This has legs: furniture designed for giant table-sized computers

computer desk
CC BY 2.0 Photo by Margaret Badore

I have long been fascinated by the question of how one integrates the digital world with the furniture that supports it; it has been a problem since the first desktop computer was plopped on a desk. It was a serious problem when the computer started moving into the living room and people started working at home; big desktop computer boxes, the wires, the mess, the different needs of work and entertainment demand different solutions.

© Julia West Home

A dozen years ago I worked with Julia West Home in Toronto on a number of designs that tried to integrate computers into furniture suitable for the living room; it never quite worked because it was so hard to deal with the big honking heavy CRT monitors. We did our photos with a lovely 17" SGI monitor that cost $ 3500 and needed a special video card; not quite ready for prime time.

Urbancase Ledge /Promo image

Then the problem went away with the move to Wifi and notebook computers; wire management became less of a problem and the big piece of furniture hiding the computer was no longer necessary. You could put your computer in something as minimal and elegant as the Urbancase ledge that I thought was best of show at ICFF three years ago.

Lenovo/Promo image

Now the problem is back, with the introduction of big honking things that are too big even to be called tablets; Lenovo calls it a "table PC. At 27", you almost could just screw four legs into it. Once again, people have to think: where do you put the thing? To their credit, Lenovo did exactly that, and commissioned three designers to look at the problem.

AT-UM/Promo image

François Chambord's AT-UM (Activity Table from UM Project, his design firm, with allusions to a Star Wars AT-AT) is a thoughtful look at the problem. The designer explains in the Lenovo blog:

The digital age is a reality. Devices and technology are less intrusive, and do not need to have a different look and feel from other artifacts in the house. More and more technology and computers will be integrated with more traditional designs and materials, yielding a style that will combine cues from the old analog world and cues from digital technologies, hopefully with a sense of playfulness.

AT-Um in action/ Photo by Margaret Badore /CC BY 2.0

The fundamental issue is how you deal with a device that is a flat table-like surface sometimes, and is vertical at other times.

When I explored options to capture this duality, I gravitated toward a design vocabulary that conveyed the mixed references: a three-legged painter easel, a workshop sawhorse, a traditional desk, an interactive kiosk. Keeping elements of all of the above and distilling them to their simplest essence through simple volumes, straight lines and warm and colorful colors and materials naturally led to the final design.

Lenovo/Promo image

There is a place for everything, yet it is still quite minimalist. François explains:

I wanted to “erase” all traditional cumbersome details of computer products like the bulky power cord or excessive wiring. Making those elements “disappear” yet integrating them in the relatively shallow tabletop proved to be challenging, but the result was worth the effort. The effect is a friendly and simple case on legs whose center of attention is the Horizon, nothing else. I also wanted to celebrate what makes the Horizon so special: the accessories. By hiding them in inconspicuous drawers and compartments, they become even more special when they are revealed.

Noisy interview of François Chambord from Lloyd Alter on Vimeo.

It's really an interesting question. Are we really back to a world where we need special furniture to optimize our use of our computers? I think it was a bold move of Lenovo's to address the issue and commission these designs, but can't help thinking that there is a disconnect between the life of a desk and that of a computer; Since I worked on that unit 12 years ago we have gone from desktop to laptop to tablet to table. What will this unit become when Lenovo introduces the next big thing? I suppose a nice glass topped desk.

TreeHouse by Judson Beaumont/CC BY 2.0

Judson Beaumont has been a regular on TreeHugger; he has a great sense of humor that he brings to his designs. I think he missed the boat on his desk for Lenovo, and will leave it at that.

Tags: ICFF/ New York Design Week | Transformer Furniture

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