The main thrust of Kruszewska’s design work was furniture for children, which demanded, as she herself confessed, a great deal of discipline in thinking. Taking into consideration the physical development of the users led her to open and flexible solutions that could be changed through combinations. Kruszewska was born in 1927, died on June 6, 2014.
Furniture designer specialising in furniture for children.
Teresa Kruszewska thought in terms of construction, which was no doubt an influence from her father, who was a builder, and reinforced by her studies at the Interior Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She has always emphasized that Jan Kurzątkowski played a key role in shaping her design sensibility. She began her studies in his studio, and then stayed on as his assistant. He encouraged her to join the Ład Artists’ Cooperative, which, in a sense, was a second school for her.
Kurzątkowski taught her technique, the ability to establish the proper proportions of a piece, and a holistic way of thinking about an interior; and he instilled in her the conviction that people, i.e., users of the furniture, lie at the center of a designer’s concerns. Apart from these general principles, Kurzątkowski taught Kruszewska a sense of form – a conscious way of thinking about aesthetics together with proper construction. Kruszewska also perceived extraordinary potential for the Polish furniture industry in the plywood Kurzątkowski invented.
The flexibility and endurance of plywood gave Kruszewska free rein for experimenting with construction. She began by using it for garden chairs – cylindrical shapes with seats woven from string. Her next design – and also her debut – was a giant step forward. The Scallop chair, designed for a set of residential furniture and presented in 1956 at the Ład 30th Anniversary Exhibition, used the dynamics and lightness of this material to the full. The restricted form of the shell was wrought from a single piece of plywood, while the link points running through the supports were covered by an igelite weave. The load-bearing construction differs in color from the seat (The chair comes in two versions: light and dark), and the outspread legs narrow as they come to the floor. All these elements are characteristic of the "modern" tendency that was then encroaching upon Polish design.
The inspiration to create new constructions or outer forms came to Poland with the "thaw" transformations and the influx of design information from the West. Regardless of these influences, however, Scallop stands out among the other Polish furniture that emerged in 1956, and it was swiftly included among the top achievements of domestic design. For decades to come it was admired and exhibited in numerous shows both in Poland and abroad, but was never implemented for mass production. The same was true for Kruszewska’s other designs, such as the chairs, made in the late 1950s, produced from scrap collected from the Factory in Radomsko. The simplicity, lightness, and functionality of one model, awarded at the "Polish Visual Work on the 15th Anniversary of the People’s Republic" Exhibition (1963), might bring to mind Gio Ponti’s Supeleggera design of a few years previous.
In the 1950s Kruszewska began designing for children, a field which became key for her. At the time, Poland was undergoing an epidemic of Heine-Medina disease. During the holidays, the designer helped her sister and brother-in-law, both pediatricians, run visual arts courses at the rehabilitation hospital in Jastrzębie Zdrój. This work inspired her to show a child’s table, among other pieces, at the 2nd Polish Exhibition of Interior Design in Warsaw (1957). Produced in the Ład workshops, this table had a movable top that concealed a space with blocks painted by Krystyna Policzkowska. The open top became a blackboard, and the blocks could be rearranged to form a picture, like a jigsaw puzzle. At an exhibition in London two years later, Kruszewska presented this same design along with the Clown, a rocking chair of plywood, string, and beads.
That same year, Ład initiated a show with residential interior furnishings in Warsaw’s Młody Housing Estate in Grochów, where Kruszewska decorated a 39 square-meter apartment designed for a couple with a pair of children. The children’s room was the largest, and was separated from the parent’s room by a partly openwork shelving unit. This design was reviewed as the "most charming corner of the Housing Estate, the stuff children’s dreams are made of," confirming the designer’s propitious decision to continue designing for young people.
In 1959 Teresa Kruszewska tackled another large project, which she herself called "the first test of my ability to design for children." Interior furnishings financed by the American Pediatric Clinic Foundation in Krakow’s Prokocim (1959 –1961) also encompassed leisure and school rooms. The designer presented a range of innovative solutions, including reversible chairs, tables, benches, lawn chairs, desks, and shelves with swinging drawers, which prevented fingers from getting caught. The design for the clinic bore fruit in a scholarship for the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence (1966/1967). This trip and a previous three-month stay in Finland (1963/1964) enabled Kruszewska to encounter new and theretofore inaccessible technologies, and to make her approach to design more scientific. She made use of the theoretical resources she found there, collecting materials on ergonomics; and simultaneously, while in Providence, she made a preschool chair and table of bent mahogany veneer. This furniture is marked by the beauty of its lines and the proportion and lightness of its form, developed from the construction itself, and making full use of the material’s potential.
In her designs for children Kruszewska skillfully combined functions, creating "furnitoys." In doing so she used her own observations, the experience of pediatricians and child psychologists, and academic research to create a furniture style that is correct from the point of view of anatomy and physiology. It was meant to be neutral in color and child-friendly. It was meant to teach independence, assist emotional and mental development through play and education, and allow the child active participation in co-creating his/her own space. Guided by these assumptions, Kruszewska made the interiors and furnishings for the Children’s Health Center in Warsaw (1974–1975), where she brought in new designs alongside those tried and tested in the Prokocim Hospital. She presented a system of furnitoys, including screens on wheels, whose three wings had various functions: bookshelves, abacuses, and a board with holes for pinning or winding in parts of puzzles; and also, a set of eight box/blocks which pack up like Russian dolls, and thus require little room. The sides of the rectangular cubes were decorated with colorful plexiglass circles, which were both decorative and informative: they explained how to set up the pieces for various age groups. The various elements also served as furniture – chairs and stools – and had forms that encouraged children to play. Simplicity and functionality were also keys in the "growing" chair system for the tables of set height, which encouraged the integration of children of various ages. The furnishing of the center aimed to be universal and could serve other medical institutions; yet, in spite of the many presentations and awards it received, and its developed production technology, it never found wider application.
From the very beginning, Teresa Kruszewska attached a great deal of importance to design theory. She collected and independently developed materials on ergonomics, construction, and technology, in order to use it in design and teaching. She collected her own data from the 1950s onward, devoting a great deal of attention to design for children, who were her main focus. The Institute of Industrial Design (IWP), in contrast, did not develop its guidelines in the field until 1985. In the 1970s, when attention was brought to the educational function of children’s furniture, she began sharing her knowledge in a wider forum. The subject of her dissertation, the formal basis for her receiving Readership status at the Interior Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (1978), was the relationship between the development of a child’s personality and his/her surroundings. She presented the main thesis of her paper, along with toy designs of various sorts she called "funtime props," a year later at the International INTERDESIGN Symposium ’79 in Dessau.
In the early 1970s Kruszewska developed a cup-shaped seat as an extension of her explorations into plywood. The construction of the Daisy chair of 1972–1974 unfolds like the petals of a flower. This skeleton was the basis for furniture variants intended to be covered, in part or entirely, with colorful, smooth or furry upholstery that could be removed for cleaning. The entirely covered Tulip formed a leisure set (also including tables and stools) that was awarded at the "Meble ‘73" Polish Competition in Poznań. In the first half of the 1970s Kruszewska also produced a few models for organic wicker seats, and did experiments with synthetic materials. Thus emerged an orange armchair, a prototype made of materials (polyester resin and glass fibers) the designer used for the first time. However, due to health reasons and the slim potential of working with this technology in Poland, the designer did not continue these trials.
In 1977–1978 there came the "growing with children" furniture set, on commission by the National Union of Furniture Cooperatives. Together with the D+M Open System, Kruszewska developed this concept and presented it in 1980 at the first International Furniture Triennial organized in Poland. This design allowed the user to arrange the furniture to suit his/her individual taste. It was the ideal solution, given the Polish apartment space norms and the considerable needs for children’s and young people’s furniture. The system received an award, and the United Furniture Industry decided to initiate its production – though this never took place. The prototype eventually became a part of the Modern Design Center in Warsaw. Nor did the designer’s related solutions – the children’s and young people’s furniture (6-18 years) designed for Cepelia (1986/1987), and the furniture "harvester" for a children’s room (1988) – go any further. The "inability to carry through syndrome" of the People’s Republic meant that much of Kruszewska’s furniture, like that of other Polish designers, was never implemented. They remained no more than an unfulfilled promise for the Polish public, i.e., a promise of designs they expected to see not only in exhibitions, but also in stores and in their homes.
Author: Krystyna Łuczak-Surówka
Text originally published in Out of the Ordinary. Polish Designers of the 20th Century, edited by Czesława Frejlich and published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Warsaw, 2011) in cooperation with the Karakter publishing house. Translation by Søren Gauger, edited for the purposes of Culture.pl by Agnieszka Le Nart.