Vitra does not organise competitions to generate new designs, according to Chief Design Officer Eckart Maise: ‘We prefer to casually address the topic of pending projects during lunch with designers – just to see if they react.’ This was also the case with the table which was to complement the Landi Chair. When Michel Charlot heard about it, he showed interest immediately. He used to work for Belux, and because of the ‘U-Turn’ lamp he had been to Birsfelden several times. Born in 1984, the designer studied at Ecal Lausanne. With his ‘Mold’ light designed for Eternit, he caught the public’s attention at the 2007 Design Miami Basel exhibition. He then worked for Jasper Morrison for two years before setting up his own studio in Basel in 2011. Today – a Wednesday in June – he has come here from Brussels: Today he is going to have his final discussions with the developer and the draughtsman on his design before it is produced. Three prototypes are waiting in a conference room: one is made of crude steel, the other two of anodised aluminium. On the wall, there are sketches of the chair, the table legs and load models of both. The experts review radii, discuss the pros and cons of material thicknesses and reconsider the mounting of the legs. The briefing was simple: A table for outdoors, one for four and one for six people and a round version – the latter has been postponed. The company gave the designer free rein regarding materials and forms. The choice was his: he could just as well have opted for a counterpoint instead of a related piece of furniture. Michel Charlot chose the latter. His table is made of aluminium, and a single hole in the middle of the tabletop is reminiscent of the characteristic perforation in the seat shell which helps to stiffen the chair and makes it lighter. Charlot’s hole is not merely ornamental, it holds the sunshade in place. The corners are rounded, the table is weatherproof and weighs just five kilos, and it can be stacked to form a stable pile.
Bistro tables usually have only one central leg. Michel Charlot has opted for four legs: A ploy hinting at Hans Coray’s design. His drawing shows four bent L-shaped aluminium profile legs. They are individually screwed to the tabletop and meet in the central plug-in connection which is located directly underneath the hole for the sunshade. It was visible in the first models when sitting at the table. However, the designer has reshaped the bracket in several steps to make it invisible from the top. The table can be mounted in five minutes, and only four screws need to be tightened. ‘It was my task to keep the parts and thus the costs to a minimum,’ says the designer.
He has managed to reduce the table to fourteen components: the top, four legs, four rubber tips for the legs and five fastenings on the underside of the tabletop to hold the legs. For stability reasons, the fastenings are not made of aluminium but die-cast zinc. To avoid any marks on the 3mm table-top, the fastenings are glued to the underside with a metal adhesive from the automotive industry. The same adhesive is used for gluing the legs. This appeals to the designer: ‘In this way, my work has influenced the re-birth of the classic chair.’ He was not inhibited by working in the shadow of an icon: ‘I was not so much overawed by the icon but rather by the task I was given.’ He prefers to stay out of the limelight: He is not very interested in the role of an original designer who strengthens his name by means of his own designs. His aim is to solve classic industrial design problems, to work out details and to deliberate over optimising costs and quality. In the case of the table, this meant using a minimum of components because: aluminium is expensive, and the price of the table was not to exceed the cost of two chairs.
The four rubber tips on the legs are also reminiscent of the chair. However, they are threaded to adjust the height: ‘Nothing is worse than having to push beer mats under a leg in a garden restaurant to stop a table from wobbling’, says the designer. For more stability, a specially produced extrusion profile has been used instead of a simple aluminium pipe. The ribbing within these profiles gives the legs increased stiffness. ‘No-one else makes aluminium tables, people usually use steel’, says Michel Charlot. They are too light, they are not stable enough and too expensive. The use of such a thin sheet of aluminium called for a number of strain tests to see where forces occur. People need to be able to lean on the edge of the table without the table tipping over. The chair and the table are to be the same colour. Both are anodised, which is a chemical process where metal is dipped into a basin. Even if both pieces of furniture form a symbiosis, things change within seconds depending on how the chair is positioned at the table. The legs may seem to be made from one cast, then again material thicknesses seem to differ, depending on the viewing angle. Michel Charlot’s design provides a perfect companion for the chair, and yet it is independent – an important detail: after all, the table is meant to look good with other chairs too.