July 15, 2007

Please Someone, Knock Off This Kids Furniture

joker_form-de_axon.jpg

I gave ModMom a lot of grief for choosing to make and sell knock-off versions of prominent indie design companies like Offi, NotNeutral, and Argington. But wait, explains one ModMom Furniture Posse Member, isn't that what those companies are doing, too? :

Also, I find it intersting [sic] that not a single one of you have noted that although Argington, and Offi have created really beautiful pieces worthy of re-creation... are they truly "original"?? Looking through 1950's furniture design I can find some pretty simliar, if not "exact" pieces and styling, to what they are doing now!
Good point: ModMom Furniture's pieces are re-creations, and the other companies designs aren't. I haven't been able to find any "exact" vintage designs like theirs, either.

But I have found a whole fleet of awesome, vintage modernist play furniture designs that are crying out for knocking off. This stuff is not only worthy of re-creation, it's long overdue. When pieces still exist at all, they're either buried in the storage closet of a day care center in Lappland or in a museum.

So if you like playing fast with a table saw and loose with your umbrella liability insurance policy, please. It's all flat cuts, no turning, rounding, or bending, so start making some of this stuff pronto:

5] The Joker series, above, which Lindau & Lindekrantz made for Swedish daycares and libraries in the mid-60's. The pic's from Form Magazine's archives.

swedish_kids_furniture_pm0962.jpg

4] Design Quarterly 57, published by the Walker Art Center in 1963 is a great place to start your knock-off research. The whole issue's devoted to kid's design, and it includes a better picture of Evy Westerberg-Levander's 1960 Work Table & Toy Storage, a beautiful, long table with painted wood boxes on casters, than the one above [middle right, btw]. On the other hand, the one above comes from a 1962 issue of Popular Mechanics that includes actual blueprints, too, which carries you pretty far down the field.

gugelot_form-de-boxes.jpg

3] Hans Gugelot designed this modular cube/plank/bench system for Grunzig in the early 60's. A basic element like a cube should be a good jumping off point for innovation, as both Via Toy Box and P'kolino have demonstrated. This pic is from Form Magazine, too, one of several, circa 1963.

nyt_nypark_slotted_playgrnd.jpg

2] I've talked to half a dozen playground designers and parks department administrators over the last six months, and I still can't find out who actually designed this awesome, slot-together playground set. Maybe knocking it off will help flush the original designer out of hiding, and we can sing her praises.

cp_maple_hollow_blocks.jpg

1] But the Holy Grail of missing kid's design is also among the easiest to recreate. I can't figure out why more people aren't making these right now. I'm talking about Frank Caplan and Martha New's Hollow Block system, designed for Creative Playthings in the late 1940's. Hollow Blocks were open on one side and easy enough for a toddler to carry around. Their modular regularity meant they could be turned into any kind of furniture or none at all. They were the epitome of the "unstructured play" and creative facilitation that CP--and all mid-century modernist design--was built on.

breuer_cp_moma_stoller.jpg

When the Museum of Modern Art built Marcel Breuer's 3-bedroom Project House in its courtyard in 1949, all the furniture in the kid's room was made from CP's Hollow Blocks. [that's Ezra Stoller's photo above, and a CP photo on top, via Amy Ogata] If someone'd start making these again, I could stop dumpster diving outside all those pre-schools and get a decent night's sleep again.

10 Comments

Wow! You have way too much time on your hands. Perhaps you could spend less of it bashing people and more of it doing something constructive.

[can I use that for a t-shirt, Dick? -ed.]

Dick + Jane... as the saying goes.. Physician heal thyself.... anyway, Found this post extremely helpful and thank God someone does have the time to do this kind of research. I agree that with all the kids’ stuff on the market now.. a look back at the past is warranted. Bravo for good academic research - keep it coming

[for the record, all that stuff just fell into my lap over the last couple of years; I just clicked through the archives. As the Japanese saying goes, "Pile up enough dust, and it becomes a mountain." Or a dust bunny. -ed.]

Eek. Some of that Joker stuff you posted looks a lot like something I've been working on, at least in that tiny, undetailed line drawing. Maybe with all that time on your hands you can find a better photo? Also, those fingerjointed PopMech boxes look exactly like Offi Perf boxes, just without the perfs.

Finally, what happened to Creative Playthings? (I realize they still exist, at least in some capacity.) I'd love to read the CP story sometime. They don't even have a wiki entry.

[there's another big pic on form.de, and more in the Vitra Kid-Size catalogue. CP got spun out of CBS and turned into a playground equipment co. -ed.]

What, you mean those links you posted right there in the story? Yeah, I don't follow links.

Wow thanks so much for quoting me.... it proves you actually read what people are writing on your blog, impressive. However if you read it closely you will notice I say "I can find some pretty simliar, if not "exact" pieces and styling". I acknowledge that they have not directly copied anything you (or I)might be able to find, but they certainly have lifted thier "styling" and inspirations from these pieces you have so painstakingly collected. As close to "exact" copies as modmom is doing as far as I can tell. I use "exact" in quotes because you called her pieces that, not because I believe that they are, nor do I believe that Offi or Argington's pieces are either.

So, thanks so much for proving my point. And thanks for including me in modmom's "posse".

For a RISD-educated industrial designer, Denise, your naivete about the design process is alarming.

