Earlier this month, Scandinavian product design shop Skandium proudly hosted the UK launch of Fredericia's NARA range. The collection of luxury furniture, designed by award-winning Japanese designer Shin Azumi, comprises a dining table, chairs and a tree-like coat stand in black lacquered ash or oak, with a series of bar stools to follow soon.
The event was themed on this harmonious unification of Japanese and Scandinavian design, with no detail unattended to. Our appetites were satiated throughout the evening with licquoricy Danish beer and platters of sushi, while the Iittala Taika crockery and tinted glass Mari bowls, oversized goblets the colour of boiled sweets, provided a feast for the eyes. Having spent some time browsing the multifarious display of Moomin literature in the dedicated Scandinavian book section, the launch began as Fredericia representative Mark Pearson stepped forward.
This year, the family-owned Danish furniture company will celebrate its 100th birthday. Whilst a major player in the Scandinavian design scene in the 1960s, it was only in the early 1990s that Fredericia began to collaborate with the cutting edge Danish designers that make the company what it is today. London-based Azumi tells us that his own career as a furniture designer began to take shape around this momentous time, before his own ‘a studio' was created. Inspired by Fredericia's designers throughout the ages, Azumi was particularly astonished, in his own words, by the work of Nanna Ditzel, creator of the Trinidad Stacking Chair amongst other iconic products of this era.
When Azumi was briefed to design a range of wooden dining chairs, and hence something intrinsically mainstream, he decided to do what he does best: to take something unusual and bring it into the realm of the everyday. And while respecting and responding to the history of Scandinavian design, his unique take is layered upon it.
Azumi's dining chairs are deceptively uncomfortable-looking. I must, however, stress the word deceptively. As he unfolded the secrets of his creation, it became clear that the pursuit of ergonomic perfection was in fact one of the most important factors in the design of this range. Aiming to achieve the ultimate in comfort, Azumi's approach is to take the shape of our own physical structure and turn it into furniture. The curved back of the chair meets the upper-body muscles which apply the most weight when leaning against it, while the smooth, deep seat with its curved, tapering edges invites you to sit back and relax, yet at the same time provide you with sturdy support. Once these essential aspects were taken care of, any superfluous material was stripped away. The accompanying table assumes this theme with its absent corners; unnecessary, as the designer points out, only serving to poke you in the side as you walk past. It looks ‘softened'. This resourceful marrying of the aesthetically pleasing and the physically accommodating in such simple yet brilliant ways are testament to Azumi's ingenious approach to domestic design.
But there is a further, subtler dimension to this anthropomorphism in his work. As Azumi suggests, when positioned en masse, his tree-shaped coat stands are evocative of a Scandinavian wood; a scene in which a group of wandering Moomins wouldn't feel out of place. Encapsulating his ‘fun and function' mantra, this whimsical element also arises in the chairs' distinctly horn-shaped prongs. But the designer admits that only upon completion did he notice this unexpected by-product of his intention; that looking back at him was this strange sort of deer-like animal. In light of this revelation, Azumi named his range NARA after the Japanese city in which sacred deer roam freely amongst the public, while simultaneously linking his Japanese origin with the Scandinavian influence in his design.
Being the lucky winner of a NARA dining chair in the prize draw of the evening, I can express with conviction the beauty of this particular design in every respect. Encapsulating a generous feeling within a minimal
structure, with the added feature of cervine horns which double up as jacket hooks, the NARA chair is the perfect ambassador of Fredericia's principle: fashion you can live with.
Amy Knight - Arts & Media Correspondent