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The Logical Art of Furniture

Aug 16, 2008
The period of time of the nineteen sixties was a turbulent time around the world in lots of ways. While many of us think of this time in terms of the political and cultural revolutions that swept the world, the impact of the music and cultural views of the time had a huge impact on design, fashion and even interior decorating. The time frame became so well known and stylized by the flamboyance of the counterculture and the constant experimentation that the music revolutions were setting off that if you looked at a movie from that time frame, the furniture, carpets, wall hangings and even curtains were so distinctive that they give away their time frame completely.

It was in this setting that one of the true innovators of furniture innovation started his career. That innovator is, of course, Rodney Kinsman. But unlike many creative people of that time, Kinsman did not remain stuck in that period but continued to develop his design approach, eventually developing a design philosophy that he called The Logical Art of Furniture, a title which was used in the biography of Rodney Kinsman by Josy Manser.

The history of how Kinsman grew in his art follows the times closely. Born in 1943 in London, Rodney showed his flair for the arts attending the Central School of Art until 1965. It was then that Kinsmen joined with Jurek Olejnik and Bryan Morrison to form OMK (for Olejnik, Morrison and Kinsmen) Design so they could work together on innovative furniture designs.

OMK Designs produced chairs that very much reflected the times and their first significant model was called the F Range Chair. In step with the styles of the late sixties, the F Range Chair was made of a block of foam covered with brightly colored vinyl, usually red. This was a perfect fit for the times and it may be regarded at Kinsman's more flamboyant designs in that his design approach continued to evolve and become more sophisticated as he continued his craft past the turbulence of the sixties time frame.

One of the reasons that Rodney Kinsman has continued to be a success from one decade to the next is he has found a balance between the artistic vision he wishes to express with each new chair design and an ethic to make the chair appealing across long time frames. This was in direct response to seeing the F Range Chair's popularity become a casualty of the changes in style and tastes in the nineteen seventies. The result was the next big design innovation from OMK Design which was the Omstack Chair.

Kinsman's effort to reach a broader audience and to produce a chair that would stand the test of time was a huge success and the Omstack Chair proved that by becoming OMK's most successful offering. The design of the chair reflected the artistic vision of Kinsman but it was also tremendously functional and adaptable to many practical installation situations. The outcome was that the Omstack and subsequent chair designs enjoyed widespread sales in high volume installation settings such as the Gatwick Airport and numerous other public buildings.

The outcome of achieving such widespread popularity as a furniture designer was that Kinsman's design vision has become very well known throughout the UK and for the many visitors Britain in the nineteen seventies and beyond. This, of course, meant even more sales for OMK Designs but it also meant that Kinsman's design ideas achieved a universal appeal and became influential if not outright copied by others who wanted to capitalize on the combination of a strong sense of style and a first grasp on function and durability not only in the quality of the chair but in the universality of the appeal of the chair design.

The emphasis on designing chairs that did not fade in popularity with the changes in culture does not mean that Kinsman did not continue to allow his artistic influences to be reflected in his designs. Meanwhile OMK Designs underwent continued changes as an organization until by the late nineteen eighties, Kinsman was virtually running the company single handedly. As the primarily point of leadership for OMK, Kinsmen showed strong business sense by focusing the company on the niche market that he knew well and were they had had such great success in the last.

A design characteristic that became the signature of many of Rodney Kinsman's designs was the use of the curved tubular pipe as part of chair design. Not only did this design fit nicely with various movements in chair design throughout the later half of the twentieth century, it was also a good fit to Kinsman's strong business ethic as the materials were plentiful and affordable but durable and easy to design new furniture designs around. These curved tubular designs has a strong connection to artistic movements outside of furniture design including the ideas of Michael Thonet and the philosophical and artistic movement so popular in Europe during this time frame known as Bauhaus.

The distinctive artistic influences found in the designs of Rodney Kinsman simultaneously reflect his ability personally to merge the spirit of an artist with the sensible approach to furniture production and sales of an outstanding businessman. As such, it was an ongoing ethic of OMK that all of the Kinsman chairs would be mass produced and have a strong availability and affordability. Not only did this help to guarantee strong sales and long term heath for the OMK Design company as a corporate entity, it also helped to get the unique Kinsman design out there into the community where by sheer force of repetition, it became well known and popular.

That phrase that so beautifully summarizes the work of Rodney Kinsman is The Logical Art of Furniture. On first impression, you would think that the very idea of logical art just doesn't make sense. But the success of Kinsman's ideas and his business sense have shown that the two ideas fit together perfectly. That is because in the hands of the right man with the right vision and the right business sense, a chair can demonstrate a strong sense of artistic expression and it can be a solid piece of furniture that makes sense for the business as a long term vehicle for profitability. And that right man for his times and for the success of the OMK Design company was and is Rodney Kinsman.
About the Author
Tony has written several books on cafe chairs and cafe furniture. He also enjoys to write about hotel furniture and gardening.
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