Opinion by Richard Baird Posted 20 September 2017
Vestre is a Norwegian, family owned and run, urban furniture design and manufacturing business founded in 1947 by Johs. Vestre. Although Vestre’s catalogue is extensive and diverse, it typically features colourful detailing and modern forms, holds true to the founder’s vision of designing and manufacturing for longevity, and has a social and sustainable-dimension.
Snøhetta, who previously worked with Vestre on the development of a new production facility in 2013, and were involved in the refurbishment of their headquarters and showroom in 2017, continue to collaborate with the manufacturer, this time on Folk+Form. Folk+Form is an exhibition and two-volume book that brings to life the Vestre family legacy and coincides with the company’s 70th anniversary.
Through exhibited work, art pieces, film, text and photography, presented across exhibition and book, Folk+Form pays tribute to the design and manufacturing of Vestre, and its continued commitment to making high quality, sustainability and accessible urban furniture for national and international markets.
Vestre Showroom & Headquarters
There are three interrelated components that make up Folk+Form. Although this post will largely focus on the final one, the book, there is an interesting continuity that began with Vestre’s production facility (2013) and runs through to its headquarters and showroom (2017), also designed by Snøhetta. These feature production offcuts as exterior cladding and as part of interior, and offcuts shaped into human silhouettes.
The second component is an exhibition that then draws on these ideas to create a space of colour and pattern, and touches upon the intersection of human-centric design, manufacturing and practical considerations (which is explored more explicitly using photography and words throughout the Folk+Form book).
Vestre Folk+Form Exhibition
The exhibition is compelling mix of form, colour, structure and pattern. Its layout effectively plays with the intersection of these, functioning to define the parameters of space, the flow of the visitor and create something that is interesting and memorable. It is full of character and distinction, and is smart in the relationships formed between panels. It builds on the ideas first explored in the showroom and headquarters—one of reuse and sustainability—connects with Vestre’s manufacturing spaces through colour and form, and expresses the meeting of human-centric design through human silhouettes and the robustness of Vestre’s modern industrial design in the metal panels.
Vestre Folk+Form Book
The third and final component is the Folk+Form book. This consists of a comprehensive and exclusive two-volume manifesto. One is textual and the other predominantly pictorial. Both are contained in a bright yellow slipcase.
The use of die cutting gives the book a strong initial impression and establishes a clear lineage from production facility, to showroom to exhibition to book. The combination of two different dyed boards, with a third and forth colour coming from the books inside, effectively channel the layering and character of the exhibition. Hands on, the slipcase lacks something of the material robustness you might expect from a urban furniture manufacturer in the choice of substrate weight and it lacks a snug fit that might of given it more a structural integrity.
Using contrasting colour, pattern and block foil, and in the layering of materials by way of die cuts, Snøhetta’s book channels some of the material qualities and design language of Vestre’s furniture. The die cuts are a particular highlight. These take the offcuts of manufacturing (and the cuts that provide urban furniture with traction and drainage) and elevates these, creating something playful and visually immediate. Colour does something similar. In Vestre’s furniture it is often a small highlight yet boldly punctuates and brings to life often cold urban spaces. Print captures this intention using large areas of colour.
The pattern, informed by the design and shape of steel plates that cover Vestre’s production facility in Torsby, and the interior of the company’s headquarters and showroom in Oslo, touch upon the company’s sustainable approach to design and manufacturing. It draws a stylistic and appealing image from a process of repurposing.
The fill and outline of the logotype, alongside colour, works well to define and divide the two volumes. Uncoated paper and low-gloss block foil (much like the powder coating of metal), a detail that can really only be seen first-hand, gives these books a tactile and crafted quality.
Vestre’s furniture has a strong social and sustainable dimension. The interplay between colour, material, form and finish feels like an appropriate and memorable expression of these values and is really brought to the forefront by the content of the books.
Both volumes are interested in thorough storytelling. This goes well beyond the conventional glossy corporate catalogue, employing visual storytelling in Form, and a text-based historical approach to Folk. Although there is a compelling and immediate visual and material impact to Folk+Form, this approach to content lends it a thoughtfulness and conceptual distinction that leaves a positive residual impression.
Form explores the impact of Vestre’s products using a contextual richness. Highlights include a lonely and very modern bench set within the context of what looks like a harsh Scandinavian landscape. Subtle European forms, materials and design sit within the context of a historical, busy and corporatised space of Times Square.
There are moments of correlation and contrast between furniture and environment, both natural and built. A balance of people and product. Manufacturing and use. Busy spaces followed by those that are empty. A bin, dead centre, under the canopy of autumn leaves, a bench and moment of personal reflection, crowds and chairs, walking and sitting. These work really well to convey a contextual diversity, relationships between space and furniture, furniture and people. It is an effective piece of visual storytelling that conveys how far Vestre has come.
Folk dives into legacy. And it is thorough. Rich in its storytelling. Biographical in parts. Predominantly chronological, picking out and formalising key events in business, cultural shifts and historical events that have shaped Vestre, presented in an honest and in-depth way. Folk’s design reflects this in type and typesetting. Where Form leans into the current in its larger type size, sans-serif and layouts, Folk favours a more classical approach with a smaller point size, an easy to read serif for large blocks of text and a mix of 1 and 2 columns. There are moments of continuity between the two. Solid bright colours and pattern punctuate chapters and a modern sans-serif function as a reminder of Vestre’s continued relevance. More work by Snøhetta on BP&O.
What do you think of Snøhetta’s work for Vestre? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or get the conversation started on Twitter. Never want to miss a post? Sign up to BP&O’s once-weekly newsletter here.