Verner Panton was Danish architect and designer. One of the most innovative designers of the second half of the 20th century. He was the first one to design inflatable furniture. He designed the chair cast out of plastic in one single piece which still decorates numerous homes and was also the first to experiment with modular furniture.
People called him an imaginative realist, Picasso among designers, futurist, innovator, visionary. Many saw Panton as a provocateur and enfant terrible in the world of architecture and design. He didn’t stick to conventional solutions, didn’t accept the ordinary and didn’t support status quo. Always longed for something more, created something new, experimenting. He was playing with colors and shapes and was combining functionality with materials.
As young, he wanted to be an artist but his father opposed that idea. He decided to be an architect and a designer instead. That’s what he became. And such a great one!
During his very rich career that lasted over a couple of decades, he designed numerous furniture items. They have been produced continuously for more than 50 years and are still considered to be the embodiment of stylishness and innovation. Besides furniture, he was successful in lighting design and was also famous for significant interior design solutions around Europe.
Who was Verner Panton?
During his studies at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, Verner Panton started working at the studio of famous designer Arne Jacobsen. It was in 1950. He finished his studies the following year and stayed at Arne’s studio for one more year. However in 1953 he decided to go his own way.
In the old Volkswagen van converted into an office he began his trip around Europe. He was determined to devote himself to the career completely and enter the world of international industrial design. He made contacts with many architects and designers from all over Europe as well as with companies that dealt with producing and selling furniture.
In 1955 Danish company Fritz Hansen presented the first series of Panton’s Bachelor Chair which was followed, as stated in his biography at his Official Reference Portal, by the serial production of his Tivoli Chair soon.
At that time, Verner Panton began thinking about a chair that would be cast out of one piece of plastic. He entered the competition in the organization of WK/WKS Group with a chair that had both seat and back made in one single piece.
His design didn’t get an award in the competition and remained just a sketch on paper. However, that was only the beginning for Panton’s idea. Based on the sketches a whole series of Panton’s furniture would appear soon, including the famous S Chair.
The S Chair
Today, we regard it as the icon of a modern design. During the 1950’s it was just a Verner Panton’s futuristic idea. An idea which he turned to reality in 1959/60 in collaboration with famous furniture manufacturer from Switzerland – the Vitra Company.
Foam plastic chair with glossy finish was named the S Chair because of its shape that resembles letter S. In Vitra Company’s collection it is also known as the Panton Chair.
More precisely, its designation is The Panton Chair Classic because he designed another model exclusively for Vitra 40 years later. The Chair from 1999 was cast out of one colored piece of polypropylene and is still available in various colors with matte finish.
Interior design for his father’s Inn
The first interior design job for Panton was the Kom-igen Inn in Langeso Park, Denmark. Since his father was the Inn’s owner it gave Panton the additional stimulus to try harder when it came to design. It was an exceptional opportunity to show his love towards colours and his lighting design talent.
For Kom-igen Inn Verner Panton chose several shades of red to bring the cosiness into the interior. For interior elements he chose dark red. He created special ceiling lights with metal rings that reflected red light while tablecloths and staff uniforms were in lighter shades of red to get a contrast and bring the balance in.
His father’s Inn was the ideal place for presenting another new furniture item. That was where he showed his Cone Chair for the first time, which in this case had a reddish upholstery. The chair was soon put in serial production by the Plus-Linje Company.
Geometrical shapes were also his inspiration for panels that descended from the ceiling in order to physically divide the restaurant’s space from the rest of the Inn. Each of them had different geometrical patterns on it.
Verner Panton’s Rotunda: More superior than others
Panton used to say that a house should be designed from the inside first and only then on the outside. One should deal with an interior decor and appearance and only after that to build walls around it.
This was the principle which he applied while designing Panton’s Rotunda. As a type of construction made on a central circular base, whose surface spreads vertically, Rotunda that Panton projected as a business building looked futuristic by its design and model.
