I’m unlikely ever to have $10,000 to sink on a sofa. But if I did, I would buy a Polder, manufactured by Vitra. I love its midcentury modern feel, its mix of fabrics, its industrial-style exposed detailing, and especially, its quirkiness.
There’s too much shit design. There’s too much shopping without thought. Designers have a responsibility here. I am calling for a new holistic approach to design.
An approach in which industrial designers create products that are longer-lasting and less ephemeral, Jongerius says, and one in which they should assume more control and not let manufacturers bully them out of the production process.
|Industrial Designer Hella Jongerius|
Likewise, the Polder sofa can stand up to most anything, not only like its maker, but like its namesake.
You’ve probably heard the adage that while “God created the world, the Dutch created Holland.” Since the 12th century, the Dutch have kept themselves above water through an ingenious, overlapping system of polders and dikes—tracts of low-lying land, levees and drainage canals. Without close regulation of this system, as much as 65 percent of the Netherlands would be underwater.
The Polder sofa is an artistic testament to that feat. Its intersecting, repositionable cushions—each sofa a combination of four work-together fabrics—represent that engineered land formation. It’s a sofa that is at once low-lying and sleek, modern and retro, crafted and organic—in a word, captivating, from every angle.
This short video demonstrates all the ways a Polder can be configured. It also reveals how Jongerius designs—with three-dimensional models rather than drawings.
Something about the form makes me want to be a kid again.
I see I’m not alone.
In the beginning…
|Via SF Girl by Bay|
The first Polder appeared on the market in 2005, available in sizes ranging from XS to XL and shades of red or green fabric. It was Jongerius’ first industrially designed piece of furniture.
Tufting was done with large, decorative buttons made of natural materials like bone and mother-of-pearl, secured using cross-stitched, high-tech threads, which tied and dangled at the back for visual punctuation.
Special issue: O be still, my beating heart!
Then in 2012 for the Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, Jongerius created the limited edition Maharam Polder. This one sold for a little more—$16,640. The presentation included a custom Bovist stool (that orange pouf) and belted Queen’s cushion—originally designed for a Polder commissioned by the Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix.
It featured six textiles instead of the usual four: mohair velvet and two scales of checked wool; two embroidered textiles of Jongerius’ design, “Layers” and “Borders;” as well as “Exaggerated Plaid,” Paul Smith’s take on Scottish tradition; all manufactured by Maharam.
Just for the record, I could live without the pillow and pouf, but I adore the combination of grays, oranges and creams in this edition. It would look equally at home in a mountain lodge as in a Manhattan penthouse, as would I, but to have it at home in my existing home would be a dozen ways of A-OK.
Uniting nations, or at least delegates
|Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Frank Oudeman|
In 2013, the rogue Dutch designer spearheaded a redesign of the United Nations North Delegates Lounge that featured Polder sofas.
|Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Frank Oudeman|
This back view shows the button tufting and dangling-thread detail.
Fast forward to present day
Earlier this year Vitra released an updated version of the classic design in two sizes—regular and compact—and new fabric mixes of four colorways—red, green, golden yellow and night blue—all designed by Jongerius in a subtle interplay of shade and texture, readily apparent in this photo.
The dangling threads are gone, but the tufting remains front to back. The buttons themselves have been reimagined as a collage of brightly colored plastic, aluminum and leather, which can be removed for easier cleaning.
Note how the large seat cushions form a comfortable, asymmetrical seating surface flanked on both sides by the upholstered body. A low armrest is integrated on one end, while the other is bordered by an adjoining platform that also serves as a storage surface for magazines, books or trays. Handy, plus there’s plenty of space to stretch out and relax, whether sitting or lying down.
I could do the golden yellow—it would look stunning with shades of black and/or purple—though I worry I’d tire of it. (As if I’d ever get the chance to find out!) I do love the mix in of chartreuse, and that “Panamone” in curry is to die for.
This is the compact version and configured a bit differently. It features a body with two armrests in different heights, which demarcate its smaller dimensions. The higher armrest also makes it possible to sit comfortably in a sideways position – either for reading or watching television.
The “Night Blue” mix is too dark for me—all that lint that would show! I’d likely pass on one in this color and style (fat chance of that as well). A big part of what I adore about the Polder is the “skyline” created by the ottoman and open side on one end, so I’d also shun the compact size if I had my druthers.
Both sizes can be configured with the higher armrest on the left or right, making it adaptable to different spatial settings. I love how the black-and-white geometric throw pillows used in this example call out the buttons on the sofa, though the flowered rug is too much, IMO. This sofa was destined to have no rivals!
Of the standard-issue models, the green colorway is my favorite. But then again, the red is nothing to sneeze it.
Needle in a haystack
Your vintage Polder is tough enough to find. But Vitra produced only 100 of the Maharam Polder, and just nine of these made their way to the United States. Who knows where they are now.
But if you do happen to come across one, would you please point it in my direction? Along with a generous gift of $17,000 or so. Pretty please?
No questions asked, receipt available upon request, and I promise to take good care of it.
To learn more:
- Hella Jongerius’ work
- Video interview with Jongerius on craftsmanship in industrial design
- Trade coverage of her “too much shit in design” speech at Design Indaba conference in Cape Town earlier this year
- Furniture manufacturer Vitra for information about the Polder sofa, as well as a list of dealers
- Maharam textiles
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