Planet Partitioning launched a new showroom in time for Clerkenwell Design Week. Located on the ground floor of a smartly refurbished building, the 105sq m showroom provides a showcase for the firm’s latest glazed and timber relocatable partitioning products. The fresh designs on show include the latest advanced frameless glazing options for the ultimate in minimal and contemporary design. Partitioning solutions can be ordered from the London showroom to meet a variety of client specifications.
The Cappellini showroom in Paris has been fitted with Bolon's NOW Pink flooring. Giulio Cappellini has used Bolon products for several projects in the past, including showrooms and public spaces, favouring their contemporary feel and durability. In the Paris showroom, his aim was to recreate the atmosphere of an haute-couture studio of the 1950s or 1960s. The first collaboration between Cappellini and Bolon came in 2008 when Cappellini furnished the entrance hall of the Stockholm Furniture Fair.
Words by Helen Parton Helen Parton went to meet Italian designer Franco Poli to discuss coach-hide furniture, collaborations with Matteograssi and a love of solitude and silenceI first glimpse Franco Poli hunched intently over a laptop with a series of fast-moving projections of furniture manufacturing behind him, like some kind of design boffin, or perhaps a pioneering maestro of difficult electro music. The occasion was a lecture on the techniques employed by Italian manufacturer Matteograssi, specialist in products using coach hide, in the development of Poli’s Loom chair launched in 2006. This was part of an exhibition of Matteograssi products at the Clerkenwell showroom of B-Loose earlier this year. The morning after the launch party and the showroom is unrecognisable in its emptiness compared to the thronging ranks of the A+D community that filled it the night before. And it’s only then that I get to take a look at Poli’s work. Not being a designer myself, but with, it has to be said, a full appreciation of the pastry goods sector, the process involved in making the Loom chair (a special slitting process that expands the hide before it can be enclosed within a frame) reminds me of the latticework you might find on a particularly well-made pie. And anything that reminds me of that has got to be worth closer inspection. The craftsmanship is amazing and I’m not surprised to learn that each piece goes through a series of finishes completed by hand after the master cutter selects the hide, or that the firm has been working with leather for over a century. Poli, when he arrives at the showroom with export director Gloria Sormani – who fills in the gaps where his English ends and my Italian is yet to begin – commences by emphatically praising this process. “It is the only company in Italy that deals with saddlery leather in this way and they are one of the few companies that can allow themselves to operate above fashion issues in a truly timeless way. The oldest product [in this exhibition] is 25 years old and still selling well. I hope to always be making this kind of thing.”We sit down at the Tent table designed by Rodolfo Dordoni, another product where you can really feel the quality of the leather stitching. Much of Poli’s work is on display here, including the Fullerina chair, which he passed amongst the crowd during the previous evening’s proceedings to demonstrate its lightweight properties – the secret’s in the combination of ash frame and plywood legs apparently. Dominating proceedings around us is the Loomy screen, a tactile and contemporary way to separate different areas within domestic, retail or office spaces, again using the coach-hide mesh. What is his inspiration for products like these I wonder? He cites the topological work of 20th-century designer Richard Buckminster Fuller, best known for exploring the geodesic dome shape, a structure designed to cover the maximum possible space without internal supports. He also admires the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto, but mostly, he says, his work with coach hide has entailed years of research and the results were down to pure hard work. It’s clear that materials have been an inspiration throughout Poli’s life, from when he was a boy asking for bits of unwanted glass from the warehouses where Murano lamps were made or when, at 16, he first began experimenting with offcuts of coach hide with some of his friends. He also enjoyed working with wood for chairs, beds and sideboards for Italian manufacturer Bernini, and during a career spanning over 30 years, he has collaborated with several other major manufacturers including Tonon, Montina and Poltrona Frau. Born in Padua in 1950, Poli began working as a professional designer after graduating from the University Institute of Architecture of Venice in 1974, though when I ask him about these early beginnings, he proclaims, “I never really started as a designer though,” and rather amusingly can’t understand when this raises a smile amongst the rest of the group assembled around the table. He insists on being hands on in the prototyping process, adding, “In my professional life, when I draw something I always think how I want to make it myself.” During the 1970s, he is credited with helping to bring function back into modern furniture design and he went on to share his skills by becoming a professor of design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice in the 1990s.
Though he claims to be taking this year as a sabbatical, there’s little evidence of that at this year’s Venice Biennale. Poli and Matteograssi have worked on the designs for the reception spaces of the fair: the Caffe del Padiglione Italia, the break-out area of the bookshop as well as the Arsenale restaurant. “You are bombarded with artistic images at the various pavilions, but the moment you get to the recreation areas, I have created a serene environment with some very smooth, relaxing colours,” explains Poli. Here, the thousands of visitors to the Biennale will be greeted with the Poli designed Openside sofa – perfect for the large expanse of public areas at the exhibition, but equally fitting for the entrance to a flagship office with its flexible, asymmetrical configuration. The sofas are complemented by his Arete chair, made in two sizes – the standard version for a quirky desk chair and the larger one for waiting rooms and seating areas. He says he feels Venetian and that the city has adopted him as one of their own, though he currently lives and works alone in Verona in an old house in the historical heart of the town. At the start of his career, he worked in a showroom with 18 people but he didn’t like the noise of so many others in one place and going solo suited him. Just as his designs have a quiet assurance to them, so their creator eschews noise. “Silence is very important to me,” he says. “I recently went on a trip to Jordan, which was very rewarding. For two nights I slept in the desert in a Bedouin tent with nothing to disturb me – no phones, no television, nothing but silence. It was fantastic.”
