When I think of modernist designers, Niko Kralj isn’t the first name that springs to mind. In fact, I knew nothing of him until I discovered Utopiast, an online store specialising in South and Eastern European design. Drawn to the minimalist shape of a plywood chair I was surprised to find that the original design was 60 years old. So who was Niko Kralj?
A true innovator of minimalist design, this architect and industrial designer hailed from Slovenia. In 1952, Kralj made the first steps towards creating the Rex Chair in 1952. This moulded plywood, slatted design would become a familiar piece in post-war Slovenian homes with its light-weight form and ability to fold away. In 1956, The Rex Lounge chair, Rocker and Daybed of the same composition would follow to complete the collection. He would become known for his simplistic forms, finding ways to join the wood using a minimal amount of screws and bolts. During his lifetime, Kralj would go on to make some of the most important contributions to functional, modernist design.
Continuing his legacy, Studio Rex Kralj was established in 2011, taking inspiration from Kralj’s name in Latin, also Slovenian for ‘king’. The studio has since reissued some of his more iconic designs, particularly those that never saw it to production. Among them sits the Mosquito chair, designed in 1953, the Stool CC and my personal favourite – the Shell Lounge. The brand new ‘Variations’ catalogue is full to the brim with utterly beautiful, minimalist styling, showing the collection in different finishes and colourways.
Working in collaboration with contemporary designers, the studio has brought new variations into the collection, including German fashion designer Lili Radu and her colourful take on the upholstered Shell Lounge. New table designs based on Kralj’s original cross section seen in the Stool CC extend the collection. The almost disconnected surface gives the appearance of the floating which adds to the spacious feel of the design. I think my new favourite dining chair is the 4455 (below) with its curved back which comes in a velvet edition too.
So now you know who Niko Kralj is if you didn’t already. His work deserves to be shouted from the rooftops, and under the direction of the studio they translate so well into contemporary living, don’t you think?