British homeware brand OKA has teamed up with architect, artist and industrial designer Ron Arad to create a limited-edition chair. It’s not the most obvious pairing, but that is presumably the point. Arad is a man who wears many hats, both literally and figuratively, and although architect trained he approaches projects more like an artist in an unconstrained, freewheeling way, which often produces inspired results. The scope of output from his multidisciplinary Camden studio is vast from eyewear and furniture to architecture, such as the soon to be completed ToHA tower complex in Tel Aviv.
However, it’s the artistry behind Arad’s work that initially appealed to OKA, says creative director and co-founder Sue Jones. Soon to celebrate 20 years in business, OKA decided it would be a ‘fun, interesting idea to push the boundaries’ and approach an external talent to design something for the brand. Arad’s name came up during a chance meeting at a dinner party, which led to a studio visit by Jones, when the pair bonded. ‘I didn’t know what to expect,’ she admits, ‘I’d seen his work but didn’t realise everything was so usable and incredibly comfortable. At OKA we have to create comfort with something like feathers, but Ron manages to do it with a piece of wood, or steel or metal. It’s amazing.’
For Arad, exploring a different territory, quite distinct from designing for brands like Vitra or Moroso appealed. ‘OKA is the other side of the spectrum from what I do, although of course it’s actually the same – a chair or sofa is to be sat on. I was impressed by their care, taste and consistency. To me, the brand seemed the epitome of Englishness’ he says.
And so, the project was born. Arad selected OKA’s bestselling oak and wicker Washakie velvet dining chair and ‘interfered’ with it in an archetypally Arad way. ‘I used to do this thing called ‘Chair by its Cover’. I’d go to Camden Market pick up a chair and play with it to make it mine. And I miss that, so here was a chance for me to return to that.’
Unveiled at an exclusive dinner during PAD, the throne-like ‘AKO’ is evocative of Arad’s late 1980s pieces that saw him enveloping a simple secondhand timber chair in sculptural stainless steel. The Washakie dining chair wears a high collar-like coat of highly reflective copper and stainless steel which reflects a distorted mirror image of the chair and the words ‘Reserved/Reversed’ that are painted on its rear.
Arad says he’s interested in changing the experience and behaviour of the user. ‘Making a comfortable chair is easy. I wanted to add something about sitting, from a dining chair it becomes a throne, you enjoy sitting on it, but differently,’ he says. Jones loves the drama of the piece. ‘People tend to buy dining chairs as a set, but I love the idea of one being more special than another.’
AKO is priced at £18,000 and available to buy exclusively via theinvisiblecollection.com with the original prototype due to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2020.