects for people who live in small urban spaces, where they often work and who are likely to move fairly frequently. The Bouroullecs’ first project for the Italian manufacturer Cappellini was the light, slender Spring Chair. During the design process, they thought about what makes a chair comfortable and incorporated the essential elements – including a removable head rest and footstool – while providing just enough padding for comfort without loosing the slender form.

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