We all like to think of ourselves as energetic, on-the-ball, sharp as a tack go-getters. Then reality occasionally hits and we realise that we’re missing what’s right in front of us – and has been in front of us all along.
This is certainly the case when it comes to this editorial team and the brilliant Four seating collection. You see, when the good folks at Ocee first showed us the series, we liked. We liked a lot! Did we go right ahead and ask for an exclusive interview with the products’ designers? We did not. Not our sharpest moment, but thankfully, with further additions to the collection being unveiled recently, we’ve been given a second chance.
FourCast and FourSure were developed in Denmark by design partnership Strand+Hvass. The products are part of the Ocee Folio range and are exclusive to Ocee in the UK and NI markets. FourCast has been a huge part of Ocee’s recent success, with FourSure previewed at CDW 2014.
‘To us, design in itself is a strategy that can improve the conditions of human life, the environment and experiences,’
Strand+Hvass Design Studio was founded back in 1998 and is today located in a suitably cool, spacious and luminous loft of a classic warehouse in Copenhagen. Its central location, we’re told, allows the duo to be in touch with the currents and movements of design in the Danish capital.
Niels and Christina are, of course, accomplished, established designers with an enviable portfolio that boasts a multitude of commercial successes and experimental projects. Their work is based on innovative processes, a fundamental understanding of the market and a close cooperation with clients on strategy and development.
‘To us, design in itself is a strategy that can improve the conditions of human life, the environment and experiences,’ they tell us. ‘In addition, design can be used as a tool to develop the competitive power and economic growth of society.
‘Our design is user-centred and deeply rooted in the Scandinavian culture. ‘Simplicity and well-balanced lines are the cornerstones of our work and appeal to both a Scandinavian and an international audience.’
Part of the new breed of Danish designers whose goal is to create tomorrow’s classics today, Strand+Hvass began working for Carl Hansen & Søn (then via Tranekaer Furniture) in 1999, and have since created a number of pieces for the company, as well as a multitude of commercial successes and experimental projects, as well as an impressive array of international awards and exhibitions.
Leading Strand+Hvass clients include Lammhults, Four Design, Fredericia and Lightyears.
Active in a variety of fields and media, including product design, graphics and exhibitions, the firm’s main focus, however, remains firmly in furniture and lighting design.
‘We like to work closely with clients who are looking to break new ground through design solutions,’ Niels says. ‘In our experience, the best results come from thinking in complete solutions – going for the whole before the parts.’ ‘Designing for the commercial market means understanding users and the contexts in which our designs are used,’ Christina takes over. ‘We find that the dialogue with customers is crucial – and that a situated design approach is what works best both aesthetically and commercially.’
One of the pair’s latest successes is the aforementioned FourCast range, which is characterised by superb functionalism and simple Scandinavian minimalistic design. FourCast has been created to create harmony in interiors, whether it is in the canteen, classroom, conference or boardroom. The common design of the seat shell creates a consistent style throughout a building.
The FourCast family has quickly become one of the most popular series in Ocee Design’s collection – and it’s not difficult to see why. ‘We wanted to create a chair that expressed simplicity and still provided optimal comfort,’ Niels explains. ‘The comfort is of great importance and the user should feel free to easily change positions while sitting.’
It is due to this user-centric attention that clients across industries have chosen FourCast products over and over again. The recent introduction of FourSure, with its four legged, skid and wheeled options, has proven equally popular.
The iconic V-back detail, virtually indestructible polyamide shell and endless colour options show how the series melds comfort, durability and flexibility with a beautiful, simple design. ‘We began working on the Four range back in 1998 and we have been evolving new options ever since,’ Niels tells us. ‘At Strand+Hvass our work is based on innovative processes and a fundamental understanding of Four’s DNA and the furniture market – in close cooperation with our client we develop strategy and design ideas. We deeply understand their way of working, their clients and their needs and goals. This close cooporation helps us to successfully develop new products. Products that fulfill the users needs and, even better, products that surprise and invite people to use for many years and in many situations.
‘We had both been working at different industrial design studios before we became independent designers. I had my own studio from 1990 and Christina from 1995.’
‘Our goal is to develop and optimise the collection and also to tune and make the collection even better. The world is constantly changing, new needs will arise, and we try to be ahead, develop new features, open new possibilities for the user and support any new demand from the market.’
To prove this point, the Four range now features a series of exciting new products, accessories. The clever integrated tablet arm, dashboard and other accessories have made the collection particularly relevant for those in both educational and work environments.
We move on to ask about the backgrounds of the two designers and how they first came to collaborate. ‘We were both educated at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK),’ Niels says, ‘myself in 1987 and Christina in 1994.
‘We had both been working at different industrial design studios before we became independent designers. I had my own studio from 1990 and Christina from 1995. In 2005 we officially merged our two companies to form Strand+Hvass
‘We first met in 1992 but it wasn’t until 1997 that we made our first design together. It started as a necessity, but it turned out to be very giving. Together our designs achieve dimensions and the work is a lot more fun.
‘You can say that four eyes see more than two eyes and together we can discuss our research work, and get closer to the real needs for the user’s situation and our discussions help us to perfect our final designs too. It is a very important issue to discuss different ideas and solutions. Discussion in itself is a tool for developing new ideas.
‘Often you have to kill your darlings – and it is easier when you are two. And, of course, we are able double up our skills and knowledge.
‘We work mainly in commercial design but at least once a year we do some experimental non-commercial design work as an innovation lab for future furniture types and concepts, and, of course, once in a while we like to make individual designs too. Both of us have a passion for good furniture – a Scandinavian disease. Furniture design is a mix of a lot of elements: aesthetics, construction, sculpture elements, the human body, materials, comfort for body and mind, space, environment etc.
‘There are so many elements in furniture design to work with and to considerate whenever starting on a new product – and of course we always strive to make good everyday designs, that are well thought through, nice to look at and functional to use.
‘To us, furniture design in itself is a strategy that can improve the conditions of human life.
‘We are quite similar as designers, but also have two very different personalities with different skills and we sublimate each other very well.
‘In our long-term cooperation with our manufacturers, it is often the manufacturer who comes to us with a wish. During our design process we then tend to bend and twist the manufacturer’s need into something we find that will work even better for the end user.’
We ask whether the duo feel there is a Strand+Hvass house style? ‘Yes, there is a style,’ Niels considers, ‘but even our style is changing and developing all the time. Our design is user-centered and deeply rooted in Scandinavian culture. Simplicity and well-balanced lines and functionality are the cornerstones in our work.’
Niels tells us that he and Christina are currently continuing to work on a number of exciting new projects for the likes of Cane-line, Carl Hansen, Materialise and Philips. With so much ‘on the boards’ we’re not sure how much downtime our dynamic duo get – but we ask about interests away from the design world nonetheless. ‘We both enjoy nature a lot,’ Niels says. ‘Hiking, kayaking and skiing are among our favourite activities. Traveling in general is important to us as designers, meeting other cultures, to see different ways of living.’