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Saturday, May 2, 2009

.03 and A

Since we left our round Aalto table and Aalto 66 chairs (bought when I was still in college) in New York, we needed some new furniture for our dining area. Luckily we found an A-Table and several .03 Chairs designed by Maarten van Severen at Vitra's sale in New York.

Van Severen is one of my favorite designers. He was born in 1956 in Antwerp, Belgium. He studied architecture and started making furniture in 1989. I came to learn about his designs slowly. The first time I heard about him was probably in the early 90's when I read that he was a collaborator on Rem Koolhaas' Villa dall' Ava; Van Severen's role on the project was quite vague. Later on I would occasionally see his designs in publications. I certainly admired his large aluminum table designed in 1988. However, at that time I knew very little about him, partly because all his pieces were handcrafted in his studio in Belgium and not really available to the general public.

In the late 90's van Severen's work became more prominent. He collaborated with Koolhaas again on the Bordeaux House and the results were extraordinary. I was fascinated by all the elements in the house, such as the translucent bookshelves around the vertical lift, the plexiglas sink in the bathroom, and the burners on the concrete slab in the kitchen. I found the designs to be simultaneously minimal, technical, innovative, and sensual.

During the late 90's Van Severen also began collaborating with Vitra, and finally made his design available to the general public. The first design was the .03 Chair, which was a further development of Van Severen's Chair No. II designed in 1992. The idea for both chairs is a continuous surface that forms the back and the seat. The geometry of the surface flows down to the front legs of the chair. The back legs are treated as a secondary support system and expressed differently with round profiles instead of the rectangular ones of the front legs. The difference between the two chairs is, with the .03 Van Severen eliminated the exposed frame and cladding of No. II and replaced them with polyurethane foam. The construction of the .03 Chair is less obvious as steel springs are hidden within the foam, making the surface both rigid and pliant. When the chair is sat on, the foam at the seat and back areas will bend and conform to the body. The foam returns to the original shape when the forces are released.

The .03 Chair comes in a variety of colors. We have a total of ten chairs: four in red, three in dark green and three in black.

The Vitra A-Table was produced in 2005. This is also based on an earlier Van Severen design with the same name. The name A-Table refers to the two pairs of satin-finish legs of the table that are A-shaped. The original A-Table was designed in 1992 and constructed at Van Severen's workshop. The table has an aluminum structure with a rectangular bakelite top. For Vitra's version Van Severen made some modifications. Instead of aluminum, the legs are made of polished stainless steel. The bakelite has been replaced with a MDF top coated with rubber lacquer, which has a warm and soft feel and will be patinated with age.

This is the first time I am using a rectangular table for dining. I suppose I am always going against the grain. In New York where most people have a rectangular table, I have a round one. In Taipei, where most families still share a round table with a Lazy Susan, I have a large rectangular table.

So far Ava seems to like the chairs and the table as she sometime uses them as an obstacle course or support in her self-guided training to walk.

With the .03 Chair and the A-Table our dining area has finally taken shape.

It would have been nice to have a cupboard designed by Van Severen, especially since a large portion of his designs consist of cupboards. We have settled for the Grimle from Ikea, which holds many glasses, placemats, and snacks inside and provide a space for our old Francis Francis X1 espresso machine. The green plastic Puppy by Eero Aarino serves as our guard dog.

Van Severen died of cancer in 2005. His untimely death is a great loss for the design world. I deeply regret not ever meeting him or conducting an interview with him. Nevertheless, I am happy we have some of Van Severen’s designs in our apartment and they are an integral part of our daily life.


  1. Michael,
    Interesting commentary on Van Severen - sorry you never got to meet him. I've seen these chairs at Vitra and thought they had really clean lines. Hope you're enjoying them as you start cooking and therefore, eating at the table.
    Ava looks adorable - I can't believe she's standing and walking. It's a bummer that we don't get to see her in person anymore :(

  2. Joel & I went to the Phillips Gallery in Chelsea over the weekend, and these same Van Severen chairs (but in wood) were being auctioned.

  3. Your dining room looks great! Ava looks great too!! Very cute that she is designing her own self-guided obstacle course :D