Have you seen those chairs made from hard plastic and molded into odd ice cream cone shapes?
If so, you can blame Verner Panton and his enduring influence on modern design. Verner Panton was born in Denmark on February 13, 1926. He began his career as a designer studying architecture and graduated in 1951 from the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen.
Though he was quickly heralded as a genius designer, he quickly earned a reputation for being difficult. After just two years Verner Panton began his own architectural design firm, creating houses that caught the public's attention and imagination. Among his creations were the collapsible house, a cardboard house, and a plastic house.
Of all his innovations, Verner Panton is most known for the symbol form injection molded plastic chair. He was the first designer to use this process to create furniture. Panton died in September, 1998.
His designs, however, live on.
During his lifetime, Panton brought a new flare to traditional Danish furnishings, emphasizing the fluidity of motion and the natural curves and the beauty they present. One of the more interesting aspects of his life was the designer’s tendency to load up his Volkswagen van and travel around Scandinavia in his modified, mobile studio.
He is best known for his use of flowing designs, geometric shapes and bright colors to create a new modern approach to traditional
furnishings. In addition to his desire to add flowing lines to furniture, Panton also showed his desire to add archways and rounded walls to his architecture including the creation of circular furniture and circular housing.
Verner Panton longed to be an artist from childhood, though he demonstrated no real skill in painting or drawing. During World War II, when Denmark was occupied by the Nazis, he joined the resistance and spent several months in hiding after a weapons cache was found at his residence.
After the war, he finished his degree in architecture, and while at the Royal Academy met some of the most influential Danish designers of the time. He would continue to work with him for the remainder of his life.
While many designers were concentrating on more traditional or updated forms of Danish art and furniture, Verner Panton was fascinated with the use of man-made materials, and the ability to make form follow function. His experiments with injection molding for chairs allowed for the vibrant colors that he and 1960’s furnishings came to be known for.
The first of the chairs designed by Verner Panton that are considered to be signs that the designer was coming into his own were actually designed for his parents restaurant. The so-called Cone chair created such a stir that it was featured in a Danish architecture magazine in 1961. During the photo shoot for the magazine, Verner Panton filled with chairs with naked mannequins and models, creating a minor scandal.
When the chairs were first taken to New York for display, police forced the removal of the display because it was causing crowds to gather outside of the display window. Because the chairs established him as an internationally recognized designer, Panton was able to indulge his larger desire and create total environments based on his vision. The first was the Astoria Hotel at Trondheim, Norway, and others included a cave-like space created for a fair in Cologne in 1970.
In 1962, Verner Panton moved to Cannes, where he began a partnership with an American furniture maker, leading to the development of the first cantilevered chair made from a single piece of plastic. Heralded as an engineering feat, the chair was advertised in a magazine spread featuring an undressing model and the phrase “how to undress in front of your husband.”
Verner Panton faded from the center of the design scene in the mid-1970’s, though he continued to win numerous awards for his vision. Then in the 1990’s, mid-century modernism and Verner Panton returned to favor among contemporary designers. There was a resurgence in his popularity.
In 1995, a nude Kate Moss appeared on the cover of British Vogue in a Panton chair, and many of Panton's designs were put back into production. He was scheduled to open a new show on September 17, 1998, at Trapenholdt Museum in Denmark, emphasizing the light and color of Verner Panton, but the designer died just shy of two weeks before the show was to open.
After almost 2 decades of being ignored, he won several interior design prizes and accolades in the 1990’s. Portion of the revival was due to IKEA's production of a Panton chair beginning in 1994.
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