Museum-worthy design for the home

Inside the world of Hella Jongerius — one of the most engaging and compelling designers of her generation

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If you’ve shopped at IKEA over the past 30 years, I’m betting you will have seen the work of Dutch designer Hella Jongerius — even if it was just out of the corner of your eye.

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But I’m also willing to bet that you probably stopped to look, given that Ms. Jongerius is one of the most engaging and compelling designers of her generation.

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She’s also one of the most accessible, having had a long-time connection to the Swedish home retailer, with whom she shares an affinity for the concept of “democratic design,” which is roughly defined as consumer product that is accessible, affordable, functional, and nice to look at.

It’s not the only circle the award-winning creator travels in. Projects include a lounge at the United Nations New York Headquarters, for which she created a hand-knotted curtain that incorporates 30,000 porcelain beads made from Dutch clay, and cabin redesigns for KLM Airlines.

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Day to day, there’s the business arising from an internationally-acclaimed interior design and artistic practice.

Ms. Jongerius’ design reach, which encompasses textiles, furniture, lighting, glassware, and perhaps most famously, ceramics, is about to get renewed attention with the installation of her archives at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

Right now, she’s partnering with museum staff to develop the first retrospective of her work, scheduled to open in 2026 before commencing an international museum tour.

Hella Jongerius has also had a long-time collaboration with Vitra, for whom she created a system to facilitate colour and textile customization, designed furniture like the Polder sofa and East River chair, and revamped palettes for classic items produced under the Vitra umbrella.

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More permanently, the body of her work will rest alongside a library of design giants that includes Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, and Verner Panton. Scholars and students of design will be able to examine the archives, and the general public can also visit the museum.

Known for a love of research, Ms. Jongerius is an advocate for a hands-on, get- dirty approach to design, which she suggests is the only way to truly understand materials.

Not surprising from someone who had dyed flocks of wool pulled by hand until colours had a water-colour transparency, and then blended the fibres into dreamy felted layers in rug designs like Shore and Slope.

A trademark affinity for colour is evident throughout — in a saucy green scheme for Eames’ magnet dot wall hangers, and a line of slim-upholstery seat cushions that also come in bright shades, as well as several quietly handsome neutrals.

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Similarly soft shades show up in her reimaging of Alvar Aalto’s classic 400 and 401 armchairs, which feature subtly stunning colour block effects on silver, honey or charcoal-stained frames.

For those of us who can’t afford Vitra prices, it’s good to know that the Dutch designer brought the same commitment to form and material to the pieces we have been able to access over the years.

The Jonsberg Vase she designed for IKEA, for example, is described by the Art Institute of Chicago as characteristically combining nostalgic respect for traditional techniques and materials with a willingness to challenge existing craft forms.

Made of stoneware, earthenware, porcelain and bone china, glaze, and various decorations, the Jonsberg vase collection pre¬serves traces of the craft process, but was only made possible at affordable prices through mass production and distribution.

Personally, I’m pretty happy with the result; every time I look at my own Jonsberg vase, I can say to myself that it could be in a museum, and yet here it is — a small personal treasure — in my own home.

Vicky Sanderson is the editor of Around the House. Check her out on Instagram@athwithvicky, Twitter ATHwithVicky and Facebook.com/ATHVicky.ca.

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