Oki Sato's N01 chair for Fritz Hansen: 'It is not designed for the sake of design' 26.04.18

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N01 Oak Black Coloured Oak Beech

The N01 chair is the result of Japanese and Danish design coming together in a Nendo and Republic of Fritz Hansen partnership, launched in Milan, writes Rita Lobo


Nendo’s Oki Sato was omnipresent in Milan design week this year and has consistently been one of the most in demand designers. One of his highest profile collaborations recently is with Republic of Fritz Hansen, and together they have produced N01 chair, the brand’s first wooden chair since a classic Arne Jacobsen number from 1957.

The chair represents an amalgam of Japanese and Danish design tradition, highlighting a respect for the raw material and craftsmanship. For Sato it meant that in spite of the distance or cultural differences, it was possible to immediately ‘speak’ the same language in the process of product development. ‘It is not designed for the sake of design,’ he adds. ‘Instead, the design follows the function and the practical requirements of the chair.’

According to Sato ‘a wooden chair is not an easy product for a designer to make. It is one of the most difficult, and one’s personal mentality or philosophy can be expressed through it; this is the reason why I do not have so many wooden chairs among my past works.’ N01 chair is certainly an accomplished design that is both strong and light, with smooth lines and curved surfaces.

nendo fritz hansen n01 dining chair ICONThe Nendo/Fritz Hansen collaboration has yielded the N01 chair, the brands first wooden chair in 60 years

‘For N01, both sides of the seat have a gradual incline, helping to realize a comfortable seating experience, as if one’s body is being embraced,’ says Sato. ‘The back-rest shell fits into the groove engraved in the joined sections of the frame, which makes it look as if a piece of cloth is blowing in the air; it also appears as though the shell of the backrest is being pinched with washing pegs on either side.’

The partnership was an unusual move by Fritz Hansen, a brand not typically known for its collaborations with contemporary designers. ‘The brief was to design a new wooden dining chair that would be comfortable, and meet their aesthetic requirements at the same time,’ says Sato. ‘Our goal was to finalize a chair which is contemporary, yet maintains the traditional and historical feel of the brand. It was exciting to learn that Fritz Hansen has not made a wooden chair for many years, probably since the Grand Prix Chair by Arne Jacobsen in 1957, and that the N01 chair may be the next wooden chair after this.’

Though Sato has been working as a designer for over 15 years, he maintains that the creative process of working with Fritz Hansen has been unique in his career. ‘Every time we visited the workshop in Allerod, almost every month at the final stage a new prototype welcomed us,’ he said. ‘We have put into practice things we noticed, repeatedly reviewed, discussed, and reviewed again many times over. There was no compromise—especially in the final phase of development—with totally reaching the targeted strength and comfort levels of the chair. This productive process of product development was one of the highlights of my 15-year career as a designer, and one that I really enjoyed.’

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