Made in Poland: 15 Iconic Polish Designs
default, Made in Poland:
15 Iconic Polish Designs, Polish Design Gallery at the National Museum in Warsaw, photo: Bartosz Bajerski / National Museum in Warsaw, galeria_wzornictwa_polskiego_gwp_mnw_ekspozycja_fot_bartosz_bajerski_302a5261mxr5oa6vrguyqcokaaq.jpeg
Despite Poland's turbulent 20th-century history, Polish design somehow found a way to flourish. From whimsical forms to functional aesthetics, 20th-century Polish design is delights and impresses. Culture.pl presents a (small) selection of Poland's most iconic designs.
Karol Tichy – Armchair from bedroom furniture set
In the interwar period, Karol Tichy was an unquestioned authority in the Polish designers' community, animating explorations for the particular qualities of Polish design, a field in which he had profound success. He was able to combine his knowledge of the latest tendencies in world design with local tradition, giving his designs a characteristic form.
Karol Tichy - Creator of Applied Arts in Poland [gallery]
RM58 armchair – designed by Roman Modzelewski
In 1958, despite plastics and resins being so inaccessible and Polish designers being relatively uninterested in the technology used for mass production, the artist and designer Roman Modzelewski created a surprising armchair.
What’s so special about it? Well, it was one of the earliest Polish examples of polyester-glass laminate furniture. And that’s not all. It’s fully-closed organic form was like nothing else created at the time – it impressed even Le Corbusier himself! Modzelewski created an armchair that was both beautiful and comfortable, and managed to avoid the imperfections of the material.
The RM58 was ahead of its time. And people loved it. The chair was so popular it was featured in a number of Polish movies and a French furniture manufacturer was even interested in producing it. Modzelewski obtained a patent but was banned from selling it to the French by the communist regime. And so, in the following decades, the chair was only made-to-order. This instant icon had to wait half a century to finally go into mass production.
Modzelewski’s iconic design remains fresh and compelling to this day. The Polish company VZÓR took it upon themselves to bring the armchair to today’s consumers.
The Comeback of Communist Design
Osa scooter – designed by Krzysztof Brun, Jerzy Jankowski, Tadeusz Mathia & Krzysztof Meisner
During the communist regime in Poland, scooters, such as Vespas, were associated with the freedom and luxury of the West. The generation born after World War II wanted to enjoy life and leave the past behind. Everyone longed to hop on a Vespa and ride around without a care in the world! And so, Poland needed its own ‘wasp’.
The Polish Osa, designed by Krzysztof Brun, Jerzy Jankowski, Tadeusz Mathia and Krzysztof Meisner, was slightly bigger and a bit sturdier than its Italian cousin. By the mid-1960s, the Warsaw Motorcycle Factory had already produced several thousand of the scooters. Its 14-inch wheels and solid suspension meant that Osa did well not only on Poland’s uneven roads but also in rallies in Italy and Great Britain. The Osa became extremely popular – it was everywhere: on the roads, in the press and even in movies. It became the symbol of a new lifestyle: a synonym of youth and social changes.
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Ina coffee set – designed by Lubomir Tomaszewski
Lubomir Tomaszewski wanted to create an ideal coffee set, which was both functional and aesthetically pleasing. He analysed hundreds of models and performed many tests searching for the most convenient and ergonomic form. Inspired by shapes found in nature, he proposed six different ‘ideal’ coffee sets. Two, christened with the names of his daughters (Dorota and Ina) went into production.
Ina is a somewhat evolved version of the Dorota set: its form simplified, making it easier to pour, no matter how much liquid is in it. Lubomirski moved the upper edge of the spout back, making the stream of coffee steady when pouring and avoiding unnecessary drips. He also moved the lid slightly, so it wouldn’t fall off when pouring. Each set was, as per the designer’s instructions, monochromatically glazed.
The closer we look at these two coffee sets, the more we see not only the beauty of their organic forms and bright colours, but extremely functional and ergonomic everyday objects. We see the work of an artist, a designer, someone scientific-minded. And a loving father – the sets were christened with the names of the artist’s daughters.
A Drink of the Devil: The History of Coffee in Poland
Alicja vase – designed by Zbigniew Horbowy
Zbigniew Horbowy said he created ‘artistic functional objects’. He took his first job as a designer at the Sudety Glassworks in Szczytna. Working with selenium-cadmium glass is like alchemy – it requires knowledge, an understanding of the rules and co-operation necessary to work with technologists and glassworkers. It was precisely this ‘partnership in glass’ that allowed Horbowy to find his own way in glass design.
He broke with traditional designs and created his own design language – based on simple construction and simple forms. Horbowy experimented with the different technologies available at the glassworks and created masterpieces out of layered, coloured and blown glass. His trademark were vivid colours and compact shapes.
Two-layered glass with suspended air bubbles was already known, but used Horbowy made it his own. Prizes and orders were coming in from around the globe. People stood in line to get their hands on his precious Alicja bottles.
