Decoding Design

Hella Jongerius: the designer influencing IKEA, the U.N., and now an airline

Hella Jongerius: the designer influencing IKEA, the U.N., and now an airline

Posting in Design

With stylish, iconic projects that range from a $40 vase for IKEA to KLM's business class cabins, designer Hella Jongerius wisely partners with high-profile businesses to boost her brand--and theirs.

From curvaceous decorative vases priced for budget shoppers to rethinking the type of space where political discussions take place among top diplomats, the reach of Dutch designer Hella Jongerius is wide and varied. She collaborates with very well-recognized clients, even if her name isn't known outside of design circles. The vases by Jongerius I mentioned are popular items at IKEA. And the diplomatic space I referenced is the North Delegates' Lounge at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Now Jongerius, who is known for pairing a crafty, low-tech feel with sleek, contemporary forms, has the new task of redesigning the business class cabins for Dutch airline KLM. It's a smart design and marketing decision for both KLM and Jongerius. KLM, which has been collaborating with chic fashion designers and forward-thinking chefs from the Netherlands to help identify its brand with hip Dutch style, will continue on this path by collaborating with Jongerius, whose work has been shown in New York's Museum of Modern Art. And with the partnership, Jongerius will show off her quirky yet elegant vision to numerous business-class travelers who could very well be potential clients, too. The first planes will be remade with Jongerius's design in June 2013, and the goal is to remake a total of 22 business class cabins in KLM's fleet.

It's a move that echoes that of another well-known industrial designer, Australian Mark Newson, who designed a high-end lounge and an aircraft interior for Qantas, the Australian airline. (Some coverage of Newson's projects with Qantas weren't exactly glowing endorsements--FastCompany ran a tepid post in 2009--but the move seemed to make good business sense for both Newson and the airline.)

KLM's business executives seem excited about the Jongerius collaboration. "As a designer, Hella has broad experience which she can apply to the needs of KLM and its customers, in accordance with the specific requirements for cabin interiors in the airline industry," Erik Varwijk, Managing Director of KLM, said in a press release. "Her previous projects demonstrate her ability to process such criteria into top-quality designs such as the 'polder sofa,' which is both comfortable and beautiful."

The Polder Sofa, produced by swanky Swiss furniture maker Vitra, starts at over $9,000 and features cushions in various shapes, sizes, and textures, with decorative buttons made of natural materials like mother of pearl. The design is meant to evoke the Dutch landscape of canals, horizontal dykes, and low-lying land. The photo that KLM and Jongerius have released to illustrate their partnership features KLM's Varwijk standing behind the designer as she sits on a Polder Sofa. It's upholstered in KLM's signature royal blue--suggesting not so subtly that the Polder Sofa just might be a direct inspiration for the airline's business class seats to come.

Image: KLM

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure