Kolho: A Story of Serpents, Serendipity + Creative Alchemy with a Surface that Mimics the Moon

04.16.19 | By
Kolho: A Story of Serpents, Serendipity + Creative Alchemy with a Surface that Mimics the Moon

The chair looks like a flat panel sitting on a serpent finished with a mysterious, luminous glint. The surface, inspired by the Apollo landing, is a scaled representation of the moon. The vision for this ethereal object was first formed in the small town of Kolho, Finland, and then cast onto four colors of Formica.

The Kolho chair made an appearance at Milan Design Week this year. It can be considered both a considerate collaboration and a series of coincidences between artist Matthew Day Jackson, Finnish contemporary design company Made by Choice, and the inventors of high-pressure laminate, Formica Group.

Milan Design Week installation

The chair, Kolho, is a product of serendipity. For starters, it takes the name of the Finnish town near the Serlachius Museum where Matthew was preparing for an upcoming exhibition. As Matthew later learnt, Kolho was also the birthplace of James Vehko, who emigrated to the United States and was the designer for the first Ford Motor Company all-metal automobile body. Vehko’s son, also a Kolho native, was head of Chrysler’s Space division. Kolho is also the headquarters of Formica Group’s manufacturing plant: this is the same company responsible for Formica® laminate, which has featured heavily in Matthew’s work for two decades.

When in Kolho, Matthew toured the nearby Formica factory and met Niclas, Sebastian and Lasse of Made by Choice, which led to him cold-calling Phil Wise of Formica. He then met Eva and Virginie of Formica. All of them were equally obsessed with the dining setting.

For the surface of the tables and chairs, Matthew designed a custom laminate texture with Formica Group from bespoke steel press plates that produces a scaled representation of the surface of the moon.

We went to the moon to prove we could get there first rather than to learn about it. We went to own the moon and to leave a trace of our being there. We made it a reflective surface to show us only ourselves.

– Matthew Day Jackson

Matthew Day Jackson created the designs using NASA imaging and Formica Group then translated them into the moon texture surface Matthew named “MDJ Kuu”—Kuu taking after the Finnish word for “moon.” Each etched metal plate was pressed onto four colors of Formica® laminate, a surface that is durable, easy to clean, resistant to impact, heat and scratches.

In Milan, four variations of tables and chairs in different geometries meditate on the conventions of the rectangle in the creation of what Matthew calls “the stage of the table.”

The story of Apollo, as both a NASA mission and the Greek the god of reason, is the genesis of this project. Apollo’s brother, Dionysus, reigns over ritual madness, theatre, pleasure, fertility, and of course, wine. The two contradictory temperaments meet at this table: the flat, rational plane of the table sits upon legs that curve and wind like a serpent or grapevine.

– Matthew Day Jackson

The designers explained that the serpentine form of the chair represents temptation and chaos, which in turns supports the flat plane of reason. The space between Reason and Chaos is that of PLAY.

“This is the space where our human animal truly shows its greatest self,” they said in a statement.

Keshia (Design Milk): Tell me about your color choice of brown, green, black and pink.

Matthew Day Jackson: Black was chosen because it reveals the texture the best and from the beginning, thinking of the far side of the moon I always think of it in shadow. It is not always in shadow of course, but in my mind it is dark.

Maybe it’s Pink Floyd’s fault. Strangely, Pink Floyd was always a part of discussions, but in the end it fused with joking that the table was actually inspired by Ronny James Dio who wrote “Rainbow in the Dark”.

I chose pink because I love pink, pretty simple.

I chose green because of this fantastic Prada coat that I got this last year which is very green. I also imagined the moon covered in grass by future inhabitants. My show “Pathetic Fallacy” currently on view at Hauser and Wirth Somerset has a lot of green as ways to talk about our relationship to our natural environment.

Brown, or “Earth” as Formica calls it, spoke directly to my interest in mirroring and how through the space race we treated the surface of the moon no different from any other site on earth.

Sebastian Jansson (Made by Choice): The colors were also primarily chosen from the almost infinite color range of Formica. We then matched the stain lacquer to these hues and developed a finish in terms of matte/gloss that we were all happy with.

Matthew had a very clear vision of the colors and in relation to the moon and the concept.

Keshia: What drew you to the dining setting?

Matthew Day Jackson: A dining situation is the best environment to capture the subtlety of the laminate, and it is the most fun/important part of a home. I wanted the table to be theatre uninterrupted by the height of the back of a chair, and to make a chair, although low, still comfortable making it easy for people to enjoy each other’s company. There is also the idea collapsing something seemingly discursive (lunar landing) with something as simple as eating, but in fact they are connected. Military might is connected to the quality and access to food or maybe the size and ability of a nation’s Olympic team.

Keshia: This chair is so geometrically interesting and also a little weird. Were there forms of chairs, art or sculpture that informed the shape of these chairs? Did Kolho have predecessors?

Matthew Day Jackson: The form of the chair is an abstraction of a serpent or squiggly line representing chaos or Dionysus, Apollo’s naughty brother. This squiggly serpent supports the plane and geometry of the seat holding ones body in a pose associated with dining. This represented to me a sort of “giving order” or filling a standard of geometry and comfort which represents Apollo.

Niclas Ahlström (Made by Choice): Matthew tried not to look at any chairs or tables during the design process. It looks unlike anything that I have seen. The table also has an amazing innovation that allows it to be flat-packed without screws.

Sebastian Jansson (Made by Choice): The table legs are something very unique. Matthew experimented with over 30 prototypes of chairs and tens of tables, with different approaches and variations, conscious about not looking into any existing furniture. The juxtaposes of the flat and the curl is something that has driven Matthew’s exploration in the process.

Kolho will be a permanent part of the Made by Choice collection available to purchase from Prices start at €1,200.00 for the Kolho in Brown and €2,000.00 for Kolho in Black.

Keshia grew up in Singapore and moved to the U.S. to attend Dartmouth College. When she was living abroad after graduation, a chance enrollment at the Architectural Association Visiting School led to her becoming enamored with door schedules and architectural écriture. She's particularly interested in design for aging, rural architecture, and Asian design heritage.