- How things are made: the Ahrend WELL COLLECTION
Is it possible to combine excellent seating comfort and a beautiful design? Absolutely, is what designer Kees de Boer thought. With the brand new WELL COLLECTION, he brought his idea of a universal chair to life. After years of trying, measuring and perfecting, he explains how the process went ánd what the secret of such a comfortable chair is.
At the drawing table
The product developers are working in silence at the development department of the Ahrend Development Centre in Amsterdam. Kees browses through the folders on his computer, looking for the first sketches of the WELL. ‘These are from 2012,’ shows Kees. ‘But the official start was in 2014.’ Usually, the designer bases a visitor- and conference chair on an existing desk chair, so they can be combined in one space. However, that was not the case for the WELL COLLECTION. ‘We wanted to create an individual and universal chair, that can be used widely. And of course offers an excellent seating comfort!’
At the start of the process, Kees filled many sketch books with his drawings. ‘When my children went to their rescue swimming class, I easily filled two pages with new ideas while sitting at the pool.’ And don’t forget the 3D CAD sketches on A3 size. ‘They hardly fit in the filing cabinet anymore,’ says Kees.
From sketch to comfort
‘After the sketching comes the most important part, at least in my opinion: deciding the shape of the seating and the back rest. In this case, we combined them, thus creating a seat shell. That’s something that really needs to be done perfectly,’ explains Kees. ‘With a template, we test whether the chair is comfortable enough. With ‘we’ I mean really everyone.’ Because tall or short, large or small: everyone has to be able to enjoy the excellent seating comfort of the WELL COLLECTION. With his 1,90 meters, Kees is the perfect ambassador for tall people. ‘Luckily there are plenty of people here that love to test the chair. Sometimes I ask my wife to help me out, she is a bit shorter than I am.’ A chair with a relatively short seat eventually appeared to be the most comfortable for everyone.
Kees checks whether the pressure points are divided equally using measuring instruments, making sure the seating comfort is optimal. ‘Perfecting is about creating the ultimate shape by making tiny adjustments. It takes a lot of precision and patience.’ And that cavity in the seat? That allows you to sit comfortably, whatever shape your body is, explains Kees. ‘We all think we are very unique, but our hip bones are almost equally wide apart. The cavity supports your hips, while the rest of your weight is divided over the seating.
That other interesting curve in the back rest has two purposes. Kees: ‘It prevents a back ache, as there is not too much pressure on one point of your back. Next to his, the curve creates a space for your behind: it allows you to move all the way to the back of the chair.’ The curves disappear graciously, making the chair look simple and geometrical. ‘Although the shell is organic,’ shows Kees with a cross section in the 3D CAD system. ‘That is exactly why you can sit comfortably for a long period of time.’
It takes a village to perfect a chair
‘A visitors and conference chair has to sit perfectly. A desk chair is adjustable, and therefore easy to adapt to your own preferences. But this chair needs a standard shape that pleases as many people as possible.’ Next to the people that test how the chair sits, the feedback on the prototype comes from many different parties. ‘We discuss it with the marketing team, product developers, account managers and the studio. Everyone has their own feedback: accounts managers think with regard to the needs of the client, while the studio checks if a chair still looks good standing underneath a table.’ After years of experience, Kees and his colleagues also know what does and doesn’t work. ‘We get feedback from the market continuously. Caps to prevent a chair from tilting underneath a cantilever chair? In theory that’s smart, but they get stuck when a chair stands on a carpet. So you have to think of an alternative.’
‘The biggest obstacle was to make the chair small and light – literally and figuratively. If a chair is too big and heavy, it’s hard to move around.’ At the same time it had to be a chair that seats everyone, however large or small you are. ‘After a lot of trying, measuring, perfecting and testing, we managed to achieve all of our goals.’
Sit WELL, Feel WELL, Look WELL
With 8 frames, 10 synthetic colors and 4 upholstery options, the WELL can be combined endlessly. ‘The chair with the sled base is my favorite,’ Kees says determined. ‘Because the lining of the chair continues beautifully into the framework, the design is very calm.’ But as Kees’ eyes wander over the sketches hanging next to his desk, the sled base appears not to be his only favorite. ‘The 5-star base is also very beautiful. Normally, a chair with this base can be a bit messy. But because the arm rests are adapted to the shape of the back rest, the product remained calm.’ Kees also expects the cantilever frame to be a hit. ‘Especially in countries with a preference for traditional furniture, this chair will be popular. In the Netherlands we are more into Scandinavian design: clean and natural. The wood base is good example of a chair that would work well here.’
During the design process, Kees started to play with different frames out of enthusiasm. This is when the chair appeared to be ideal to extend to a full family range. ‘It became a chair that fits in every surrounding: in a traditional project, but I could also place it at home.’ In the meanwhile, Kees keeps on experimenting. ‘New shells, frames, fabrics. I am not sure how this will be visible in the collection, but it proves: the WELL is an extremely versatile chair!’
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