In March, the Norwegian furniture brand Varier released the Ekstrem in Gentle 2, a revamp of the classic Ekstrem chair that was designed by Terje Ekstrøm in 1984. Though the original chair was made out of the felt, the Ekstrem in Gentle 2 comes covered in 28 separate pieces of knitted velvet that are sewn together before being attached to the chair. This new Ekstrem, (whose form predates the almost childishly playful postmodernist Memphis furniture), looks something akin to a series of pool noodles that have been stitched together in velvet. It’s a chair that brings back a level of excitement to the current design landscape which has become increasingly Ikea-fied.
The Ekstrem’s new fabrication was developed by Kvadrat Febrik, a Dutch upholstery firm based in Tilburg. Gentle 2, as it’s referred to, is the only knitted stretch velvet textile on the market. As Kvadrat Febrik founder Jos Pelders describes it, “It’s a textile that attracts the eye of people. They really like to feel and to see it. It’s the only one stretch velvet available in the world, because it's a knitted stretch velvet instead of a classically woven velvet. Because of that you can stretch the velvet and smoothly upholster an object by just stretching it over the outside. It’s also very compact velvet so it doesn’t pile. It’s especially beautiful and smooth.”
At first glance the chair might not even resemble a chair, as there isn’t an immediately obvious way that one should sit on it. While to some this might be a barrier, for Varier, the chair’s difficulty is part of its ethos that health comes before, or at least in tandem, with aesthetics. As Varier CEO Leif Holst-Liæker puts it, “Varier is built on a philosophy that was best quoted by Peter Opsvik, ‘the next position is always the best.’ All of our furniture is designed with the needs of the human body at its core. Our bodies are not built to be static; they are built to move. However, modern lifestyle means that we are spending a significant part of our day sitting, often completely still. We are creating solutions that invite and enable the user to move while sitting. The Ekstrem is an extremely comfortable chair to sit in. However, it is also a chair that, from its design, invites and encourages the user to change positions. The alternative sitting positions on an Ekstrem chair is virtually unlimited.”
Two other Varier chairs, the Variable, and the Variable Plus, help embolden these founding principles. The Variable chair, which was designed by Peter Opsvik in 1979, is a kneeling chair with two knee rests and a seat that can be used (as the name suggests) in a variety of ways, and just like the Ekstrem, encourages people to move rather than to sit still. And last year Varier released the Variable Plus, an update to the Variable developed in close collaboration with designer Peter Opsvik. It’s basically a Variable chair with a backrest added to it, adding even more possible variation.
It makes sense that these healthy chairs are getting revamped during COVID, when many of us are spending even more time than usual sitting still at a desk. A fact not lost on Holst-Liæker. “I believe that we will see a lot of innovation in furniture design that will be driven by the effects that COVID has had on our work/life habits. The home will, for a lot of people, be both their living space and working space. The increasing need for multifunctional home furniture will create new and more unconventional furniture solutions. On our side, we want to make sure the products are attracting new consumers that are looking for great designs that are also healthy.”
But regardless of the similar undergirding principles and being made by the same company, the Ekstrem stands distinctly apart from other chairs. While the Variable can be compared to other kneeling chairs, there really isn’t any parallel to the Ekstrem, a chair that still seems wholly unique today. As Holst-Liæker says, “Today, Ekstrem is conceived both as an art piece, and also as a chair that promotes a sustainable approach to sitting. This makes a perfect marriage with Varier's core beliefs, placing wellness through motion at the center, while still representing one of Norway’s first postmodern designs. Ekstrem’s unconventional approach has had a big impact on the interior design landscape, challenging both the way we see and sit. This playful angle will always be a part of Ekstrem’s DNA. It is truly unique.”