Last week we featured Grant Featherston. Happy new year to everyone!
If Charles and Ray Eames can be considered the authority when it comes to plastic in America, then Verner Panton is the authority when it comes to plastic in Europe. Born a little later than the Eameses, the legacy of his work has experienced a steady increase in popularity since around 2004.
However, Panton is usually not as prominently featured in article series like this, given that he took a very futuristic approach to his furniture work, very similar to the likes of Eero Aarnio.
He is, nonetheless, considered the creator of probably the most iconic plastic chair in Europe, aptly named the Panton chair. At Manhattan Home Design, we used to sell a replica if his Heart chair, but that’s currently out of stock.
We believe that more people should at least be aware of Verner Panton’s contributions. He is usually portrayed as less important than he actually was in Europe, so let’s dig in:
Education and early years
Born in 1926, Verner Panton first trained as an architectural engineer first, attending school in Odense, Denmark. He also attended the Royal Danish Academy of Arts: the same place where many notable people of this series also studied architecture and arts.
Not much is know about his early years or his family. His personal life was also much more out of the spotlight than the lives other people in his field, so this might be one of the reasons we he has seemingly been forgotten among more recent mid-century modern enthusiasts.
However, we do know that he was specifically born in the small town of Gamtofte, way deep into the grassy plains and quiet fields that surround the greater municipality of Odense, and that he started to show artistic prowess very early in his life.
Work with Arne Jacobsen
Fresh out of school in 1950, at just 24 years old, Panton decided to seek an outlet for his ideas and landed directly into the office of Arne Jacobsen. You know him, you love him: he’s the creator of the iconic Egg chair and Swan chair, two of the best-selling mid-century modern chairs of all time.
Their work relationship was a bit rocky, and Verner was labeled an ‘enfant terrible.’ He only lasted two years before getting started with his own individual practice. His first work was in architecture, creating different risky and, some say psychedelic, models that helped cement the particular futuristic aesthetic of the 1960s.
Most famous projects and furniture
If you go onto his official website you can still see many of the great designs that made Panton a powerhouse in architecture, interior design, and furniture. Three years after leaving Arne Jacobsen’s practice, and with a myriad of ideas still unrealized, Panton was moving up quickly.
His controversial Cardboard House of 1957, and Plastic House of 1960, were the first ventures that garnered him the spotlight. He was emboldened by the success and started pushing the envelope more. In the sixties he concocted a number of interior design schemes that incorporated everything that he had learned by experimenting in the years prior.
However, the crown jewel has to be the Panton chair, which you can see above. The idea of a stackable chair was already being pioneered by other designers like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but Panton was the first person to realize it in 1960 with the S-chair.
This chair was the first injection-moulded, single form plastic chair, which means that it was the very first chair of its kind to be produced massively by just moulding it directly from plastic, no any additional construction needed.
The S-chair was the predecessor to the Panton chair. Verner seemingly mentioned that he becamed inspired by the idea of a set of buckets, neatly stacked on top of each other. The cantilever chair was the perfect shape in which to adapt this biomorphic idea, and production started with Vitra, who first manufactured it using a mix of polyester and fiberglass.
The design was a success, especially after it was improved by changing the material from the polyester-fiberglass mix to polyesterene, which caused a reduction in costs that only brought the company more revenue.
Panton, to this day, very much enjoys the status of an iconoclast in the world of mid-century modern furniture, but also an icon in his own right. He passed in September of 1998.