The Cone Chair that brought New York traffic to a standstill
Verner Panton, a jovial bearded Dane with a dog called Happy, looked at the world with a sense of childlike awe, enthusiastically embracing new materials and a bold colour palette. Conjuring up sculptural creations for the Pop age without compromising on quality, his work showed a man playing as passionately with design as a child would with his toys.
When the Cone Chair was first exhibited in the window of a furniture shop in New York, traffic police were called in to stop cars from swerving into each other as drivers became distracted by the chair’s unusual cornet shape.
This chair had no obvious back, no legs and was a grand departure from the wooden and cane furnishings seen in Danish homes at the time. Originally designed for Komigen (Come Again), his parents’ quirky new restaurant on His birth island of Fünen.
Panton hoped some of his designs would attract attention, and they did. He used five different shades of red throughout the building he decorated for his father, creating red lacquered metal hanging lamps with reflectors connected by threads and dressing staff in a lighter shade of the same colour.
For the Cone Chair, Panton lightly padded a thin sheet-steel frame with polyurethane foam, then added upholstery and seat cushions. The semi-circular padded shell extended upwards across the back and armrests and tapered down into a point on a cross-shaped metal base on plastic glides. The heart-felt commission from his father paid off when Danish textile entrepreneur, Percy von Halling-Koch spotted the Cone Chair at the restaurant’s opening and offered to put it into production.
A Cone with a heart-shaped back was produced the same year. At first Fritz Hansen wanted to manufacture the controversial chair and its matching stool as they were already producing Panton’s Bachelor and Tivoli chairs, but after they pulled out, von Halling-Koch was given free rein to create Plus-linje, a new company created to make a star out of the Panton Cone.
The Cone caused even more controversy when in 1961 the Danish design magazine Mobilia let Panton drape his chairs with naked shop mannequins and models for a shoot. Sales were good and Panton produced a more transparent Wire Cone Chair with bent steel upholstered minimally with round leather pads in 1963.