If he never produced another design than the eponymous Panton Chair, Verner Panton would still be considered a master of modern design. At once original and uncompromising, he established himself at the forefront of avant-garde furniture design through the use of strong colors and unusual and extravagant shapes, which were on the cutting edge of 1960s psychedelic sensibilities. A classic example of this aesthetic is the Panton, or “S” chair, designed in 1960 and made of injection molded polypropylene, but not actually produced until 1967 due to technical challenges. The Panton Chair was the first injection molded chair ever made and has won various design awards worldwide. It graces the collections of numerous renowned museums, and its expressive shape is instantly recognizable– and therefore a true icon of 20th-century design.
Verner Panton (1926 – 1998)
The Panton, or “S” Chair, 1960
Born in 1926 on the island of Funen in Denmark, Panton was first an experienced artist in Odense, later studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Upon his 1951 graduation, he began an apprenticeship with Arne Jacobsen, designer of the iconic Ant Chair. He later parted ways with Jacobsen and set off across Europe in his Volkswagen van to collect ideas and possible investors. Upon his return he set up his own design studio in 1955, wherein he became known for his innovative architectural proposals, including a collapsible house (1955), the Cardboard House, and the Plastic House (1960). What set Panton apart was the development of complementary groups of furnishings and the design of entire spaces, rather than concentrating on a single object. Due largely to his training as an architect, Panton fused floors, walls, furniture, lighting and textiles into wholly original and integrated interiors. A primary example of this approach was his Living Tower, an organically-shaped furniture sculpture consisting of an upholstered, stable frame made of birch plywood, which can be used on four different levels. The cleverly arranged interior niches were used in sitting and reclined positions, encouraging communication and relaxation. Panton stated “most people spend their lives living in dreary, beige conformity, mortally afraid of using color. The main purpose of my work is to provoke people into using their imagination and make their surroundings more exciting.”
Cone Chair, 1958. Originally designed for his father’s restaurant, Kom-Igen Inn
Panton is also known for his series of modern lamps, which were unlike anything produced by his contemporaries; he created new theories about how lighting should work and how it influences its surroundings.
Moon Lamp, 1960
Although Panton faded from the spotlight of the design scene by the mid 1970s, 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. Panton died in September, 1998 just two weeks shy of the opening of a show at Trapenholdt Museum in Denmark emphasizing the light and color of Verner Panton. After almost 2 decades of being ignored, he won several interior design prizes and accolades in the 1990’s. Part of the revival was due to IKEA’s production of a Panton chair in 1994. Characterized as “stubborn, and forever young” by Poul Henningsen, Panton used his imagination to combine high-tech materials with bold colors and playful shapes to create an entirely new idiom.