The local tradition of cutting edge design dates back at least to the First Republic, when Czechoslovakia established itself as the home of innovative thinking. Cubism took root in the Czech lands even before the firstworld war and flourished afterward, giving rising to Rondocubism, sometimes called the National Style. Functionalism gained promience here before the devastation of the second world war and produced such treasures as the Tugendhat villa in Brno, the Müller villa in Prague, and the Bat’a department store on Wenceslas Square.
Czech designers have also left their indelible mark on the history of practical objects. Škoda automobiles were long noted for their original appearance and highly prized among the eastern bloc states under communism. Tatra lorries are legendary worldwide for their performance on worksites and at the annual Dakar rally. Czech design has always been about bringing quality into all areas of life, whether it is Bat’a shoes on our feet, an ETA iron in our home, or Krtek in our children’s books and on TV.
Czech design classics are seeing a comeback. Young designers Jan Kloss and Jakub Korouš have given Botas trainers a new lease on life. The Igráček plastic action figures that entertained Husák’s children will soon be back on store shelves. Even prefab panelák high-rises are getting makeovers as they become the most affordable housing option in the country.
We’ve selected some of the most promising young designers working in the Czech Republic today. Some are emerging as major international talents, with impressive lists of clients and achievements. Others demonstrate a unique vision and independent spirit which revitalises the way we live, work and dress.
Focus: Household accessories, furniture
Training: Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design
Clients: Process, Jungmann and Neffe, Lucis
Lucie Koldová has a busy autumn ahead. The first stop on the designer’s itinerary is the international home show Macef Milano, where she’ll be exhibiting a home fitness project. Then it’s on to London, where she’ll be at 100% Design, an interiors and architecture event. She’ll be showing off a table she designed for the Czech furniture manufacturer Process. “It’s a multifunctional table with different shapes that you can store things in. Everything is contained within the table,” Koldová said.
October sees her participating in Vienna Design Week. She is one of 10 European designers invited to participate in the event, at which the group’s task is not just to exhibit, but also to design interiors for particular stores. Koldová’s shop is Jungmann and Neffe, a luxury menswear store with a long tradition in Vienna, so she is using textiles in her creation.
“I usually don’t work with fabric, so it’s something completely different than what I’m used to doing,” Koldová said. “The shop to me has a royal treatment concept, so I’m designing a throne for them. It’ll have special lamps on the side, and I’ll use the fabric in the shades. I’ll do it in a modern way. It’ll be nice to create something contemporary for this traditional store.”
Meanwhile, she is quite busy with a number of creative orders. Currently working with Brno-based lighting manufacturer Lucis, she’s designed a series of hanging lamps called Magic Hats. “They are in the mock-up phase right now, and then we’ll decide which collection to use,” she said. “They are like bizarre, fairytale hats, really huge. They’ll dominate the space.”
Koldová is interested in affordable everyday pieces and is particularly drawn to furniture. “I like chairs and lamps the best; I don’t know why,” she said. “Maybe because these things surround you in normal life. People are interested in these products as well, because they need them.”
Koldová believes chairs are the most difficult furniture to design because of the ergonomic criteria that must be taken into consideration. Lighting is also tough because of the technical elements. She has both a chair and a light available in the gift shop at the Dox Centre for Contemporary Art in the Holešovice neighbourhood.
Originally from Ústí nad Labem, Koldová came to Prague as an athlete – she’s a Czech champion in both the triple jump and long jump – and stayed to attend the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. Now she is looking to broaden her experience outside of the country, in London, perhaps, or maybe in Paris. “I’m happy here, but the situation is difficult,” she explains. “We have so many skilful people and not many interesting jobs.”
Koldová involves herself in the design process from start to finish. She knows what she wants to accomplish in her career: “I would like to reveal, but also offer, myself through my products. Hopefully, I can offer something more. Design doesn’t just serve the commercial world; it’s artistic. I hope I’ll be useful.”
Focus: Products and interiors
Training: Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design
Clients: Indeco, Teroforma, mmcité
Roman Vrtiška is a 2008 graduate of the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. His clients include furniture makers such as the Czech Republic’s Indeco and mmcité and the US-based Teroforma. For two years he’s been working on a modular bench system for cities in co-operation with mmcité. The metal benches double as protection grates for trees because, he says, people prefer to sit near nature. The concept grew out of Vrtiška’s frustration with the way pedestrian areas in cities were disappearing. He wants to “get people on the streets” and make cities more alive by allowing their residents to interact in public instead of being forced inside. “I wanted to make a bench that would have more functions; with trees you need the grating on the ground, around the base, but, once you have that, you can’t have a bench so I integrated both,” he said. “The perforated grates allow you to add other functions; it can be railing, light, ashtray, bench.”
Vrtiška spent his summer working on two projects. Together with his colleague Vladimír Žák, he’s designing interiors at the Moods boutique hotel, set to open in Prague 1 in December. Vrtiška says the 51-room hotel is the largest project that he and Žák have ever tackled and it has taken longer than any other. The pair started work last December, and, while some design decisions had already been made, they are responsible for the reception desk, bar and some furniture for the rooms.
Vrtiška is particularly proud of the chairs he designed for the hotel’s multipurpose room for meetings, parties or other functions. “It’s a rectangular chair that, when turned upside down and fitted together with another chair, can be stacked against the wall,” he said. “They are made from a block of foam material. They eliminate waste because, with one cut from the block, you get two chairs.”
That balance between function and design is an important one for Vrtiška. “I want to bring a concept into production to solve a problem,” he said. “I really prefer to handle design development as I always discover some new principles, even in the small details.”
Vrtiška and Žák also recently put the finishing touches on a coffee shop in the new National Technical Library in Prague. The project was not without challenges. “There are acoustic problems. The space is all in concrete with exposed wiring above,” Vrtiška said. “It’s a nice structure, nice looking, but wasn’t working very well, lots of echoes.” Their solution was to design a decorative wall that would solve the acoustics problem. They are also working on the lighting system and designing a table in which the menus are built in.
“I’m happy to just design products,” Vrtiška said. “I always say the best thing is seeing people use your product and hearing them say that it makes their life better.”
Vrtiška’s Limpido benches can be found in the historic downtown of Cheb, in western Bohemia. His interior design can be seen in the show flat in the Cornlofts Šaldova project by the Real Estate Karlín Group in Prague 8.