Words by Helen PartonThe glamorous, pristine environment of the furniture showroom frequently functions as a workspace too – a fact that is often overlooked. Helen Parton investigates the particular requirements of this dual role Furniture showrooms are changing almost as quickly as firms are unveiling new products, but how do showrooms rate as actual workplaces when the dust settles and the last of that post launch party detritus has been removed?
Paul Hobson, head of brands and product marketing with Orangebox, says, “Because of the expansion of the product portfolio and having reached a position where the showroom was looking a bit tired, we recently refurbished the space as a result of feedback from our sales staff. For me, the primary thing we were trying to achieve was more usable selling space – because ultimately this is a shop.”
And so, in its Clerkenwell showroom in a formidably tight fortnight timescale, out went the glass partitions, and, aside from one larger conference room at the rear of the lower ground floor, so did the traditional meeting room concept as well. Instead, greater use was made of workspace roomsets, showing exactly how products can be used, from low tables with bucket seats and sofas to task chairs, formal meeting tables and large-scale public seating for atrium areas.
Orangebox creative director Gerard Taylor, responsible for many of the products on display, also designed the showroom, introducing backlit polycarbonate panels, which gives the basement area a much brighter, almost daylit feel. The pattern in the carpet, supplied by Miliken, subtly marks out the boundaries of the various furniture configurations and also helps with navigation: “We do have a lot of architects and their clients who want to be left alone and have the ability to find their own way around the space,” Hobson explains. This layout also helps staff keep the place tidy during the day-to-day running of the showroom. With free wireless access, Bluetooth printers and next generation IP telephones, so often it’s hard to tell who works there and who is a visitor checking their emails or grabbing a copy of the latest report. You sense this blurring of the boundaries is how Orangebox likes the showroom to operate. Staff do have workstations in a small back office-cum-kitchen area, although even for internal meetings, they will tend to use part of the main showroom where mobile storage units are also kept.
Interoffice’s back-office function is carried out over at its main showroom in Holborn, meaning the Interoffice Studio showroom in Covent Garden can be used solely for display purposes. Simon Lo Gatto, who is heading up the operation situated just off Drury Lane, explains: “This new space has a completely different feel to the other one, which is mainly for clients involved in the design and build side of things. The industrial, New York loft-style atmosphere makes the space work as a backdrop to the ranges of office furniture by Italian designer Mario Mazzer. It was specifically created by our own design department, to appeal to the senses of architects and designers; to make visitors relax and feel the products, which are very tactile.” It seems it has less in common with an office environment and more with an art gallery, with the flooring and walls in neutral shades, atmospheric lighting and low classical music playing in the background.
By contrast, colour dominates at Orangebox; from the moment you step into the space you are greeted with chairs upholstered in Paul Smith stripes and the brilliant lime green of the Boundary modular seating. “We have a reputation for being visually bold, which is something we wanted to recreate in the showroom,” says Hobson. “Our team needed to be able to make customers comfortable and bring them round the showroom and the space helps them tell our particular story.”
To further assist with this internal narrative, graphics from the brochure have been blown up on the polycarbonate panels, and various workplace-related maxims (stemming from customer comments gathered by Orangebox) have been stencilled on the walls. “It’s not about us preaching a philosophy,” Hobson is keen to point out. “It’s a reflection of what represents best practice in the marketplace today and that’s what we’re trying to do with the space.”
Primary colours are the order of the day at Nowy Styl, which opened a showroom last November, also in Clerkenwell. Considering this is a Polish operation, it has a distinctly Scandinavian feel to it, with wooden floors and white walls. The project was completed on a budget, and unlike the higher-end operators this bright, airy, no-frills working environment has more in common with retailers like Ilva.
Clare Boydell, design manager with K+N, explains how they walk the talk with their workspace: “About half the showroom is a working environment, so we do constantly work on display – which allows the clients to see the products working in a real environment.” For its showroom makeover, layouts and product choices were finalised internally: the meeting room was reduced in size to allow for more informal, smaller areas. “We de-cluttered the environment and showcased key products. We worked together with Wila lighting, with which the original lighting plan was created, to incorporate additional spot and feature lighting emphasising core products. The additional lighting and lighter finishes have made our space a brighter and more open environment to work in,” says Boydell. Creating a dialogue not just between staff with visitors but also between the firm and the outside world was also a key consideration. “For the window display, we opted for opaque glass manifestation, which, combined with the simplified layout, increased our street impact,” she adds.
Orangebox, Interoffice, K+N and Nowy Styl are far from an exhaustive list of firms updating their showrooms or creating new ones. This year has seen Flexform move from Islington’s Business Design Centre to a site nearby and in the next few months alone Wiesner Hager will reconfigure its Old Street space while Senator will open a new London showroom at Melton Street in Euston. Howe is adding to its presence in the capital too, as managing director Richard Wright explains: “Although our existing Wandsworth Common site will be retained as an administrative centre, we felt we needed to be in town to be on the main showroom circuit and to further attract the specifiers and the architectural and design community.”
Meanwhile Knoll has plans to move too, in the medium term, and managing director Graham Jones adds, “We need something bigger as we are growing rapidly. It does have to be as architecturally interesting as our current base in Smithfield’s – we wouldn’t feel right if we were in a glass and steel slab. Plus there’s the dichotomy of our use of space in that our clients want to see our desking systems at work while our range of chairs really demands to sit in space.”
Clearly getting customers coming through the door, being in the right postcode and creating the best setting for the product range are all important to manufacturers when considering the design of their showrooms. But unlike the employers of bored boutique staff, whose lack of external stimuli must surely account for their surly attitudes, or run-off-their-feet-baristas defying the time-speed continuum during the rush hour, keeping their staff both happy and productive seems to figure pretty highly too.