Using the best materials in the best ways

6 08 2010

The natural fibers used in O Ecotextiles  fabrics are the best in their class: the linen, hemp, wool and cotton are the finest  fiber materials available, and they are processed in  labor intensive, time consuming ways (for instance, the hemp is field retted rather than chemically retted. Chemical retting weakens the fibers as well as contributes to our environmental burden, but its much quicker.)  Natural fibers such as these have always been considered a luxurious choice:  Pima cotton has always been a more luxurious alternative than a synthetic fabric and people have been willing to pay for the characteristics inherent in natural fibers.

The production of high quality natural fibers is as much art as science; at O Ecotextiles we use the best materials in the best ways.

An example of  using the best materials in the best ways is that of Danish master craftsman Hans Wegner, who believed that a chair should be made to last.     His iconic 1949 creation—called the Round Chair or, simply, the Chair—may be the ultimate expression of that philosophy. The clean wood design is stripped to its bare essentials, a sculptural semicircle resting on four tapered legs with a cane or leather seat suspended between them.   The company uses only wood that is about to topple.  “The arms are made from blocks of solid wood.  They’re not bent in any way. That would have been a way to save wood, but you lose something important too.”  A zigzag joint connects the arms with the back. The surface is usually left unvarnished but finished with soap flakes, which makes it easier to maintain and helps it acquire a patina. “With soap, even if there’s a scratch, the wood will rise again”  The use of soap is an aesthetic decision that contributes to the object’s longevity.

This is not an IKEA-style factory, stamping out thousands of products daily. Each unit of the Chair is worked on by at least five craftsmen and takes nearly 12 hours to complete. Only about 200 to 300 are finished per year;  in 58 years a total of 20,000 pieces have been made. The process is a mix of sustainable practices and uncompromising technique.   The chair costs $4,000.

With his love of natural materials and his deep understanding of the need for furniture to be functional as well as beautiful, Hans J. Wegner (1914–) made mid-century Danish design popular on an international scale. He began his career as a cabinetmaker in 1931 and subsequently entered the Copenhagen School of Arts & Crafts. After receiving his architectural degree in 1938, he worked as a designer in Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller’s architectural office before establishing his own office in 1943.

With more than 500 different chair designs Wegner is the most prolific Danish designer to date. His international breakthrough and greatest sales success came in 1949 when he designed the Round chair. The American magazine Interiors featured the chair on the cover and referred to it as “the world’s most beautiful chair”. The chair rose to stardom when used in the televised presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960 and has since been known simply as “The Chair”.

The real beauty of Wegner’s genius must be seen in context with his collaboration with master cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen. The attitude with which Johannes Hansen accepted the young designer’s ideas was the perfect combination between designer and craftsman. Their collaboration went on for many years, and they presented their work at the Cabinetmaker’s show every year from 1941–1966.

Wegner’s design went on to win worldwide recognition through the 1950’s and 1960’s and his furniture, in particular his chairs, are to be found in the permanent collections of the world’s most prestigious museums.

The Chair’s elegant simplicity is a breath of fresh air in our complicated lives.


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