Republic of Fritz Hansen: Timeless design
Head of design at Republic of Fritz Hansen, Christian Andresen was design director at Henning Larsen Architects for nearly 10 years before swapping positions at the table: from ordering the products of others, he is now developing new furniture items. We spoke with Andresen about the demand for personalisation, Danish design heritage, and the transformation of the office world.
DAMN°: Working in an office feels different today. What changes do you observe?
Christian Andresen: We see many projects where the focus is much more on the softer places in open offices, like lounge areas and collaborative spaces. Your workplace is no longer a desk with a chair; it is your laptop and your colleagues. This perception is changing the interior and is also changing space planning in buildings. It’s more of an inside-out approach than an outside-in.
DAMN°: What impact does this have on the design of office furniture?
CA: There are new demands on flexibility, comfort, ergonomics and modularity. They all point in the same direction: to break down the open office into smaller clusters. It’s about the feel of being a small unit within a big unit, divided by soft walls and functional furniture. I think this development is a counter response the completely open-plan office we saw in the 1980s and 90s, which is disliked.
DAMN°: So work is becoming more social and communicative?
CA: That is probably the most interesting thing happening right now. When I asked clients some years ago to show me what they had in mind, they took out a catalogue from a contract furniture company. Now they’re coming in with lifestyle magazines. This means that work has to be like home. To me, as a designer and also a furniture developer, this translates to the softness of social furniture pieces like sofas, armchairs, and loveseats merging into a functionality that enables work. A meeting can take place in the canteen, as long as there is a power plug incorporated into the table. Furniture pieces have to respond to that and offer freedom of choice in the way people want to work.
DAMN°: People conduct meetings differently on a sofa or a lounge chair as opposed to an office chair.
CA: Yes, we see a lot of meeting rooms with four lounge chairs. It’s actually the configuration that most in demand at Republic of Fritz Hansen. These spaces are made for another way of collaborating and speaking, being more informal than sitting face to face in a meeting room. I think it’s helpful for creativity and innovation.
DAMN°: During the last few years, we have seen a strong trend towards the reissuing of design pieces from the 1950s and 60s. How important are the classics by Arne Jacobsen and Poul Kjærholm for Republic of Fritz Hansen?
CA: It is extremely important for us. We have both a heritage and a contemporary collection. The fluency between them is based on the success of the pieces. Right now, we have six furniture families by Arne Jacobsen in production. Once we had around 50. Many of them will probably never see the light of day again, because they disappeared for a reason.
It’s the same with music. Why do six Beatles tunes ring in our ears and one thousand tunes don’t? Because they are good pieces of music. And so it is with furniture. We work with our heritage, as it is part of our DNA. We try to make the classics relevant today by offering them in new fabrics and colours to attract a different audience. And we even use our heritage products as measuring tools for new furniture pieces, meaning that the same design values have to apply. We don’t want to be nostalgic and look backwards. We want to keep our designs flowing.
DAMN°: One of the new products you just launched at the Orgatec fair in Cologne is the PairTM chair by Benjamin Hubert. What are the specifics of its design?
CA: It is a modular chair system with an organic backrest in plastic, combined with a wooden seat. This combination of wood and plastic in the same chair is new to us, but it creates a different take on the shape and aesthetics of a stackable chair – it comes with or without armrests and in various bases and colours. There are some 80 possible combinations, so architects can create something special for each project or each client. Personalisation makes the office space an environment you can relate to.
DAMN°: The office becomes a place of recognition.
CA: Absolutely. The personalisation trend peaked some years ago in Asia, when everybody wanted to have an individualised iPhone and an individualised watch. But we still see an interest – especially in the contact market – for furniture that’s customisable, because it is an important point for interior designers. We have to be able to do that and offer something special, rather than just painting shells and backrests. We want a truly modular design to create something unique.