All images courtesy Stelton
The term ‘coffee pot’ evokes for me childhood memories of 1970s percolators, now often redundant thanks to an appetite for cafetieres or pod coffee makers. A coffee pot was something I’d find at the back of a cupboard when visiting my parents, but nowhere else. That was until a few years ago, when I saw a coffee pot so beautiful that I had to have it, for no other reason than to admire its perfect design. This was my first encounter with the coffee pot designed by Arne Jacobsen for Stelton’s Cylinda-line range. The range consists of crisp, minimal, stainless steel cylinders, complemented by elegant detail in the long spouts and sculpted handles. So taken am I with the purity of the designs that I have since expanded my own collection to include a Cylinda-line creamer and sugar bowl.
Cylinda-line: Arne Jacobsen and Stelton
In 1967, Stelton was a largely unknown Danish tableware manufacturer, until it launched the Cylinda-line range, a hit then and ever since. With design input from mid-century great Arne Jacobsen, this is perhaps no surprise. It begs the question, just how did the small Danish manufacturer manage to secure the design skills of the legendary architect-designer? I delve into the archives and discover that in 1964 the company’s MD was Peter Holmblad, the step-son of Arne Jacobsen. And he new exactly how to play his step-father. Holmblad had long hoped to harness Jacobsen’s genius and showed his step-father his own design for a stainless-steel double server, the new indispensable feature of the American buffet piece that had been commissioned by US retailer Bloomingdale’s. Holmblad knew that Jacobsen wouldn’t be able to resist the challenge of improving upon his clumsy sketches, and sure enough, he took the bait.
Cylinda-line: Arne Jacobsen’s good design for everyone
Holmblad had long wanted to create an entire series of stainless steel hollowware that was cylindrical in form and he persuaded Arne Jacobsen to collaborate with him on the groundbreaking project that was to result in Cylinda-line. Arne Jacobsen’s original sketches for the range show clearly the pared-down, crisp, cylindrical shape, which was unlike anything else on the market at the time. Jacobsen and Holmblad aimed to produce a range that combined form and function at an affordable price point. They would need to use industrial materials and techniques to achieve this, an idea that built on Arne Jacobsen’s own democratic principles – good design should be available to everyone.
Cylinda-line: design challenges
Stelton collaborated with manufacturers Danish Steel to produce the range, and they worked hard to overcome the many manufacturing challenges posed by Cylinda-line. Previous production techniques with steel meant that a container’s sides and base usually met at an obtuse angle rather than the right-angle that was key to Jacobsen’s design. In order to achieve the cylindrical form, Jacobsen initially specified stainless steel pipe instead of traditional steel plate, but when this proved impossible to polish sufficiently, Danish Steel developed a system of bending a sheet of steel around a roller and welding it together. This sounds straightforward, but it was the first time it had been done. Jacobsen was adamant that the join should be invisible and new machinery had to be invented to massage away the welded joins. Plastic was used for the handles, rather than the traditional wood.
Cylinda-line: the launch
It took three years to develop the full range, which was finally launched in 1967. Arne Jacobsen and Stelton applied the same rigorous approach to the design of every item in the 15-piece collection, from coasters to cocktail shakers, teapots to sugar bowls. It was named Cylinda-line and through Jacobsen’s innovative design, it was unique from any tableware available at the time. Despite the affordable price point, the pieces were packaged like collector’s items, in a beautiful cylindrical packing, designed by Jacobsen himself.
Cylinda-line: critical acclaim
Jacobsen was clearly proud of this departure into tableware: the Cylinda-Line launch coincided with a major exhibition of Jacobsen’s work and the range was prominently displayed. The Cylinda-Line collection quickly gained recognition throughout the design world. In 1967 it received the prestigious Danish ID Design award, given to the very best of industrial design and the following year Stelton received the International Design Award of the American Institute of Interior Designers. This design partnership between Arne Jacobsen and Stelton provided the platform to transform the company from a small artisan stainless steel maker into an industrial-scale manufacturer. By 1970, the company had three factories running at full steam, and even then it was difficult to keep up with worldwide demand for Cylinda-line.
Cylinda-line: a design classic today
While Stelton have since added other iconic designs to their production, Cylinda-line has remained a constant. They even introduced an updated take on the coffee pot in 2004, a press-top coffee maker of the same dimensions as Jacobsen’s original 1.5-litre coffee pot, to cater for the contemporary market. Cylinda-line is without doubt a design classic – a perfect manifestation of Jacobsen’s Modernist ideals. Both MOMA in New York and London’s V&A have added pieces from the range to their permanent collections. The coffee pot is certainly given pride of place in my own permanent collection, and while I tend to use it for serving fancy hot chocolate more often than coffee, I get to admire one of the most pure examples of Arne Jacobsen’s design every single day.
Cylinda-line coffee press, 2004
To view the full Cylinda-line range, visit Stelton
For more information on Arne Jacobsen and the Cylinda-line range, check out the V&A archive
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