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Note x Vestre

  • Project facts
  • Client: Vestre
  • Location: Norway
  • Year: 2021

Our studio first commercial design for Vestre – a versatile modular seating system named Plinth – is more than simply a bench and table; it’s the result of a deep-dive interrogation into how we interact with outdoor space across different climates and cultures.

We have been collaborating with Vestre for two years, most recently winning the best stand award at Stockholm Furniture Fair 2020 for our reusable carbon-conscious installation. Plinth represents the first time the two have joined forces to launch a new series of products. 

Our two companies have always shared an enthusiasm for exploring the more philosophical issues surrounding a specific product, considering the social role it plays and how people use and respond to it. As a result, We and Vestre have established a relationship built on mutual curiosity and trust that is much richer than that typically found in more transactional designer-brand relationships, and which leads to a greater range of creative possibilities.

“The main challenge for us was to define what the future is, how it shapes our society and what society needs. Is the future something high-tech we have all seen in movies? Or might it involve going back to a more analogue society, one where we seek out each other’s company and value the time we physically spend together?”
Charlotte Ackemar — Product Designer

Our research process for Plinth led us to examine in detail the social role that the concept of a picnic table plays across cultures, considering issues such as what picnicking means to people in different societies, how they use outdoor furniture, how they socialise outdoors, and how factors such as climate and weather influence these behaviours. We realised that the way people interact with public furniture outdoors is very different to their indoor behaviours. Inside, the unwritten rules of furniture function tend to be stringently observed, whereas outdoors, people are more inclined to use furniture more freely – sitting, stretching, exercising, working, eating, sleeping, playing, standing, leaning, or lying down as the need arises.

We swiftly realised that in order to design an outdoor furniture set with universal appeal, we should have to leave it up to the user to define the function of Plinth, adapting it to different needs and contexts. We returned to Vestre with a vision for an enormously flexible modular system built on a few key elements that could easily be deployed in different combinations and at different scales – making it suitable for any outdoor social scenario or cultural behaviour.

In a market where a lot of outdoor furniture has a highly ‘designed’ look that stands out, we were determined to develop a more natural design language for Plinth that would fit in with its surroundings, whatever they might be, and which was timeless enough to enable Plinth to remain in place forever.

The way we use public space and socialise is changing – especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us are spending more time outdoors, to exercise or meet with friends in socially distanced settings. At the same time, our attitudes and behaviours around strangers are shifting – many people are increasingly uncomfortable in shared public spaces. Outdoors there is a delicate balance between public and private, gathering and withdrawing that is still shifting. 

Whereas a lot of furniture designed for public spaces may end up proving too prescriptive to be fit for purpose, Plinth is designed to respond to changing norms and social behaviours, not to dictate them.