Design Icons: What makes an original an original?

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

Design originals – the classic masterpieces of history. In the right context, they become storytellers that leave a lasting impression for years to come. But from when, then, is an original considered an original?

Not every interior innovation becomes a design icon. There’s no doubt that new things -furniture, appliances- always serve to stir up our curiosity and excitement. This feeling, on the other hand, lingers only until the next trend comes along. They have already proven their functionality and with their timeless design, evoking a feeling of security and peace. But how, then, does a design original actually achieve this status?

For an original to become an original, two things are vital: relationship and appreciation. For anything to even be considered an original, a designer must grant the manufacturer the right to produce. The appreciation a manufacturer has for design also plays an important role: A design wants to be understood and recognized, and that only works when there is a close connection between designer and manufacturer. We want to show you great design icons that emerged from such partnerships and levels of appreciation. Take a look at the following, a list of eight German manufacturers who have produced timeless design classics:

Gira E2’s simple design has inspired interior lovers for over two decades. Gira E2’s simple design has inspired interior lovers for over two decades.
Gira E2’s simple design has inspired interior lovers for over two decades.

The design icon behind the switches

The Gira E2 design line

Since 1998, Gira has been setting standards with the timeless Gira E2 design series.

Since 1998, Gira has been setting standards with the timeless Gira E2 design series. It was conceived as a solid statement against the then prominent trend of frivolity and opulence. It espouses a minimalist language of design, a pleasant feel and high-quality material which still inspires designers and architects today. That’s what makes this minimalist design a classic.

With subdued and modern colour tones like pure-white semigloss, pure-white radiant, matte black, painted aluminium and anthracite – or in the stainless-steel material version – the Gira E2 design line allows for the combination of many styles.

It’s not just the design and variety that are convincing. The high-quality frames enhance the appearance of light switches, plugs, touch sensors and the Gira home stations. The Gira E2 switch series thus combines design, function and the experience of 100 years of engineering art to perfection – a real original.

"Design creates peace, clarity and order."
Hans-Jörg Müller, Gira Head of Product Design

Tolomeo – High-Tech and Light Design Combined

Function as a Design Principle

Tolomeo by Artemide expresses form and function in perfect balance – much like the system of rope hoists which holds this lamp’s structure in place.

Tolomeo by Artemide expresses form and function in perfect balance – much like the system of rope hoists which holds this lamp’s structure in place. Designer Michele de Lucchi got the inspiration for this unique mechanism by observing anglers with their “Trabucchi” (ancient fishing gallows). With the eyes of an engineer, he noticed: a rod with something attached on the end can be hung up using a small lever and a cable.

He didn’t just create a lamp. He defined his own line, one that keeps its fresh look even after 30 years.

As a functional piece, Tolomeo could fit into any workshop. However, its elegance is so well-tailored that it works wonderfully both in an office and at home. Its great success has led to countless similar lamp designs. None, however, have done justice to the simply and perfectly shaped design original.

"This lamp has changed how we view light."
Carlotta de Bevilacqua and Ernesto Gismondi, Artemide
Thanks to their tremendous flexibility, design original Artemide from Tolomeo allows for the optimal flow of light. Thanks to their tremendous flexibility, design original Artemide from Tolomeo allows for the optimal flow of light.
Artemide Tolomeo Basculante Reading Floor. Design Michele De Lucchi.
Over the decades, the Conseta upholstered furniture system from Cor and developed into an international bestseller and a design original. Over the decades, the Conseta upholstered furniture system from Cor and developed into an international bestseller and a design original.
Conseta from COR: Generations of originality and timelessness.

Conseta – Success through courage

From outsider to design original

In 1964, a simple yet ingenious furniture design came into being.

In 1964, a simple yet ingenious furniture design came into being. The result was… devastating. After COR presented it for the first time, the design original culminated in only two orders.

Furniture designer Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller proved to be far ahead of his time thanks to his idea of a holistic, upholstered furniture system. One that could also be combined in several different ways. But first, a new market had to be developed. Through entrepreneurial courage and perseverance, COR succeeded over the decades – developing its Conseta building block principle into a bestseller. It was a risk – one that was rewarded, thanks to Möller’s tireless further development of the furniture.

Nowadays, everyone is in love with this design original. It is a symbol of the pioneering spirit of COR and the prodigious foresight of its creator.

"A sofa that shaped the future. And wrote history."
COR Sitzmöbel

Thonet S 32 – The unstoppable drive to innovate

A design original breaks all conventions

Tubular steel was a totally new material in the 1920s.

Tubular steel was a totally new material in the 1920s. Among the first to experiment with it was Marcel Breuer, designer and Bauhaus architect. He was relentless when it came to questioning the familiar and established. While his first blueprints were still rigid tubular constructions, later he came to conceive the idea of the cantilever chair.

Furniture manufacturer Thonet realized its potential before bringing the famous design originals, S 32 and S 64, onto the market in 1930.

What's worth noting is that the chair remains sturdy and rigid, despite its lack of back legs. Breuer's innovative creative process, combined with skilled craftsmanship, produced a well thought-through design, which creates a lasting impression through a mix of bent tubular steel, wood and wicker.

