With a retrospective exhibition on view at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, Konstantin Grcic, 49, can be counted in that rarefied list of icon makers able to produce timeless classics with impressive frequency – up there with the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Philippe Starck, Jasper Morrison, and his own personal hero, Enzo Mari. One of his greatest contributions has been reimagining what we sit on – from Chair One, with its conical concrete base and futuristic geometric profile in cast aluminum (Magis, 2001) to his 360-degree stool-chair for Magis (2009). Also, his Medici for Mattiazzi (2012) offers a new take on an old cottage favourite: the Muskoka recliner.
At Salone del Mobile in mid-April, Grcic was on hand at the Artek booth to introduce Rival, a modestly sized wooden chair with a friendly round seat and four legs that splay outward like a fawn taking its first steps. Available with two backrest options, Rival’s best feature is the unseen swivel mechanisms buried within its bowl-shaped pan.
Azure editor Catherine Osborne spoke with Grcic to find out what inspired the wooden office seat, and why chairs remain one of his greatest loves and challenges.
Is this your first chair for Artek?
Yes. We started two and a half years ago, before Artek joined with Vitra. They already had an idea of what they wanted when they approached me: a chair for a home work environment. I was interested in that, but I was also thinking that a chair for a home office is just one way of looking at it. If you consider how offices have changed in recent years, they’ve become much more casual. So, it’s a chair for both of those environments.
It’s a chair for working.
Yes, I would say it’s a serious chair – a chair that people will spend time sitting on. For instance, its swivel mechanism references the office, but it also has an upholstered seat. That was necessary to provide comfort, of course, but also by adding a material, well, it sounds rather banal, but the fabric is exactly what suggests something more residential.
I don’t think of you as a designer that works in wood that often.
I was trained as a cabinetmaker, so my beginnings are actually in wood. But I now work in an industry where wood isn’t that easy to industrialize. I did do the Medici chair for Mattiazzi two years ago.
With Artek, as you can see, some we have painted, so wood is a material to use, it’s not necessarily a style or an aesthetic. The chair comes in two different back rests for different kinds of comfort. You’re sitting on the low back version. You’re sitting up and it’s perfectly designed for that.
It’s completely comfortable.
Well, if you wanted to lean back this isn’t the best chair. It’s a chair you have for doing something, like being in a conversation.
And it swivels.
Yes, all the mechanical parts are hidden inside the bowl. It’s rather complicated actually, it’s where the industrialization of the chair resides. I didn’t want that part to be exposed.
I told a colleague that I was going to interview you, and she said, “Oh, he’s the god of chairs.” Are chairs your favourite object?
I have a passion for them, for sure. Actually, I have a passion for furniture, and then, within that category, there is the chair, and for several reasons I find it to be the most exciting. It’s the one we have the most physical contact with, and in many ways, it becomes an extension of you. You could say it kind of dresses you. It becomes not only an extension of your body, it informs your posture.
Even the colour of a chair can have an effect. If you sit in a red chair, for instance, the red does something to you. That’s taking it quite far, but I find this interesting, and it’s what keeps it challenging.
The other thing is that sitting is a such a big part of everyday life. There are lots of implications in that: how long do we sit; where we sit; what are we up to when we sit…. All that is integral to design and those are the things that are always changing.
True, but there are a lot of chairs out there. Is there still another chair that hasn’t been made?
In my view, there is an infinite number of situations and possibilities for sitting, and in the end the ideal chair is one that’s tailor-made for a certain person on a certain day at a certain time. That’s impossible, of course, but with industrial design we can explore every possibility.
The chair hasn’t been done then, it’s still evolving.
It is always evolving. There are so many fantastic chairs, but never the ultimate chair.
What do you sit on?
In my studio, I have a Box chair by Enzo Mari. It’s one of my favourites because it’s simple and basic, but I consider it to be very radical. It’s not beautiful to look at; its real beauty is in the intelligence of how it is made.