Ambitious design for children’s furniture is currently treading a fine line between form, function and environmental awareness. Three German designers have taken up the challenge this balancing act presents.
Furniture made out of cardboard | © UOCU GbR
The “Blue Angel” environmental label, which provides information on pollutant content and sustainability of products like children’s furniture, has been in existence in Germany since 1978. The relevant authorities have noted a steady increase in inquiries right in this sensitive area. One can find out if something has been manufactured with safety and environmental compatibility in mind – whether these products will always be designer highlights is something such a label obviously cannot guarantee.
In any event, designer Ursula Pfingstgraf and visual artist Torsten Hink had a problem that many young parents have, especially if they are designers themselves – they searched for a long time for beautiful and unconventional furniture for their little daughter. “It’s not that this sort of thing doesn’t exist, but if it’s to be non-toxic and if possible made in Germany, it also gets very expensive very fast,”
“plico” carpet | © Anne-Kathrin Blau
And what major furniture discounters have to offer was no real alternative for them, “although not everything is bad there, we just didn’t want to put the whole children’s room together with it,” explains Pfingstgraf, who designs concepts for exhibition spaces and trade fair booths together with Torsten.
Stacking paperboard furniture
The couple rely on an unusual material, a special paperboard for transporting foodstuffs, to implement their designs, which are manufactured by a firm in Saxony: so-called laminated honeycomb panels, flexible, light and yet robust, as Ursula Pfingstgraf says. It is made of recovered paper, is low in emissions and can be recycled. “That was important to us, as we want to produce in a way that is as resource-efficient as possible.” In their Munich studio, the couple then constructed their first prototypes for little chairs, tables and shelves for children starting at about 10 years of age. They observed what the flexible material allows, left edges visible and rounded off the corners. Since the modules are only pieced together and not glued, colourful tensioning straps hold the pieces together. Each bookcase and each chair from their Uocu series thus looks a bit different, but all have an impression in common of friendly, comfortable furniture that children can effortlessly integrate into their play.
“plico” carpet | © Anne-Kathrin Blau
The young designer Anne-Kathrin Blau had in mind the fact that, in addition to their actual function, children’s furniture also promotes creativity and can be used as props for games when she designed the modular play carpet “Plico” for her bachelor’s thesis in design at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences / Dessau. A tent, a storage chest or a large, soft support for lively play is effortlessly created out of the thick foam carpeting by means of Velcro fasteners. She wished to design a piece of furniture “that could be shaped and formed,” thus the product designer Blau, one with which children could play and rest equally. And with which they could playfully train their spatial imagination as well as movement and coordination. Or of course, just have fun, like the four-year old Amely, who tested the prototype. “She really liked the fact that one can build a cave with it so well,” says Anne-Kathrin Blau.
School and homework
“Pisa” table | © Ulrich Merz, Photo: Michael Khano
The Berlin product designer Ulrich Merz has taken a completely different approach to designing and producing children’s furniture with his desk “Pisa Table” - and not only because his furniture has to do with the serious side of life rather than cheerful play. With his stable grey desk, reminiscent of an old-fashioned school lectern, he Bauhaus University / Weimar graduate intentionally chose a traditional form in a new context. The piece gets its contemporary twist first of all from the homogeneously coloured MDF base material, and secondly from the bright red drawer of high-grade aluminium. Sustainability is also important to Merz, although he views his lavish design piece as environmentally friendly as well: “Sustainability also means enjoying something for a long time and not discarding it after a couple of years.” That this can only come with a high price-tag is clear to him: “But you can gift or put a piece like this in your will as well.” Still, he thinks the approach of constructing children’s furniture out of recovered paper, which is returned to the recovery loop after intensive use, is also appropriate: “Things only get problematic when entire children’s rooms made of particle board land on the kerb as bulky waste after only a very brief time.”