Week 11, 2011 – making Folding Chair in Helsinki

Lately, I have been in touch with Sakari Paananen, a respected Finnish cabinet maker, to investigate whether or not his company, Punavuoren Puuhevonen, can help us manufacture Folding Chair, About:Blank’s second project. The chair was the diploma work of my masters study at Aalto University School of Art and Design, formerly known as UIAH – University of Art and Design Helsinki. Before joining About:Blank, I was lucky to be invited to Talent 2009 in Eindhoven and ICFF 2010: the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, where I had much more valuable experiences than expected. In ICFF in particular I met various wonderful people and learned a great deal from them having only four Folding Chairs at my tiny stand.

One of the most memorable scene – which will be engraved in my memory for good – was when a group of carpenters and architects from Vermont was gathered. They didn’t come together, but all of them happened to come from the same state, and they already knew each other. They spent quite a while chattering about my chair, and some said he was excited to finally see an honest piece of furniture while others were enthusiastically giving advices to me for enhancement.

Study of folding chair joint, 2008

After the shows, I have joined About:Blank to do what I wanted to do: being a responsible designer and producer, and producing actually useful products in small quantity to me. I immediately visited Punavuoren Puuhevonen, a leading woodwork and carpentry firm within an accessible distance by public transportation in Helsinki, which is rather unusual nowadays as most of the factories moved out from cities, or even virtually replaced by the ones in developing countries. One might think – and actually some already said – that we could have worked with factories in the other countries where the manufacturing cost per piece is much lower.

First of all, we needed the expertness of Sakari Paananen that is essential for the durability of the chair – it’s about how well the parts are crafted, the structure that lasts, the knowledge about wood, and all.

Also, if we wanted to do so we should have been equipped with substantially bigger capital than we now do. Factories capable of English communication in other countries do not take as small orders as few hundred pieces, which is critical to entrepreneurs like us, let alone the travel expenses.

Besides, the farther physical distance between the designer and the producer there is, the more significant delays in feedbacks back and forth before finishing the product development, and therefore greater chance to make small but critical mistakes. Making a wooden chair is no printing out a poster done with Adobe Illustrator – even in which case the outcome can be disastrous. These small mistakes are hard to recognize for now, but it will in a few years, and it’s irresponsible to be ignorant as furniture live with people for lifetime.

It has been a while since I left one of the original model at Punavuoren Puuhevonen – that I made myself – and next week we will find out what level of change we will have to go through with Sakari.

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