As society changes, new needs arise in people's homes. That's when it helps to look beyond the obvious. When designer Jon Karlsson created the outdoor furniture series SALTHOLMEN, he and his colleagues found new, smart solutions all the way from the drawing board to the factory floor.
With more and more people around the world moving to cities and living in small spaces, a balcony is a valuable extension of a home, no matter how small it is. This means the balcony is often used for several activities like eating, socialising, growing, hanging laundry and storing things. That's when it helps to have flexible furniture that can be easily moved and put away.
At the same time, most people have limited budgets and want to have nice looking, durable furniture at affordable prices.
This was the starting point when designer Jon Karlsson began sketching for SALTHOLMEN—a chair and different tables in powder-coated steel. At first glance, they look pretty ordinary. But for designer Jon Karlsson and product developer Jonas Forssten, SALTHOLMEN is the result of a sometimes rather complicated process that required using a well-known material in a slightly new way. After 12 years of working at IKEA, however, Jon Karlsson is accustomed to work that does not always follow a straightforward path and appreciates the limitations of an assignment.
"The route you take during the process is what makes it really interesting, I think. To have completely free rein can actually paralyse creativity."
Already from the beginning, Jon considered the materials and manufacturing conditions and benefited greatly from all of his experiences on the factory floor. It's crucial for a low price that production is smooth and fast, so even that must be planned from the drawing board, too.
After the sketches, 3D drawings and models in the workshop, it was time to develop prototypes. Product developer Jonas Forssten was one of the team members on site at the factory in China.
"I had contact with Jon via phone and email. My phone's camera was a hard-working assistant! The couple of men in the factory who cut and adjusted by hand, were worth their weight in gold. Despite jet lag and long days, we were fantastically effective. The creative teamwork that happens when you work together gives an incredible boost."
A major challenge of the project was that the furniture would be foldable and pre-assembled. The gateleg table involved a completely new experience for the team, explains Jonas.
"We know that our customers appreciate gateleg tables, but we had never seen one entirely of steel before. There was no experience to build on. Instead, we had to test and develop it directly at the factory."
Untreated steel rusts over time, but SALTHOMEN is protected because all parts are powder coated prior to assembly in the factory. The chair is then put together with visible stainless steel rivets. A functional detail that Jon thinks contributes to the chair's character.
"Making a chair always means that you have to remain within various parameters, but I want to see them as opportunities rather than limitations."
To find really good solutions to new needs in people's homes requires strong teamwork between designers, product developers, technicians and everyone involved. It's the challenges of reality that push us to sharpen our creativity, Jon explains.
"It was everyone's patience and persistent work that led to SALTHOLMEN."