I’m all for recycling. But recycling design forms and ideas? Depending on your personal take—as well as the actual amount of originality involved—it can be an homage to an icon or sheer laziness masquerading as new product. Case in point: Front Design’s new Collage arm and lounge chairs for Gemla. Introduced in February at the Stockholm Furniture Fair, the wooden custom-made pieces combine classic and contemporary motifs from the 150-year-old Swedish furniture company’s archives. The chair’s seat and backrest are highly customizable, available in leather, fabric, or webbing and in a range of colors. The manufacturing methods echo Gemla’s traditional craftsmen-heavy protocols, as well as its wooden materials. The result is pleasant, but I can’t help feel that this is like a Mark Ronson remix of a PJ Harvey tune: a name-brand reinterpretation of something that didn’t need to be reworked—especially as so many elements stayed the same as the original for whatever reason.
Contrast that with Philippe Starck’s 2009 Masters chair for Kartell. That feat combines the silhouettes of the 7 Series seats by Arne Jacobsen, the Tulip armchair by Eero Saarinen, and the Eiffel chair by Charles and Ray Eames. Three iconic chairs and four iconic designers twisted into a new “hybrid,” as the Frenchmen called it. And the difference is he was right. Starck and his studio really did add their own je ne sais quoi to the equation, from material choice (polypropylene, versus the originals’ metal, fiberglass, and leather) to use (indoor and out) to palette (a shocking range of hues, from fire-engine red to a canary yellow). And thus, with these elements, transformed it to a truly new product despite its reference points. That’s the kind of remix design needs, where you wear your history lightly rather than regurgitate it.