Why an elephant cot?
I love animals.
Children love animals.
Animals aren’t square.
This is me rationalising the design process for Jumbo. See? I told you, I’m not a trained designer…
Now seriously, I think it’s the simplest way to explain it. I was trying to do something that pleased me as much as I hoped it’d please my soon to be born child. I wanted it to be different to what was currently out there and, very importantly, I really wished that this ‘thing’ that was going to occupy a pretty big space in his bedroom (my old beautiful study…) and where our baby would sleep for hours on end (ermmm...) would become something more than just a ‘thing’. So it’d be fair to say that the idea of an animal did come to mind pretty easily.
The elephant was also a pretty easy choice for me: put simply: I love elephants. I love their beautiful form, endearing family personality, big and strong, slow and wise, loyal and majestic in every way. They are just fantastic! We had a set of small wooden elephants at home when I was very little, my mum had bought them in Kenya and so we always imagined what their lives must have been like back home. I remember always playing with them and moving their trunks so they would point towards the window, my thinking was they probably would feel more at home and freer! But as soon as my mum would notice she would move them back pointing towards the inside of the room. She would say that it’d bring good luck if they looked towards the inside. In hindsight I guess it had something to do with Feng-Shui but we were tiny so didn’t make much of it and did it again and again! ;-)
My partner, Rafa, knows me very well. We’ve been together for donkeys years. He knows there are several ‘places’ he can go in search for birthday/special events presents where he can never go wrong. Design is one of them. Luckily for him we live in a small flat so he’s got a good excuse to buy ‘small’ design pieces ;-) So I’ve got a few little cute things like the Eero Aarnio orange Puppy and of course, the Eames’ Elephant and this was such a huge inspiration for me!
The Eames designed this beautiful piece back in the mid 40s using plywood, they were such an amazing pioneering couple, playing with the use of new materials and manufacturing techniques. At the time they were developing the techniques involved in bending plywood when they designed this timeless icon. Sadly, the plywood model never made it into production but it is now produced using plastic, so not all is lost.
I set out on a mission to give the usual rectangular shaped cot a curvy and elegant elephant shape. I wasn’t going to try and bend the plywood, in a way my woodworking brain was telling me that would over complicate things, but I was going to use the shapes and produce much more fluid, organic lines. Surprisingly, the body shape lent itself quite nicely to the square structure of the cot (remember the mattress is still square, so I had to stick to that!) and was very pleased with ‘the look’.
Now it was time to think about how it all fitted together. The most important element for me here had to be how easily the cot bed was put together. Another one of my favourite designers is the Danish Hans J. Wegner. In my humble opinion, he is the best chair designer ever. Everything about his chairs is just superb, the design, the materials, the techniques, the finish, the quality… are simply awe-inspiring. Also during the mid 40s he designed his fantastic “Peter’s Chair and Table”. He designed it as a present for a friend’s baby as he couldn’t find anything he deemed good enough to buy for him. Now, I can certainly relate to that!
So drawing inspiration from his fantastic children’s set, I decided I wanted to make something that even children could put together (in the case of Jumbo the cot they could not, but only due to this particular elephant’s size! But of course with the toy cots Jumbito and Zorro and our storage box Tui this is exactly one of the highlights of the designs!) also very importantly I didn’t want to have screws visible once assembled: it had to be clean, uninterrupted. So I designed the way it was all put together in a similar fashion where by the body pieces simply slide onto each other and provide a very strong and clean joint. This complicates the manufacturing process to a crazy degree and is basically the reason why each one of these cots is made to order: they can’t be produced in volume! But it is such an important element of this design; in my mind it is these details that make it all worth it.
Another one of these details is the way the elephant’s face slides into the main body. This proved a little trickier, though after some head scratching, ignoring all advice from workshops to drop the idea of attaching it without fittings (I am sure they still think I’m mad…) and testing other ideas out I found a suitable way to make it fit without the use of any hardware and this, in turn, opened a very surprising opportunity to add another fantastic element to the design: the book shelf!
So the essence of the design has remained pretty much unchanged throughout the development stages: minor aesthetic elements have changed and some structural parts have had to change particularly when it came to adhering to the safety standards which were clearly essential to go ahead with this venture but nothing significant at all. It feels good that after all this time it still remains true to that original vision.