10 February 2021

Kids’ Furniture is a serious business

“Children’s games are hardly games. Children are never more serious than when they play,” said the philosopher Michel de Montaigne back in 1500, and this was later backed up by the Italian educator and neuropsychiatrist Maria Montessori, who changed our approach to small children and their activities for ever. Because the latter really do amount to work, requiring commitment and seriousness, helping children master and hone skills and abilities that will serve them well throughout their lives. Munari, for whom working with children amounted to a veritable mission, was of the same opinion. The aim was to help them develop their creative side, help them retain their original curious approach to the world and to life and to help them grow into intelligent people. Enzo Mari even believed that children could save the world and that all two-year-olds should be given the Nobel Prize! He has handed down so many books and projects for young children, for leafing through and playing with, so that, they can learn to do things as they grow, without ever losing the knack of thinking.

There are still some people who underestimate this sort of design, deeming it nothing more than an exercise in colours, rounded shapes and miniaturised versions of adults’ objects of desire. They may be dying out, though, judging by how many brands and designers take a serious approach these days to a whole range of issues that involve education, gender difference, ecology and emotions when creating furnishings and spaces in which our children can grow, experiment, and share experiences. In order to become independent men and women.

The intention is to overcome the distinction between the way in which adults and children see things, starting with the space, fluid and dynamic naturally, designed around the development of the youngest children. It doesn’t matter how much there is, what really matters is conceiving a structured and coloured world, perhaps with a “magic room” effect for the youngest.

Rather like the sort of room Vitra and Artek might dedicate to the liveliest and most curious children. It would be a multicoloured realm – in pastel shades so as not to overexcite them – with essential pieces such as the Panton Junior chairs with their soft design, rounded lines and sorbet-like colours, Alvar Aalto’s versatile and safe Children's Table round, which can be traded up as the children grow, the Hang It All pop coat rack by Charles and Ray Eames, and the Wall Shelf 112, again by Aalto, which teach the youngest to keep things tidy. Then there’s Elihu the Elephant by George Nelson, a fun way of teaching children how to tell the time. Basically, a room conceived by the Masters as an arena for myriad adventures.
www.vitra.com - www.artek.fi/en/

Panton Junior, design Verner Panton, Vitra

Then there’s the space conceived by Circu Magical Furniture, which seems to take the concept of adventure to a whole new level. Not just the Bubble Gum Desk, a perfect multi-tasking study area with shelves, compartments and pinboards and the Little Bunny, an amusing chair inspired by the most famous rabbit in the world, but also an actual climbing wall with lots of rings that will allow its lucky little owners to develop autonomy and motor skills as well as creative and thinking ones.

Bubble Gum Desk and Pixie Chair, Circu

The Lago bunk bed is back, aimed at satisfying that boundless desire for exploration, movement and entertainment of those who, one day and again the next will ask their parents for a tree house. This is precisely the concept behind LagoLinea Weightless: not just a suspended castle but a refuge where they can imagine, dream and have fun. Matched with DiagoLinea, a bookcase that can be rediscovered and reinvented every day because it can be made into new and unexpected shapes thanks to a system of shelves that support each other, defying the force of gravity. The room can be rounded off with the simple yet essential Air desk, which is practical and welcoming for reading, writing, playing and building.

Lagolinea Weightless bed, Lago

Magis is another kid friendly brand. Me Too is an entire collection for children. Many designers have changed tack and applied a virgin eye to “the usual suspects.” First and foremost, Enzo Mari was responsible for the Seggiolina Pop for the brand, which sparked this successful range. Pop comes in bright orange, blue and green and, especially, the chairs are safe and lightweight (weighing a mere 860 g.), meaning that children can move them by themselves to create endless new play scenarios. A bit like Little Flare by Marcel Wanders, a child size table with see-through polycarbonate legs that can be customised with drawings and designs, used as containers for Lego, pebbles, or – why not? – sweets, and when required can also be turned into functional pencil holders. Magis’s room also contains Puppy, created by Eero Arnio, who put himself in a child’s shoes and drew a little dog. The head, body and paws make up the organic and essential forms of a friendly object that can be used not just for sitting on, but also as a trampoline, a sturdy base or an imaginary friend … www.magisdesign.com

Seggiolina Pop, design by Enzo Mari, Magis

Ben van Berkel of UNStudio has also come up with a special puppy, for Alessi, which he has christened Doraff. Made of recycled thermoplastic resin, it combines the shape of two animals, a dog and a giraffe, making for an eclectic product that can be used as a seat, a table or a plaything. The Dutch architect has devised an object that children can imagine mounting, playing with as if it were a real puppy, or turning over and using the variously sized surfaces for drawing, reading and eating.