"It is harder to build a good chair than it is to build a skyscraper."
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Architect and Bauhaus Director
Material fusion: bent steel tube cantilever chair from Thonet. Wood & Viennese weave, still impressive after 90 years. This timelessness really makes design originals. Material fusion: bent steel tube cantilever chair from Thonet. Wood & Viennese weave, still impressive after 90 years. This timelessness really makes design originals.
Classic design from the Bauhaus period: The Stahlrohr-Freischwinger S 32 from Thonet. Source: © Philip Kistner.
Functionality characterizes design originals. Made from chrome-plated balls, tubes and connectors, the USM system creates modular furniture that fully adapts to the user’s needs. Functionality characterizes design originals. Made from chrome-plated balls, tubes and connectors, the USM system creates modular furniture that fully adapts to the user’s needs.
Allrounder: The USM System makes dreams come true. Source: www.usm.com

USM – Functionality as a principle

From personal need to design original

In the 60s, architect Fritz Haller was commissioned by the metal construction company USM to design a company building and an official pavilion.

In the 60s, architect Fritz Haller was commissioned by the metal construction company USM to design a company building and an official pavilion. What he originally conceived only for personal use soon emerged as a ground-breaking invention.

Haller manufactured the loadbearing and façade systems for his buildings in accordance with the modular principle. Along with his client and partner Paul Schärer, he transferred this simple yet effective idea to furniture design. Through a strict reduction to the formal minimum, the USM Haller modular furniture system combines maximum functionality with almost unlimited combination and application possibilities.

This simple yet functionally designed office furniture went into series production and was distributed quickly worldwide. The combination of flexibility, economic efficiency and industrial design was so well received that the modular system even made the leap from the workplace to the living room.

"Flexibility – to expand, to reorganise and to implement step by step."
USM

A Design for Eternity: The HEWI 111

Material courage opens worlds

Made from polyamide, the HEWI lever handle 111 is a German innovation and one that has written architectural history.

Made from polyamide, the HEWI lever handle 111 is a German innovation and one that has written architectural history. This design original’s breakthrough came with the order to furnish the new university buildings in Marburg.

The architect wanted an interior design that matched – both in shape and colour. As material, he chose plastic: It was 1969, a time in which Pop Art and synthetic material were gaining popularity and mainstream acceptance. It was with the 111 that HEWI made a significant contribution to this development.

The unmistakable colours and ergonomic shape revolutionised the entire industry. Gradually, a whole range of wardrobes, handrails and sanitary products was created around the innovative lever handle and HEWI achieved cult status. This design original is timeless. It integrates harmoniously into any environment, yet at the same time exudes its own distinct personality.

Hadi Teherani, Architect and Designer
High-gloss surfaces made from coloured polyimide have made the Hewi System a design icon. However, this developed gradually into a full system with wardrobes, handrails and sanitary products. High-gloss surfaces made from coloured polyimide have made the Hewi System a design icon. However, this developed gradually into a full system with wardrobes, handrails and sanitary products.
The Hewi Door Handle 111 is pleasing to the eye and touch.
At a time when single-hand taps dominated the market, Tara the two-handled tap was pretty outdated. However, this Dornbracht concept quickly became a design original of the modern bathroom. At a time when single-hand taps dominated the market, Tara the two-handled tap was pretty outdated. However, this Dornbracht concept quickly became a design original of the modern bathroom.
Slender and elegant: Tara from Dornbracht, the icon among the fittings.

Tara – Timeless design isn’t static

A design original outlasts every trend

Dieter Sieger’s Tara was launched in 1992 and proved to be a revolution with its minimalist design and characteristic palm grips.

Dieter Sieger’s Tara was launched in 1992 and proved to be a revolution with its minimalist design and characteristic palm grips. It was simple, precise and elegant. However, at the time, the single-handed tap dominated the market. Being a two-handled tap fitting, Dornbracht’s Tara wasn’t really in vogue. This progressive concept nevertheless became the ideal of modern bathroom fittings very quickly. Today, Tara is still considered purist and modern, yet it still conveys a feeling of familiarity.

For more than a decade, this design original was a bathroom benchmark. In 2008, Dornbracht collaborated with Sieger design and presented a refinement of this classic as a benchmark for the future. With Tara, it’s the fine details that make it appear even more elegant and underline its clear design language. Over the years this successful concept has attracted many imitators: at its peak, there were over 200 Tara-inspired fittings on the market. Yet none of them have driven the original from its place.

"You don’t change an original, you refine it."
Michael Sieger, sieger design

A Model of Modernity: The FK Shell Chair

A style icon in the history of design

The FK shell chair by Walter Knoll is considered a signpost of minimalism and at the same time a comfort zone icon.

The FK shell chair by Walter Knoll is considered a signpost of minimalism and at the same time a comfort zone icon. Its armrests appear almost gestural - welcoming the sitter with open arms, while the shell offers protection and the leather provides comfort. Created in 1967 by interior designers Preben Fabricius and Jørgen Kastholm as an optimisation of form, material and ergonomics, the armchair quickly became a model for modern design.

From Herrenberg in Baden-Württemberg, the well-known bucket chair conquered executive floors, conference areas, hotel lounges as well as private rooms around the globe. It even became a film star in the cult film "The Devil Wears Prada" with Meryl Streep. FK has thus anticipated a current trend by several decades: the elegant fusion of office world and living area. What always remains is the typical FK look and feel. Fifty years, without aging. Yet the distinct attitude of a design original.

"Every point of the FK is clearly defined. This easy chair simply exudes timeless strength."
Claus Sendlinger, founder of Design Hotels and SLOW Hospitality
With its familiar tulip shape, the FK bucket chair by Walter Knoll has been a furniture original for decades. With its familiar tulip shape, the FK bucket chair by Walter Knoll has been a furniture original for decades.
Style icon, film star and design original: The FK bucket chair by Walter Knoll.
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