Are you sitting comfortably?
This is the story of the designer, the manufacturer and the craftspeople
Hilary Birkbeck, furniture designer, sits back and recalls his relationship with the team at Sven: a working partnership that stretches back over 30 years and a great many chairs later…
How long have you known and worked with Sven?
The story starts in the mid 80’s at a company called Pieff Furniture. Pieff produced a series of iconic designs in a brief period of frenzied creativity before it crashed and burnt. Many of its former employees and highly skilled craftspeople went on to set up the manufacturing arm of ‘Sven Christiansen’. In 2005 Sven approached me, when I was just setting up as a freelance designer, to develop chairs for its newly established seating division.
What do you like about working with us and what makes us special as a company?
Developing chairs with you has always been a pleasure, largely because of the ability and character of the people who work there. While now supported by state-of-the-art CNC machines, Sven still employs craftspeople capable of creating prototypes and revisions of my designs within days if not in hours.
What has been your most successful furniture design for us?
One that springs to mind is the Fulcrum chair: a meeting chair in a choice of solid hardwoods, designed to complement Sven’s high-end boardroom tables. Thousands of Fulcrum F1 and F2 chairs have been sold over the past 14 years. The Fulcrum chair is exceptionally strong, due to steel plates embedded within the hardwood frame, and it also, very unusually for a four-legged chair, offers the option of a tilting seat.
The Freefloat™ tilting seat/back provides a smooth range of movement from a forwards tilt of -3° to a rear tilt of +10°. A central pivot ensures the chair follows user movements naturally and without conscious thought. The automatically progressive resistance requires no user adjustment, and because no controls are required the Freefloat™ mechanism does not alter the visual appearance of the chair.
What are your most recent Sven designs?
I designed a new conference chair primarily to complement the ply based Ligni™ office furniture collection, but that also happily suites with any of the table ranges. The new model made its successful debut appearance in May this year at Clerkenwell Design Week (CDW).
The strength of this new Ligni chair lies in its jointless, one-piece frames machined from sustainable birch ply, and offered with a choice of veneer or laminate facings. The polished aluminium armrest, capped in fabric or leather, has a subtle curve that enhances its appearance and exemplifies the attention to detail within the design.
The Freefloat™ tilt mechanism is also available.
What was the inspiration behind the new ‘Wind’ range, and how would you describe the design?
This new chair and sofa family are the furniture equivalent of a classic black dress reimagined by Giorgio Armani.
Rectilinear seating in the workplace is a design mantra that reflects the architecture of the space and our need for visual order: ‘Wind’ deconstructs the traditional box sofa and recreates it with widened angles and inset panels. The result is fresh but still harmonious.
Do you have any favourite Sven stories?
One day when I was making a steel prototype in the metalwork factory, my skin was sore from welding and my hands covered in black muck. A pair of kindly eyes peered out between the curtains of one of the welding bays, looked at me, then at my hands. “Fell over son?” said a gentle voice as he proceeded to sort out my poor welding.
A friendship built to last.
Ours is a relationship that stretches back over decades and is rooted in mutual respect. Bringing outstanding design to market requires a combination of creativity and capability. I like to think that between my design and engineering skills and Sven’s craftsmanship we make the perfect match. Above all, it’s based on trust and a common commitment to delivering great design.
Hilary Birkbeck is a furniture and product designer who has been practising in the UK for 30 years. With a wealth of experience, he has provided product solutions for the UK commercial contract markets and domestic retail sectors (Harrods, Heals and John Lewis). He has a great understanding of the global supply chain and manufacturing practices and his specialist areas are ergonomics, health and safety, and product innovation. Hilary has ongoing activities with US, European and East European clients.