Did you know that while teachers in Irish schools are supplied with ergonomic chairs on which to sit, school children spend hours each day on chairs that encourage poor posture?
“We’re training four-year-olds to sit all day on cheap furniture which is expected to last for 20 years,” says Simon Dennehy (pictured below), CEO of Perch, a company specialising in design for human movement.
This he knows from professional experience but also personal after a visit to his old primary school near Kanturk, Co Cork where he found a desk on which he had scratched his name as a boy.
An industrial design graduate, Simon returned to college in 2005 to complete a master’s degree where a conversation with his college supervisor about postural problems in orchestral musicians ultimately led to what was for him the interesting challenge of designing furniture for education under the banner of Perch which he founded five years ago.
Rather than being a design company that manufactures, research is Perch’s primary focus, which in turn leads to product design and manufacturing partnerships with companies here and abroad.
Out of this research came, initially, the Ray chair which plays to the standard definition of good design, combining function and aesthetic appeal, but Perch’s approach goes a step further.
Simon explains, “We were inspired by the Danish design movement of the 1960s and ‘70s and its focus on posture.”
Ironically, they are now selling posture back to the Danes with Ray, thanks to a partnership with Danish manufacturer Labofa, a company with a €150m annual turnover which is licensed to distribute the chair for schools, offices and healthcare in Scandinavia and soon to the US.
“We work with Laboufa on primary school furniture, for which the Ray chair was produced in junior size,” says Simon.
But their design output is far from the ugly result that sometimes comes from a finished chair that is focused design-wise on correct posture.
Aesthetics play an equally important role with reductivity being key. “We reduce the complexity of the chairs and want a huge response from the individual parts,” says Simon.
Ray is certainly a streamlined product. It’s ultra modern; echoes of mid-century modern design, but without the aesthetic of chairs found typically in commercial and educational environments.
Now Perch is making in-roads with our own education system and is currently trialling furniture in a school in Dundalk until January 2016.
Orange Box, a UK furniture manufacturer has also become a partner, working with Perch on the development of the lightweight ONE task chair which is due for realisation in the next 18 month and has less than 10 components.
Tapping into workplace trends, Perch has created the Float table and seat combination. Multiples of them can be linked together for informal meetings and discussions, and separated as needed.
Two years were spent developing the product with Bray-based furniture company Thomas Montgomery & Co, leading to its inclusion in the Year of Irish Design 2015’s presence in Milan in April, and as part of the Liminal exhibition at Wanted Design in New York in May. The exposure has already brought rewards.
“We’ve had orders from America which we never expected so soon for the company,” says Simon who heads up a team of five and brings in additional researchers from graduate programmes at the National College of Art & Design as necessary.
The future looks bright for this company that is small with just five employees but big on knowledge and ideas, and at a time when fashion dictates the shape of our chairs, with little attention to our physical needs and health, Simon sees this as an area to mine.
Admitting that Perch won’t work on school furniture design again, Simon has his sights set on other aspects of the school environment.
“Architecture, lighting and poor acoustics all need attention, all need money thrown at them.”
* Next week: wooden products.
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