Tuesday, February 05, 2013

28 in 28 #5: Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture: Designs for the Twenty-First Century by Judith Gura
W. W. Norton, 2012
Paperback, 304 pages

Using the word "timeless" is always problematic, because no human creation is truly timeless. Everything is created at a certain time, be it a particular day, month, year, or even decade, and therefore exhibits certain traits of that time. But it's hard not to describe Scandinavian furniture as timeless, because many of the chairs and other furnishings coming from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden don't age as quickly as designs from other countries; they don't immediately recall a particular time. Or to put it another way, Scandinavian design's balance of traditional crafts and industrial production—both working together to create beautiful, useful objects—is not as concerned with style and fashion as elsewhere. In turn it has become it's own style. It's not uncommon to hear "Scandinavian style" relative to furniture, interiors, and even architecture of a certain aesthetic; it's almost as common as phrases like "mid-century modern" or "Eames style."

Judith Gura's Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture is valuable not only for collecting a wealth of available designs from the Nordic countries in one place, but for delving into what Scandinavian design actually is, mainly by discussing each country's history and thereby presenting what they uniquely contribute to the larger category of design that is Scandinavian furniture. Gura then traces Scandinavian furniture from 1950 to present, revealing how the enormous quality of design has always been accompanied by concerted efforts of manufacturers and governments to promote the designs abroad. Many people may equate Scandinavian furniture with the middle of last century, but Gura shows how "the current generation of designers has produced innovative furniture ... informed by the cultural heritage of its makers."

The bulk of the book is the "selective sourcebook," 215 pages—or 400 pieces—of chairs, sofas, chairs, tables, chairs, storage, chairs, stools, and more chairs, not in that order. The sourcebook is not comprehensive (it does not tackle commercial or outdoor furnishings, for example), but the bulk falls into various categories of chairs. And it's hard to deny how skilled Scandinavian designers are with chairs; think of Arne Jacobsen's Ant and Egg chairs, Hans Wegner's Three-legged Shell (it graces the top of the front cover), or anything by Alvar Aalto. Each piece of furniture is pictured on a white or monochromatic background; very few pieces are seen in context, lest the book resemble an Ikea catalog. Further each piece is numbered and labeled with important information: designer, year, materials, dimensions, and producer. This numbering helps in regard to the companion CD-ROM, though unfortunately JPGs of the illustrations in the book are the only thing included in digital format. It would have been handy to have a richer media experience, one that hyperlinked each product to the website of its producer, for example. Instead the images merely allow for some digital browsing or perhaps some photomontage work, to aid in seeing what Scandinavian chair should go in my living room.