I travel a fair bit with my job, it's a hassle - but it's just the way it is. Other people see it as a perk but the reality of pulling yourself out of bed at 4am to drive to the airport to land somewhere in Europe to present at a meeting is about as far from glam as glam gets.
But sometimes it is pretty cool and despite flying into Oslo on a dark and very snowy morning with a migraine from hell I managed to pull myself together and regain my composure before heading over to interview a man who has had a major presence in my house for the last ten years. I was meeting the design icon Peter Opsvik - the man who designed the Tripp Trapp chair.
The Story of Tripp Trapp
The story of the birth of the Tripp Trapp chair has been much told in Stokke circles but here we take a look at the man behind the chair; the award winning designer Peter Opsvik.
Born in Norway in 1939, Peter studied art through his early twenties, graduating from Bergen Arts School in 1963 before taking a position as an Industrial Designer at Tandberg Radio, Oslo. The five years that he spent there were far from un-eventful, whilst his ‘day job’ saw him producing some now iconic portable radios, his love for furniture design was being unveiled to a larger audience.
In 1966 he was awarded a design scholarship from ‘The Norwegian Credit Bank’ and the following year whilst still working part time at Tandberg, Peter’s collaboration with Stokke began.
I met with Peter at his Oslo studio on a very cold and snowy afternoon to talk to him about the concept and development of the Tripp Trapp chair.
Me: Tripp Trapp is now an iconic product used by millions of families right across the world. When you were creating it did you have any idea how innovative it really was?
Peter: Highchairs date back to Egyptian times yet whilst they had a function they had still not been ‘designed’. A highchair was a one size fits all – yet we know that all children are not the same size. Inevitably your old fashioned highchair had a very limited use time when it was the correct size for your child and after witnessing this with my own son – I saw that it really didn’t have to be this way.
I wanted to create a chair that could grow and adapt to a child’s changing needs whilst allowing freedom of movement – but of course I had no idea just how successful it would become.
An early Tripp Trapp development sketch by Peter.
Me: What was the highchair market like in the early 1970’s?
Peter: All of the chairs were static. Tripp Trapp was the very first children’s chair with the ability to adjust. This came with it’s own set of issues as the ergonomic factors of the chair were not easy to explain to a generation of parents who had been brought up using traditional seating.
Me: Did you always intend Tripp Trapp to be a chair for life?
Peter: Yes. Pre 1972 a highchair was something that was only used for such a short period and then discarded. I don’t like throw away culture and there was no reason not to produce something that is built to be used daily and passed down from generation to generation. Longevity is a significant contribution to the concept of sustainable design.
Me: How much does sustainable design impact on your work?
Peter: It varies a lot, I prefer to develop light wooden based furniture but I think that my contribution environmentally has been in at least attempting at longevity.
Me: Do you think that sustainable design principles will become important for all designers?
Peter : Industrial products produced on a global scale can hardly be described as being truly sustainable, but I do hope that all designers will do their best to develop products that do as little damage as possible to the environment.
Me: How did the nursery industry take to your advanced concept?
Peter: Well, for twenty years it was really a stand-alone product. No other manufacturer was producing chairs that came close to the usability or life span of Tripp Trapp. Of course that has now changed and adjustable chairs are now a category of their own.
Me: Which leads me very neatly onto my next question… How do you feel when someone presents an evolution of one of your products?
Peter: Evolution is OK; if the concept has been improved, but lousy copies are not and I have to say that there are lots of the latter.
Me: So when creating a new product would it be fair to say that one of your considerations would be what is currently available and how well it does the job that is required of it?
Peter: Yes, absolutely – I try to look for gaps in the market where there are holes that I can fix. Tripp Trapp fixed a very big hole. For the first time children were able to sit comfortably and share mealtimes with the rest of their family and on their own terms. Children should be allowed the freedom to come and go, it encourages independence and social skills that can be easily lost in this modern hectic life. Sitting at the table should be fun.
Me: And finally.. Even though it is nearly forty years old Tripp Trapp is still the epitome of modern design. How did you do that?
Peter: Simply by not following fashion. If I had been inspired by 70’s kitchen furniture Tripp Trapp would now look very dated indeed.