Panton was born in Denmark in 1926. After training at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen he was fortunate enough begin work at the architectural practice of another great Dane, Arne Jacobsen. Jacobsen must have seen a kindred spirit in the young Panton and the pair collaborated closely on a number of experimental furniture designs.
By 1955 Panton had outgrown his master and took the bold step if opening his own office in Binningen, Switzerland. Success followed almost immediately and Thonet began to produce his laminated wood zig-zag chair. Despite his success with furniture design it was as an experimental architect that Panton was rallying making a splash. His collapsable cardboard house (1957) and later plastic house (1960) became legendary works of architectural envelope pushing.
Panton was also developing a taste for bold colouring. The psychedelia of the 1960’s and 1970’s were made for him. Bold purples, oranges and geometric patterns became his calling card which, combined with his fluid organic unconstrained shapes optimised the era. He took his love of bold colour to the extreme when he designed a breathtaking tourist restaurant in Denmark. Heralded as ‘the most untraditional restaurant in Denmark’ (no doubt seen by Panton as a great accolade) it had glass walls, red ball lights, red furniture, red tablecloths. Even the waitresses wore head to toe red.
It was from this era that the chair that was to define the man was to be created. The ‘Panton Cantilever” or ’S’ chair, now in it’s fifth incarnation and still going strong. Initially created in fibreglass resin but heralded as the first all plastic, single piece cantilever chair. Lightweight, stackable and durable the chair featured in cutting edge room design through the 1960’s and is still specified as a dining chair today from family homes to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant ’15’.
in 1968 Panton came to the attention of the chemical company Bayer. Keen to show the possibility of recently invented plastic foams and synthetic fibres, Panton was the obvious choice. The result was Visiona, a masterpiece of pop design. This was ‘total interior’. Each room had it’s own colour scheme, bespoke furniture, Draylon rugs, pleasant fragrances and sixties sound effects, all in the hull of a Rhine steamer! Two years later Bayer and Panton went a step further. Visiona II, conceived in collaboration with Joe Colombo and Oliver Mourgue, was considered to be the first complete synthetic landscape.
Over the decades that followed he produced work for Herman Miller, Vitra, Danese Milano, Louis Poulsen and Ikea, to name but a few. Panton died in 1998 leaving a wonderful catalogue of radical chair designs, outlandish interiors, psychedelic lighting and offbeat objects.