Kraków, Warsaw and Wrocław may be the most visited cities in Poland, but these days, they are closely followed by the city of Łódź. Located in the heart of Poland, Łódź is known as a centre of contemporary art, design, culture and entertainment. Some of the best examples of renovated industrial buildings can be found in the city, where a blend of traditional shapes with modern solutions has inspired a new generation of architects.
The energy and passion of a new generation of young artists is encapsulated in the Łódź Creates catalogue. The publication is a treasure trove of knowledge about contemporary Polish design and designers, which can be downloaded at lodzcreates.com. On its pages, you’ll discover a vivid display of the best in Polish designs, complemented by avant-garde architects, designers, graphic artists, musicians and photographers, all contributing to the evolution of European art. The Łódź Creates catalogue also highlights the institutions and places that have become home to young artists developing their craft, the festivals providing opportunities to a new generation of creative talent, and the people contributing to the cultural development of the city.
Łódź Creates is an example of how the artistic movement in post-war Poland is being revisited to inspire and delight a new generation. For this, talented Łódź designers have drawn upon the best design traditions from the era of the Polish People’s Republic (PPR).
How does this history work in a modern context? In Poland, the years following World War II witnessed an unprecedented work ethic, as the nation set about repairing the widespread devastation to homes and industry. Poles’ determination was so great that within a few years, not only were ruined houses rebuilt and whole new estates erected, but production began at full speed at pre-war factories. This revived industry required the talent to design the objects to be produced – and so artists were asked to help design products that would reflect the present day and last well into the future.
This led to the establishment of the Institute of Industrial Design in 1950, at a time when the concept of a designer did not exist. Polish artists worked closely with craftsmen to produce some surprising and unique results; creating some of the most interesting pieces of the era – such as Jan Sylwester Drost’s collector glassware and Maria Chomentowska’s chairs.
In the 1950s and 60s, artists – as they do today – worked based on assumptions regarding everyday objects: they should be easy to transport, set up and integrate into the interior, as well as being easily available, affordable and attractive.
Later, the arrival of large design chain stores in Poland meant many objects from the golden design era of the 1950s, 60 and 70s were discarded. However, today, an awareness of the unique properties of design from the communist era means people are salvaging furniture designed by Józef Chierowski, Henryk Lis, Rajmund Hałas, Teresa Kruszewska, Maria Chomentowska or Józef Różański. Today, mid-century modern pieces that can be saved from the era are meticulously cleaned, renovated or even returned to production.
Although the factories and cooperatives that produced these everyday items have largely disappeared, the know-how and the design skills remain. Today, the former factories of Łódź have been turned into studios and workshops for art lovers and entrepreneurs with a passion for design.
The places where glassware, textiles and furniture were once produced on a mass scale now serve as homes for young artists, who carry on with micro-scale production inspired by the designers of the past.
One such company, 366 Concept, was founded by Agata Górka and Maciej Cypryk, whose brand aims to bring 1960s Polish design to a worldwide audience. For example, their 1962 model 366 armchair, manufactured under the exclusive license of Józef Chierowski and designed for the Lower Silesian Furniture Factory in Świebodzice, was presented at the opening of the Design Museum in London in 2016. Their design was also featured in The Pan-European Living Room installation created by architects OMA, presenting iconic designs from all 28 countries of the European Union. The armchair occupied a space next to a sofa by Hans Wegner and classic chairs by Thonet.
Encapsulating the era, the 366 armchair is made of solid ash wood that had been aged for seven years to become resistant to moisture and changes in temperature. The chair’s fabrics are easy to clean and with 100 colours and textures to select from, are incredibly varied.
366 Concept returned to the UK this year, where the 336 Metal Series was presented at the London Design Fair – demonstrating innovative techniques for combining wood and steel. In addition to the 366 model, which sold a million units, 366 Concept released the 300-190 Armchair and the 200-190 Chair – both designs date back to 1960.
Another design enjoying a revival, and once found in nearly every Polish post-war home are kilims. Inspired by traditional Polish design, Tartaruga’s Polish Kilims collection was also featured at the London Design Fair. Founded by friends Wiktoria Nowak, Jadzia Lenart and Ewelina Wakulewska, the weaving company adopts hand-crafting techniques and works with woollen yarn from a nearby carpet factory – waste material from production – and obtained from sheep grazed on Polish pastures. To create the textiles, non-toxic dyes are used to colour the yarn, while keeping production waste to a minimum. It requires a significant effort to produce a single kilim – not only does it take dozens of labour hours, it calls for undivided attention and precision while weaving the pattern.
“‘Tartaruga’ means turtle”, say Nowak and her partners. “A turtle is a slow unique animal that lives a long life, just like our fabrics.” The weaving workshop at Tartaruga produces kilims, cushions and decorative tapestries.
Nostalgia for a bygone era and a fascination with Polish commercial art, illustration and lettering are the foundations of Pan Tu Nie Stał brand. From printing T-shirts in a garage, the company expanded its portfolio into a fully-fledged fashion label, including accessories and trinkets for the home and after initial success, the company is now co-operating with professional contractors to go global. Pan Tu Nie Stał’s clothes are a fascinating mixture of styles inspired by clothing from recent decades: T-shirts in washed-out colours and paper prints were all the rage in the 1970s, while oversized jackets made of fake fur and denim bring to mind the 80s and 90s. Their updated designs have been adapted to suit current tastes and the brand’s choice of material is popular with lovers of vintage and eclectic fashion.
Likewise, Pan Tu Nie Stał’s original home accessories, such as notebooks and jar labels decorated with 50s and 60s-style graphics, or mugs that appear to be straight out of a vacation home from the bygone era, as well as old soft drink bottles, not only change the interior of a home but also brighten the mood. The focus at Pan Tu Nie Stał might be on simplicity and good form, however, the main feature of the company’s furniture is functionality.
Similarly, the 1950s and 60s provides inspiration for Wood & Paper’s bold, geometric combinations, hand-made using traditional carpentry techniques to blend tradition with modernity. According to 1960s design principles, these products serve many functions dependant on the user’s needs – dimensions, colours and materials can be customised. “We do not like when anything is wasted, no matter if it is space or a piece of wood, which is why our furniture can be customised and adapted for every home and all production scraps are turned into funny gadgets,” says the team at Wood and Paper.
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