Doraff, design Ben van Berkel - UNStudio, Alessi

From puppies and giraffes to horses. Kartell has put itself in the expert hands of Nendo, which has designed H-Horse, a rocking horse inspired by structural materials used in urban architecture. The object references the “H” shaped steel beams used in large-scale buildings such as skyscrapers and bridges. By applying this concept directly to a children’s rocking chair, Oki Sato has created a playful object that leverages both function and strength using very simple materials. Who knows whether the children will appreciate this early lesson in physics and engineering.

H-Horse, design Nendo, Kartell

Alternatively, one might go for a more traditional object, such as Furia (Fury, the brave stallion of the West, of Salkowian memory?) from Gebrüder Thonet. Anna Lindgren and Sofia Lagerkvist of Front Design designed this playful piece of furniture, which is both bang up to date and a memory of the past. Dedicated to younger children, Furia is a rocking horse that is part toy, part seat, emanating lightness and irony. Its adorable ears are tailor-made for a decidedly “wild” grip - because our children’s sense of adventure knows no bounds.

Furia, design Front Design, Gebrüder Thonet,

If one’s preference is for a more traditional chair in terms of function, but non-conformist in terms of form, there are several brands that have revisited their own icons, “re-adapting them” to new physical parameters. One such is Cassina, which has come up with a “junior” interpretation of the iconic 637 model by Dutch architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld - Baby Utrecht is a re-proportioned version of a sleek geometrical and sculptural chair, ergonomically adapted for children, which speaks of rationality and independence to its little users.

Baby Utrecht, design Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, Cassina

Reflecting along the same lines, B&B has produced UPJ, a kids’ version of Gaetano Pesce’s masterpiece, faithful to the original UP, comfy and playful at the same time, its appealing shapes and bright colours, encourages children both to snuggle in and to experiment with constantly changing positions and adventures.

UPJ, design Gaetano Pesce, B&B Italia

Materials count as much as shapes. Children perceive and explore the world around them with their hands, they are more sensitive to materials and can discern, for instance, that wood is a living thing, emitting heat and a particular scent. Environmentally-friendly and natural design, with simple lines and neutral colours, is a mission for Carl Hansen & Son. This means that even furniture for the very youngest can’t fail to have a vintage flavour and a genuinely sustainable and atoxic soul. The CH411 table and CH410 chairs, made entirely of undyed wood and assembled totally without screws, bolts or glue, were designed by Hans J. Wegner as a present for Peter, the son of friends, and immediately went into production.

CH410 chair and CH411 desk, design Hans J. Wegner, Carl Hansen & Son

Emeco has been working along the same lines, but with different raw materials. The company has always made chairs out of recycled materials, and its watchwords are “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle, Re-imagine.” The structurally solid and timeless 111 Mini Navy Chair®, like the “adult” model, is made from at least 111 recycled plastic bottles, helping to ensure that tonnes of this material do not end up as landfill or, worse still, discarded in the countryside. It’s a first lesson on sustainability and ecology for our kids.

111 Mini Navy Chair®, Emeco
Photo Miro Zagnoli

Lastly, Studio65’s alternative idea for those with tons of space, Baby-Lonia, is produced by Gufram. Made of painted polyurethane foam and latex rubber in different colours, it is a scaled-up version of the old children’s wooden building blocks, which become components for building child-sized spaces – porticoes, bridges, houses, huts, boats and abstract compositions – a powerful means of expression and communication, teaching them to manipulate space as required while playing, discovering and learning. In a nutshell, little architects grow.

Baby-lonia, design Studio65, Gufram

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