Object Lesson: Easy Edges

By: Jaime Salm

Falling Into Easy Edges

This essay first appeared on the Collab Journal 2016-2017. Philadelphia Museum of Art Design Collection | Object Lesson

Object Lesson invites a member of the design community to choose any object in the Museum’s design collection and to write about why it moves them.

I remember the first time I saw an Easy Edges. I was a design student in a Vitra showroom, mesmerized by the playful designs. The pieces were sitting on white pedestals, as if awaiting my arrival. I moved in for closer inspection. The warm feel of cardboard and the perfectly cut and layered, corrugated organic shapes sang to my aesthetic sensibilities and spoke to my love and knowledge of the material.

As a teenager and aspiring sculptor I became familiar with Matisse’s sensuous cut-outs, Miro’s mischievous shapes, and Antoni Gaudi’s flowing masterpieces. I was drawn to their forms and process. Their work was dynamic, abstract, and rebellious. Easy Edges is all of that and more. Frank Gehry managed to take all of my teenage art heroes and roll them into a single product line. This stool, like the rest of the Easy Edges line, evolved the language of a material that is not traditionally associated with soft lines, durability, or refined details.

I knew a thing or two about cardboard before I discovered Easy Edges. My father ran a third-generation cardboard packaging company. I remember summers spent sliding down the hills of Medellin on cardboard sleds and building mobile forts on pallet jacks with paper tubes (like the ones used by Shigeru Ban). I still smile when I smell freshly printed boxes. Knowing the process and what it might have taken to make a chair like Easy Edges made the design even more captivating. How did they layer the cardboard so thickly? Was the direction of the corrugation a decorative or structural decision? With my background and my artistic influences it was natural (nay, inevitable!) for me to be attracted to and to connect with Frank Gehry’s work.

Today I recognize the solipsistic struggle of design in Easy Edges. This deceivingly simple stool balances the technical with the human, function with form, and logic with emotion. It takes a humble material to the next level by embracing its strengths and playing with its weaknesses. It seduces with tactile qualities that confound our material and aesthetic perceptions. Easy Edges resists nomenclature: Seating or sculpture? Design or art? Temporary or permanent? Its elusive quality speaks to my personal development as a designer over the past 15 years. Part of my work has been to change habits, minds, and misconceptions about sustainability — and about design and its future. I guess it’s not a stretch to say that Easy Edges is a mirror into my past and a window into the future.