Mention the name Verner Panton to any design enthusiast and they’re sure to smile. With his innovative use of vibrant colors and elegant shapes, it’s hard not to get a lighthearted feeling when you look at or think about Panton’s work. Born in Denmark in 1926, Panton helped bring elegant shapes and bold hues to the forefront of modern furniture. Panton’s journey to becoming one of the most influential Danish designers began after two years of military service, when he enrolled in the Royal Danish Academy of Art.
After graduating from the Academy, Panton worked with famed designer Arne Jacobsen. While the two would later become close, the initial partnership was full of friction, with Panton frequently referred to as the “enfant terrible” for his youth and rambunctious behavior. Ever the free spirit (as evidenced by a three year road trip through Europe in a VW bus), Panton branched out after just a few short years with Jacobsen and formed his own design office — from which he would solidify his reputation as an innovator of both material and design. In short, he became the furniture industry’s version of Andy Warhol.
In 1960 Panton designed the first inflatable seating. Using transparent plastic, he created furniture that you could sit in and see through, a truly groundbreaking development. Also during the 1960s, Panton designed one of his most iconic pieces and the chair that bears his name, the Panton Chair. Also known as the “Stacking Chair,” the Panton Chair was first produced by Herman Miller-Vitra in 1968. Heavily influenced by the bold shapes and colors of 1960s Pop Art, the Panton Chair was originally made from fiberglass — a revolutionary step in furniture production at the time. The Panton Chair has been referred to as the design of the era; its vibrant colors and unique design symbolize the progressive culture of the ’60s, while the progressive use of material and shape echoes the larger changes of the decade.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Panton would continue to experiment with shape, material, and design. Even though he continued to win awards throughout Europe, as the 20th century progressed Verner Panton and his designs would fall out of style, at least compared to his prominence in the 1960s. However, the late ’80s and early ’90s saw a resurgence of interest and notoriety as Verner Panton’s work and contribution became ever more popular. That prominence continues today.
In 1990, Vitra relaunched the Panton Chair and currently produces three versions. The Classic Panton Chair, made of rigid expanded plastic with a lacquered finish; the more affordable Panton Chair, made of molded plastic; and the Panton Junior for kids. Vitra’s work with the Panton Chair is representative of Panton’s broader contributions. Designers and manufacturers continue to look to his designs for influence and inspiration. Verner Panton passed away in 1998, but his contribution to modern and Danish design is undeniable.
Interested in learning more about Verner Panton’s namesake chair? Check out this video from the Victoria and Albert Museum — the current home of the original — to see how the Panton Chair is made.