Being inspired by mid-century modernism is one thing--in fact, as you correctly pointed out, it's what MMF accomplished with her Mid-Century Toy Box. [Nice legs, btw]

But even if Eric Pfeiffer DID get inspiration for his Offi Perf Boxes directly from Westerberg-Levander's caster cubes, he also turned them sideways, added perfs, and stacked them, three major changes. I would count that as a new design.

Kiersten, on the other hand, copied Pfeiffer's Bench Box "because,"as she said in an interview, "I needed a few toy bins for our kid's rooms and didn't want to pay retail." And you know what? Good for her. I wish I had the chops to make sweet furniture for my kid--and the space to make it in, too.

It's not the copying, but the selling that's the issue. If you're a designer who works for Microsoft, I guess the check clears and you break out the merlot. If you're an independent designer, though, who stakes his house and his family's well-being on trying to build a sustainable business around his designs, then someone selling fakes out of the back of her Range Rover at craft fairs is a direct threat to your livelihood.

As for your point about the quote, I knew exactly what you meant to imply, if not say, and I call bullshit on it. Claiming that working in the modernist mode automatically equates with copying is a dishonest smokescreen. ModMom didn't get inspiration from obscure, vintage design journals; she copied from the showroom floor of DW freakin' R.

wow Greg, it seems MMF and I have really ruffled your feathers. Thanks so much for a. calling me out as naive, b. making asumptions about my pay check and my merlot drinking (for your information, I too am an independant designer....I worked for MS as a contractor on that controller) and c. "calling bullshit" on me.

All pretty agressive comments from a guy who fancies himself a designer, or who is oh so knowledgable about the design field/process, and certainly has way to much time on his hands. I have in fact been on the receiving end of "the knock-off" of my designs, and you know what.... that is part of the design world... call it naivete if you like, I call it reality.

And whether you think so or not I know a hell of alot about the "design process", maybe if you did, you wouldn't be so quick to be so judgemental or threatened. Try some medication I hear it works.

[meds and time on his hands, are you done? I was hoping for any documentary evidence at all of your "copying? but everybody does it!" defense, but I guess not.

Yeah, MMF came across the transom on a bad day, and your carefully worded rationalizations seemed particularly unjustifiable, so yeah, I harshed on you more than I might have otherwise. But while I don't know jack about MS consoles, I have learned a thing or two about kids design, vintage and contemporary in the last 4 years, enough to know that what MMF's doing stinks.

But beyond calling it out, it's not my problem. Designers can send cease&desists if they want. The real reason I didn't mention Lego is because I'm sure a $1.5bn company can police its own egregiously misused intellectual property. And when MMF sets up her booth at her craft fair, I hope she explains to shoppers where her designs come from. Now if you'll excuse me, we're off to the playground. -ed.]

I don't understand why people are defending Mod Mom.

Greg has explained this already, but I'll say it again...

She wanted modern furniture for her kids, but didn't want to spend the money. She had the ability to reproduce current designs. Knocking off a design for your own use is fine. Making stuff for your friends is even probably okay.

BUT when she decided to make a business of reproducing current designs at a lower price-point, undercutting the competition (the ORIGINALS), it became unethical.

What really gets me? She's a former tv exec living in LA... I really doubt the she and her friends couldn't afford Argington and NotNeutral prices. Which makes the whole thing pointless.

I can understand making your own version of something from Pottery Barn or a big box store (ignore for the moment that they have nothing worth knocking off), since I'd rather not give my business to one of those companies. But small designers? Those I'd like to support. They NEED our support, and can't afford to lose business to copycats.

If small designers start to go under because people with table saws start businesses of copying them, eventually we won't have anything to copy.

It all goes back to how invaluable original design and art is. It's worth it to spend the money and support artisans. Our society is forgetting this as we become concerned only with finding the lowest price....

Also, Wal-Mart is evil.

[^^^^ ok, now you've gone too far. -ed.]

Hey L
nicely put (and without any name calling or verbal abuse I might add---Greg, check THAT out! make a note). I do agree with what you are saying....however, truth is MMF is a friend of mine. I can tell you she is CERTAINLY not out to undermind any design company, and she is aware of the similarities of her pieces, to those out there. She has in fact since discontinued making some of them (NOT because Greg called her out-- sorry Greg, no prize for you there) but because she has moved on to new pieces.

So, although you make a valid point, IF MMF was some production house cranking out buttloads of copies....the truth is simply that she is a hard working one woman operation working out of her rental house garage, trying to raise her kids, do something creative and make a few little toyoxes and a bit of money for her rent. FOR REALS!

I defend her because I think we all just need to relax, and keep our noses in our own businesses, take stock in what is truly important, and recognize that although she has 1 or 2 pieces of furniture that looks very much like something someone else is making, she is not trying to overthrow the design world. But Greg decided to tear and her (and me) apart because he had a "bad day".

She makes some wooden kids' stuff, and sells what she can. Can't we all just get along??

And Greg, do you have FOUR whole years of experience in the children's design industry!? hooray for you! I have been an independant (and not so independant) children's product designer since 1992....I do not need to prove myself to you or anyone. Go enjoy the playground.
I'm out.

[Oy, RISD, if I didn't have a kid to prove otherwise, you'd probably call me a virgin who can't drive. I imagine it was the cease & desist letters, not my posts, but either way, I hope she'll knock off some of these designs next. -ed.]

ok, whatever, Denise. blatant knockoffery is NEVER ok.

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