As living spaces in urban centers become increasingly smaller, furniture that maximizes space and allows for multiple functions is having a resurgence; from modular shelving systems to reductionist wardrobes, designs showcased at this year’s IMM Cologne were undoubtedly satisfying the necessity for smarter furniture. Classic pieces from design greats like Alvar Aalto, and Marcel Breuer remain favorites for furnishing compact spaces; the desire for simple, functional and multipurpose pieces unchanged by time. Today, with flexible furniture the narrowest hallway can double as an office, a cramped corner can become a storage solution, and a lounge can double as a bedroom. The move towards smaller living spaces, coupled with increasing urbanization globally, was exemplified in the merging of space and design at this year’s IMM Cologne.
Prostoria sees innovation as a social responsibility: the young Croatian furniture company is creating functional furniture that deals with modern realities. The Up-lift armchair and sofa are fold-out beds that are designed for fashion and function. Both pieces transform into a bed in a single action; by pulling the backrest forward, the sides of the circular arm rests lean on the floor, serving as an eccentric rotation point from which the sofa turns into a functional bed. The laborious task of setting up a guest bed in the lounge has become one action — space-saving, functionalist, and aesthetically unique.
‘Up-lift’ by Prostoria
The famed Finnish design brand Artek was founded in 1935 by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl. Artek’s merging of art and technology has made them leaders in interior architecture. Their booth at this year’s IMM Cologne was based around contemporary housing, titled ‘35m2 = Living and working with Artek’. In this small but organized space Artek illustrated how, in a world where our work and home lives so often blend, we can optimize space. Through stackable furniture, cleverly placed storage and flexible areas with multiple functions, they maximized the usability of a 35 square meter space. The booth was separated into five areas; sitting and storage, working and living, dining and working, lounging and displaying and enhancing and organizing. With a collection that spans both furniture and lighting from contemporary designers like Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec and Enzo Mari to the famed traditional bentwood pieces by Alvar Aalto, Artek’s booth demonstrated how design thinking has evolved to encapsulate the greatest quality of life, in the smallest of spaces.
‘Stool 60’, ‘Kaari Shelf with Desk’, ‘Table 95’, ‘Rival Chair’, ‘Domus Chair’ ‘Golden Bell Savoy’, ‘Kaari Round Shelf’ et al, by Artek
Swedish designer Nils Strinning created a shelf system in 1949; the simple shelf with thin side panels has become something of a design classic — with its modular, flexible nature more important in housing than ever before. Undoubtedly, one of the most commonly owned items of furniture in Scandinavian countries, String’ shelving systems may have evolved since their initial release in 1949 — but their function remains the same. ‘String’ is simple to assemble, shelves of various depths can be combined and easily repositioned to suit changing needs. Though modular, it isn’t bulky, the ladder-like metal side panels elegantly hold in place the shelves and cabinets, refining the overall aesthetic of the structure. It seems just at home in living areas, as it does in bedrooms, kitchens or bathrooms. Its functionality and continuing relevance make it a design classic.‘
‘String System’ by String
Lithuanian furniture company Emko has returned to IMM Cologne after a five-year hiatus. Drawing from traditional Baltic craftsmanship, their pieces are designed for a modern market who are looking for curious furniture solutions. At a glance, the ‘Pill’ looks like a simple round cabinet — fixed to the wall, this unobtrusive storage unit is able to transform into a fully-functional workplace, a dressing table or (should you fancy it) a bar. With its size large enough to fit a laptop, books and other belongings, the ‘Pill’ is also equipped with electrical sockets and can be customised with LED lights.
‘Pill’ by Emko
Thonet brought classic, Bauhaus functionalism to IMM Cologne — nearly 200 years after the company was founded, and a year off the Bauhaus’ 100th anniversary. As representatives of ‘New Objectivity’, the Bauhaus architects proclaimed Michael Thonet’s — founder of Thonet — principle of reducing form and material essential to their post-war modernist aims. By the 1930s the company had become the leading tubular steel furniture manufacturer throughout Germany and would go on to produce the work of design greats of not only Gebrüder Thonet and Michael Thonet, but also Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. The continued relevance of functionalist design is evident in the ‘Set Tables – B9’ by Marcel Breuer. This tubular steel and dark wood set of four tables in a gradient in size that nest under one another. The table set was one of Marcel Breuer’s first designs — and since 1930 has been sold by Thonet, the mark of an enduring classic.
‘Range S 35’, ’S 32’, ‘S 285’ and ‘B 9’ by Marcel Breuer
The work of design company Muuto is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian design tradition; creating pieces that are functional, honest and of the highest quality. With a name drawn from the Finnish muutos — translating to mean new perspective — their brand ethos is to offer new imaginings of Scandinavian design. Their ‘Stacked’ shelving system is an excellent example of this; its formal elements distinctly minimalist and clean, but its function flexible. The modules of ‘Stacked’ can be arranged on the floor or the wall; with uses ranging from bookshelves to room dividers or tables. With the recent addition of acoustic paneling, ‘Stacked’ can also act as a storage unit that solves sound issues. Designer, Julien De Smedt, explains that the aim of ‘Stacked’ was to develop a shelving system that was both generalist and specific. “Shelving systems have a tendency to achieve one concern but never both,” explains Julien. “We decided to size shelving units based on the generic measurements of things to store and display while allowing for them to be combined according to specific needs and desires. The result can be at times a random stack of boxes or a coordinated grid of efficient storage… or both!”
‘Stacked’, ‘Fiber Side Chair Swivel Base’, ‘Fiber Side Chair A-Base’, ‘Fiber Side Chair Wood Base’, ‘Base Table’, ‘Outline Sofa’, ‘Oslo Sofa’ et al, by Muuto