Behind the Design:
A Tribute to Verner Panton
From his deep roots in Danish design history to his forward-looking approach
to modern pop-art creations, we celebrate the legacy of Verner Panton
in the year of his 90th birthday.
Written by Kelsey Kittle
Say the words "Scandinavian design" to most design aficionados and they’ll likely extol the virtues of bare wood, white marble, organic curves and muted palettes—and they won’t be wrong. But they also won’t describe the work of Verner Panton, who arguably tops a short list of the most influential Danish designers of all time. Panton passed away in 1998, leaving behind a body of work that remains relevant and in production by studios like Louis Poulsen, Vitra and, of course, Verpan.
Verner Panton trained as an architect at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and started out working in Arne Jacobsen’s practice. His childhood desire to become an artist led him to open his own design studio, where he could experiment and innovate to his heart’s content—and Panton lived to innovate. His insatiable drive to create excitement in his environment saw him depart from the traditionally held notions of Danish modern design and embark on a more adventurous path. Although color remains his most notable medium, form was never far behind; his best work combined the two in unforgettably modern fashion.
“The main purpose of my work is to provoke people into using their imagination.”
While notions of excitement and whimsy punctuate the Panton catalog, his designs are also notably sophisticated and superbly engineered. These Scandinavian design rules weren’t ignored, rather they were incorporated into Panton’s process and serve to ensure his surprising designs and color choices remain classy, not kitschy. Elegant, sinuous silhouettes and carefully considered comfort points are paramount in each product’s design and ensure a lifetime of fun function.
Eschewing the simple, organic forms and finishes typical to Scandinavian mid-century design, Panton instead pursued color and new materials. Innovations in plastics manufacturing in the 1960s in particular fueled a pop-art explosion of molded polycarbonate designs, and the Panton Chair goes down in design history as one of the most iconic plastic chairs of all time. This seamless design is as easy on the body as it is on the eyes: Sturdy and stable, the seat has a bit of give, with comfortable back support and a front contour that keeps the hard material from biting into the backs of knees.
For what would have been Panton’s 90th birthday, Louis Poulsen has released the Mini Panthella in a collection of bright colors curated from Panton’s last project, Lyset og Farven (Light and Color). The lamp is a smaller version of the Panthella Table Lamp, but produced with a painted metal shade according to Panton’s original idea. In 1971, when Panton himself partnered with Louis Poulsen to create the Panthella, the technology didn’t yet exist to produce such a design with these materials. The resulting lamp is cheeky but sophisticated—and quintessentially Panton.