One of Panton’s clients, an expert on business counselling, was engaged to estimate his Rotunda’s functionality. In his report, as one German magazine stated in 1995, he emphasized that “taking all questions into consideration for ideal business state of an organization, Panton’s Rotunda with a result of 76,9% was far superior to conventional business buildings whose result was 56,9 on average.”
It clearly pointed to Panton’s attitude about setting functionality on a significant place in the design process. The same thing appeared in his later work.
One of the most impressive Panton’s solutions for interior design was the decoration of the Spiegel Publishing house in Hamburg. There he made the walls acoustic by adding the perforated material, which captures the sound waves, on the front side. The same effect was achieved on the ceiling with stalactite-shaped pyramidal formations. As a reason for design like that he stated the fact that it was for publishing office where a conversation among people was always active and loud.
Besides that, his design Visiona Exhibitions within pharmaceutical Company Bayer in Cologne, as well as interior redesign of Varna restaurant near the Danish town of Arhus and a restaurant-hotel Astoria in Trondheim, Norway were highlighted.
Experimenting with colours and lighting
Verner Panton used to say that “Most people spend their lives in boring, grey-beige comfort, deadly afraid of using any colors. By experimenting with lighting, colors, textile and furniture but using brand new technologies as well, I want to show people new methods and encourage them to start using their imagination in order to make their surrounding more exciting.”
He always had such an expressed desire for innovations. And he always cherished futuristic style with fluid lines. He used unique shapes, designed furniture items never seen before and emphasized colour as the most important element.
His work really encouraged people’s imagination and creativity, inviting them to liven up, cheer up and refine their living and working spaces. His style leaves no one indifferent and often brings strong emotions within people. That was exactly what he wanted.
Lighting with character
Verner Panton was really unique in his approach and famous for his refined sense for shapes, space and lighting functionality. He believed in form’s unlimited possibilities. He presented several significant modern lamp concepts during his career. They were often called the lighting with character because Panton knew exactly what he wanted and what he didn’t want to accomplish with design.
Some of his most famous work when it comes to lighting are: the Topan Pendant from 1959, the Wire Lamp from 1972, the UFO Pendant from 1975 and the Pan-top Collection from 1980. His Original lighting and furniture items are today available to purchase in companies Verpan and Vitra.
Verpan is, by the way, a Danish company devoted to promoting Verner Panton’s furniture and preserving tradition of Panton’s design and work, his way of thinking and philosophy.
Verner Panton first began designing lamps for Danish manufacturer Louis Polsen and the first lamp produced in this collaboration was the Topan lamp in 1959. Panton’s Moon Lamp was on production lines the following year.
That was the beginning of the research and experiments with lighting.
Shortly after, with his wife Marianne he created a lamp using hundreds of small reflective discs. The lamp’s prototype was created when Marianne was chopping aluminium foil to tiny pieces trying to present the discs.
Panton offered this prototype to Switzerland company J. Lüber AG specialized in lighting. They liked the concept but instead of folia they agreed to make the reflective discs out of thin metal sheets. The lamp was named the FUN and is still being produced in the same way, as it is stated on Verpan’s site, while there are also some versions with pearl tiles.
Royal Order for lifework
One after another, numerous awards followed Verner Panton’s career pointing out his visionary style and innovative approach to industrial design. The same year when he moved to Basel and when he started collaboration with Vitra and Herman Miller companies, he received the International Design Award, USA. This one was in 1963 since he got the same award again in 1981 and in 1986. Soon, he won the German Gute Form Award, as well as the Danish Møbelprisen and National Norway Design Award. During the furniture Fair in Basel an exhibition Pantorama was organized in his honour.
He received the award for his lifework and contribution to architecture and design from Danish Queen in 1998 when she honoured him with Knight’s Cross of the Order of Dannebrog. He died the same year in Copenhagen. The last exhibition which he designed was opened posthumously in the Trapholt Museum in Kolding.
In 2000, the Vitra Design Museum organized a retrospective exhibition of Verner Panton’s work and 12 years later named a street after him within Vitra Company’s complex in German town Weil am Rhein. The street is marked with colourful poles to honour his unique style and love towards colours.