A while ago we visited the annual fair Design Icons in Amsterdam. In-between lots of famous designer chairs, tables and lamps we saw two beautiful small pieces especially made for children: Kristian Vedel’s Child’s Chair and Hans Brockhage’s Schaukelwagen. Both the chair and the rocking car are from the 1950’s, use bent-plywood and stimulate inventive play.
Kristian Vedel explained that his goal was to create a combination of a child’s chair and a toy, ‘which would appeal to children’s imagination and to their varying physical and psychological needs.’ Vedel was one of the first designers to take children’s furniture seriously. Instead of miniaturising adult designs, he started to develop objects that responded to the ways children develop, move and play. His Child's Chair, composed of a slotted half-circle of bent-plywood and four louse slide-in planar elements, invites children to turn the various pieces into a seat, a table, a rocking toy or anything else they can imagine.
Hans Brockhage’s Schaukelwagen in not as free in use as Vedel’s chair, but it still stimulates children to turn things around and change the purpose of the object. When Brockhage studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, he followed a seminar about children’s toys given by Dutch designer Mart Stam. Working on a rocking horse, Mart Stam challenged Brockhage to ‘make a horse that isn’t dead when it falls over.’ This resulted in a rocking horse with a bent-plywood seat that inverts to become a car. A laddered arched beach frame can be used for pushing or climbing.
For now Kaplum is focusing on wooden toys and plushies, but in the future we hope to include children furniture. Seeing these elegant simple pieces that puts the playful and imaginative world of children at the heart of their design, makes us very eager to start working on our own designs.
Zoe Miller and David Goodman are two designers who live and work in Brighton (UK). After producing a series of children's books for the Tate Gallery in London, in 2008 they founded their brand MillerGoodman. Miller and Goodman are interested in exploring the intersection between modern art and objects for children. They are driven by the art of play and encouraging imagination. Using the creative and often abstract world of the child as a basis for their designs, they developed a very distinctive and original graphic style. Their wooden toys have simple shapes and undefined forms and patterns that encourage and engage children to play again and again. Shapemaker, their first design, is a set of 25 colourful, geometric, hand printed and crafted, environmentally friendly hardwood blocks made of sustainable rubber wood. The blocks can be endlessly arranged to form all sorts of creatures, faces, animals and other surprising shapes. It is very admirable how MillerGoodman managed to change a simple (and familiar) type of puzzle into an exiting, adventurous and endless play which undoubtly not only spark the imagination of children but also that of the parents.
The life of kids is not all pink elephants and fluffy rabbits. That is one of the reasons why Donna Wilson’s Creatures are so great. She started making long legged dolls made out of recycled sweaters while studying Mixed Media Textiles at The Royal College of Art in London. After graduation she started thinking about ways to make more unconventional dolls. She was inspired by the way children draw. Two, three or six eyes, three legs, four arms; it doesn't matter to them if things are ‘correct’, like they are in real life. Donna Wilson used this spontaneity and freedom to design knitted creatures, each with their own peculiar character, like Edd Red Head, Angry Ginger and Peggy Long Legs. They are all made by hand, knitting the panels on a domestic knitting machine out of soft lambswool, which is felted, cut and sewn into shapes and then hand-embroidered and stuffed.
For us, both graduated in Fine Arts at The Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, it is very inspiring to see how an artist built a successful business while still staying true to herself. She created a strange colourful imaginative world, in which imperfectness, fear and anger, are just as present as adventure, sweetness and happiness. How children try to relate to the world is much more complex then we sometimes might think; it includes all sorts of monsters. With her Creatures Donna Wilson gives a beautiful expression to the inner life of children.