Design Classics

Design Classics #8: The Bubble Chair

20th February 2012
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It’s a bit space age, a bit glamorous, a bit indoor hammock. The Bubble chair was built to swing lazily on a landing by a picture window or to be suspended in a room full of books but always within reach of a Martini.

The chair is so perfectly designed that it comes as a shock to realise that it only hangs from the ceiling by accident. The designer, Eero Aarnio, wanted his chair to be completely transparent and couldn’t find a way of making a clear pedestal so he had to hang it instead. One of those happy design accidents which has become synonymous with  the space age and pop art of the 1960s when it was designed.

The Finnish designer is one of the 20th century’s greatest innovators. He broke away from traditional designs and started experimenting with colour, plastic and organic curvy forms. His work is now in the collections of the V&A, MoMA and Vitra Design Museum.

To understand the Bubble, it is first necessary to look at the Ball. And for that it is best to hear from Aarnio himself, who in the best tradition of the great inventors and businessmen, wanted something, didn’t have it, made it. Unlike the rest of us, who would have just nipped down to Habitat and bought something far more prosaic.

“The idea of the chair was very obvious,” he said. “We had moved into our first home and I had started my freelance career in 1962. We had a home but no proper big chair, so I decided to make one, but some way a really new one. After some drawing I noticed that the shape of the chair had become so simple that it was merely a ball. I pinned the full scale drawing to the wall and ‘sat’ in the chair …”

He then knocked up a prototype, as you do, and made the first chair. The idea was also to create a room within a room that would protect the user from outside noise and on a turning pedestal that would allow him, or her, to turn to or away from the room.

“In the end I installed the red telephone on the inside wall of the chair.” When two young managers from Asko, a Scandinavian kitchen and laundry appliance company, visited Aarnio to see some of his other work, they were so impressed they wanted to put his new chair into production as well. This led to a slew of fibreglass designs, including, of course, The Bubble.

“After I had made the Ball chair, I wanted to have light inside it and so I had the idea of a transparent ball where the light comes from all directions. The only suitable material is acrylic which is heated and blown into shape like a soap bubble. . . and again the name was obvious.”

As there was no way to make a totally clear pedestal, the chair was hung from the ceiling.

The Norwegian telephone company Telenor has Bubbles in the entrance of their new building in Oslo to create calm “rooms” for mobile phone users. The Sanderson Hotel in London has one in the lobby.

Visit www.nest.co.uk to buy an authentic version of the Bubble chair.

First published in The Independent


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