New designers came to the glassworks and quickly became known as members of the ‘Horbowy School’. Horbowy himself returned to his alma mater in Wrocław, to teach new generations about the magic of glass.
Zbigniew Horbowy's The Shape of Colour in Glass - Image Gallery
Z-312 Mantel Clock – designed & produced by PREDOM METRON Office Equipment Factory
A long time ago, it was the fireplace (not the television), that was the focal point of the living room. People would spend hours in front of the raging fire. Above it, a heavy, elegant, wooden clock would strike every hour, on the hour. The Z-312 Mantel Clock truly stood out – it was nothing like what people used to have above their fireplaces. The Z-312 screamed modernity.
Produced by the PREDOM METRON Office Equipment Factory in Toruń, it was nicknamed ‘The Sphere’ or ‘The Ball’ because of its basic circular shape. Its casing was made of dyed plastic and came in six colours: red, blue, orange, green, beige and brown. The Z-312 had a black face and white hands, which made it easy to tell the time at a glance.
The Z-312 Mantel Clock was lightweight and easy to set and was, without a doubt, a classic piece of 1970s Polish design
Andrzej Jan Wróblewski's Universal Systems - Image Gallery
Kiwi figurine – designed by Lubomir Tomaszewski
With the Thaw in 1956, a new global trend in design came to Poland: organic design. It meant flowing, natural forms, undulating lines, dynamic curves and powerful arches. Sculpture came to the fore. And it is sculptors who created a brand new phenomenon in Polish design – the bibelot, or trinket.
Henryk Jędrasiak, Mieczysław Naruszewicz, Lubomir Tomaszewski and Hanna Orthwein began making human and animal figurines – their streamlined silhouettes seemed as if caught mid-movement. They were being produced in all of Poland’s biggest porcelain factories and quickly became extremely popular. In the style known as New Look, the figurines were a must-have for any stylish home and were the highlight of fairs and exhibitions around the globe – in New York, Chicago, Moscow and Berlin. The British magazine The Studio even presented them in their annual best design edition in 1959.
Ceramics designer and sculptor Lubomir Tomaszewski has gone down in the history of post-war Polish design as a man of extraordinary talent, even though he devoted only 10 years of his life to the field. He was best known for creating decorative figurines and functional ceramic pieces including coffee sets in spiffy guises.
Sculpted Forms by Lubomir Tomaszewski – Image Gallery
Panny fabric – designed by Alicja Wyszogrodzka
The prints and patterns created by Alicja Wyszogrodzka are the perfect example of the vibrancy and variety of fabrics created in Poland in the 1950s. One of her most recognisable patterns has to be Panny (Maidens): women in flared dresses seemingly dance along the edge of the fabric. With their black and white silhouettes up against the bright, colourful background, they look as if they are strutting on a catwalk. Their energy is palpable.
Wyszogrodzka’s fabrics were very versatile. In her MDM (1955) fabric, she used simple lines to create a complicated and rich pattern which showed modern city life, her Koguty (Roosters, 1959) fabric looked like it was adorned with kids’ drawings, while Pisanki (Easter Eggs) was a reinterpretation of traditional folk patterns.
Alicja Wyszogrodzka: Printing Fabrics for Industry - Image Gallery
Muszelka chair – designed by Teresa Kruszewska
The young Teresa Kruszewska debuted with a set of furniture. It included the iconic Muszelka (Shell) chair. Shaped like a shell, the seat itself was made of plywood and sat on sturdy steel frame. Then, Kruszewska wound colourful plastic string around the frame and seat over and over and over, creating a ‘woven’ chair. It came in a variety of colours and people absolutely loved it! Woven stools, baskets and even knock-off Muszelka chairs soon followed.
The Muszelka chair stood out in 1956 and quickly became an icon of Polish design. Even though it was admired and presented at numerous trade shows around the globe, it was, never actually put into mass production.
Teresa Kruszewska - Furniture for Children [gallery]
Alfa camera – designed by Krzysztof Meisner & Olgierd Rutkowski
With its colourful exterior and rounded egdes, the Alfa Camera, designed by Krzysztof Meisner and Olgierd Rutkowski, looked more like a toy than an actual camera. Made out od plastic and aluminium and avaialble in a number of bright colours, the Alfa was made with young photography lovers in mind.
It was easy to use and handy, but there was one peculiar feature. Or at least it was quite unusual at the time. The Alfa’s buttons and control panels were positioned in such a way, that people were forced to take vertical photos. Although today, with smartphones, it seems absolutely normal, in 1961 it was truly a big change. Despite this unusual set up, people loved the camera. Soon Alfa 2 came out and was also a bestseller.
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Fema Hair Dryer – designed & produced by Eltra Radio Factory’s Construction Bureau
Produced by Eltra Radio Works, the Fema hair dryer, which made its debut in 1955 had no choice but to succeed. It was an instant hit. Every household just had to have one – it was quickly made available for mail order and even exported. It promised ‘a consistently elegant hairdo for every occasion’. But Fema didn’t end up only being used for fancy hairstyles – it was often used to dry laundry or wet paint!
Fema’s design was inspired by the organic shapes popular in the previous decade. The hair dryer with its streamlined bakelite casing was avaiable in a range of different colours. Those who were not lucky enough to get their hands on one were advised to use… their vacuum cleaners.
The ABCs of Polish Design: 25 Illustrators Revisit 100 Iconic Designs – Image Gallery
Meblościanka – Bogusława & Czesław Kowalski
In 1960, the Wood Industry Union announced a competition for the design of cheap but functional furniture that could furnish an entire basic flat. The furniture was supposed to take into account the conditions of mass production, the size of Polish homes, and the functionality of each piece by itself and as a whole set.
Bogusława and Czesław Kowalski’s MK system (short for meble kasetonowe, segmented furniture) won the competition. Their simple furniture was made out of a sturdy outer frame and easy-to-put-together pieces connected with thumb nuts, which allowed for easy arrangement. The rest of the space could be completed using different elements, depending on your needs: a fold-down bed, a fold-down desk, a fold-out table, chairs – you name it! You could even add units on top if you had high ceilings.
The wall unit went into mass production in 1962 and became an instant hit. It became known as ‘Kowalski’s furniture’ or, more popularly the ‘meblościanka’ – translated loosely as a ‘furniture-wall’.
Segmented furniture fundamentally changed the style of industrial furniture: a minimum amount of elements providing the maximum amount of possible solutions for their use. It was the perfect answer for the modern man, woman and child and truly changed the way Poles lived.
The ‘meblościanka’ was most definitely the greatest success of Polish industrial design of the 1960s, and even though it may now be considered out of date, they can still be found in many Polish homes today. While some try to get rid of them in favour of modern designs, others are now seeking them out, appreciating their retro charm.
Designers Bogusława & Czesław Kowalski – Image Gallery
366 Armchair – Józef Chierowski
The 366 Armchair designed by Józef Chierowski is unquestionably an icon of 1960s’ Polish designs. Its trapezoid-shaped, upholstered seat is mounted on a simple, lightweight wooden structure. Furniture producers loved it because it was extremely easy to manufacture, while the general public loved it because it was comfortable, aesthetically pleasing and affordable. It soon found its way into living rooms, hotel lobbies, cafés and rooms all over the country.
The 366 Armchair was manufactured for over 20 years, with more than 500,000 sold throughout the Eastern Bloc. Despite its great success behind the Iron Curtain, the West did not have the opportunity to enjoy it at the time. Luckily, this is yet another iconic design, not unlike Roman Modzelewski’s RM58, which was brought back to life in the 21st century. This time by Polish design studio 366 Concept.
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Żabka (Froggy) – designed by Małgorzata & Wojciech Małolepszy & Kazimierz Piotrowski
When times were toughest for designers in Poland, the husband-and-wife duo Małgorzata and Wojciech Małolepszy teamed up with Kazimierz Piotrowski and opened their own design studio – Studio M.P. And that is where, in 1987, the Żabka (Froggy) toy was born. The wooden toy was a beloved childrens’ toy for twenty years. It was sold in Cepelia folk art stores all over the country – and exported abroad – and was even sold in Polish IKEAs!
Wooden, moving toys were known and present in folk culture for a long time. The story of this frog from the 80s, however, began not as as an homage to Polish folk culture, but very personally. Żabka was a toy created for the Małolepszys’ son Staś. They used the materials that were available and recreated a frog’s jumping and croaking in wood. Several wooden elements, a construction axis that changes the centre of gravity and voilà! – when we pull on the string, the frog comes alive. Since the frog was such a hit, Studio M.P. made a whole series of wooden animal toys including a duck, a centipede and more.
After a short hiatus, the frog was made available again for today’s toddlers thanks to the WellDone design studio.
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Ceramics from Bolesławiec – designed by Bronisław Wolanin, produced by the Artistic Ceramics Handicraft Co-operative in Bolesławiec
The capital city of Polish ceramics is Bolesławiec located in the Dolny Śląsk region. The surrounding area is rich in clay deposits perfect for making earthenware goods, a fact that was well-known among artisans as early as the Middle Ages.
Bolesławiec pottery was popular for centuries, but it was Bronisław Wolanin who brought it into the 20th century. The new shapes, glazes and types of decoration that he introduced made Bolesławiec pottery famous around the globe. He combined simple forms with folk traditions. At the beginning of the 1980s, the factory returned to the use of stamping techniques. Dots, lines, circles, crosses – thanks to multiplying them over and over, they created extraordinarily beautiful intricate patterns. Pottery from Bolesławiec became synonymous with the best souvenirs from Poland in the 1980s and 1990s – and it still rings true today.
Today, the factories in Bolesławiec, wanting to make a mark in 21st century, have began working with contemporary Polish designers to create new takes on an old tradition.
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The article is partly based on the Multimedia Guide to Polish Design, May 2019
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