Dezeen Magazine

Red chair against a red backdrop

Jumbo designs fortune cookie-shaped chair for Heller

The puffed and pinched appearance of Chinese fortune cookies informed the design of this plastic armchair created by Brooklyn studio Jumbo for US manufacturer Heller.

The Fortune chair was designed by Jumbo founders Justin Donnelly and Monling Lee to evoke the instantly recognisable form of the cookies often served in Chinese restaurants.

Lee, who emigrated to the US from Taiwan when she was 13, has fond memories of her first family visit to a Chinese restaurant where she enjoyed breaking open a cookie to reveal its fortune.

This experience informed a design that playfully reinterprets the cookie's pinched-circle shape as a chair with bilateral symmetry – meaning it retains the same shape when flipped over.

Jumbo has created a chair for US manufacturer Heller

"Our studio is always looking for ways to make objects that are more reductive than those that have come before," Lee and Donnelly told Dezeen. "One way we do this is to push symmetry, especially bilateral symmetry."

"The human body is not bilaterally symmetrical, so we have developed several tricks to make this work," the designers added. "By puffing up the forms, these simple, platonic geometries can become much more comfortable."

The two friends originally designed the Fortune chair in 2020 as a part of their Creature Comfort collection, which was presented online as a series of digital models.

The chair was intended to be made from aluminium, but in 2022 Heller president and CEO John Edelman spotted it on Instagram and suggested the company look to manufacture it in plastic.

Maroon chair against a cream back drop
Its folded shape was informed by a fortune cookie

According to the designers, the initial intention was to use injection moulding to achieve a thin shell and cantilevered seat, however, the cost of creating stainless steel moulds proved prohibitively expensive.

Switching to rotation moulding and a double-walled construction meant removing the cantilever and creating an organically shaped seat that is both more comfortable and more affordable to produce.

The chair, which can be used indoors or outdoors, is manufactured using more then 25 per cent recycled post-consumer plastic and is 100 per cent recyclable.

A key objective was to ensure the chair could be used comfortably for sustained spells, so the design had to allow for movement between upright and slouched seating positions.

Maroon and black chairs
The chair can be used indoors or outdoors

Following a process involving the production of several full-size prototypes, the team developed a solution with a continuous surface that can support the back in different ways.

The Fortune chair is produced in six colours, which Jumbo's founders explained are based on their passion for food and its ability to connect with viewers on an emotional level.

"Our studio is deeply interested in colour and how the combination of form and colour can affect us psychologically," said Lee and Donnelly. "As a result, we use food-themed colours for most of our projects."

"We have found that food colours, shapes and textures can create deep personal resonances and emotional affects."

A cookie-dough colour was an obvious choice and is joined by rich olive and black cherry hues. Heller's classic colours of white, black and red are also tweaked to bring them closer to oatmeal, liquorice and summer tomato.

"When you make a Pop shape, we think it is wise to colour it in a way that is moody and sophisticated," the designers added. "We also think of colours as an ensemble. It's important to us that someone could purchase all six chairs, and none of them would look out of place in the group."

The Fortune chair is priced at $1,175 (£919) and is available exclusively at Heller and US retailer Design Within Reach, which has been working with the brand since 1999.

Alan Heller founded his eponymous firm in 1971 as a manufacturer of innovative plastic products by designers including Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Mario Bellini and Frank Gehry.

Fortune cookie
It was made using more than 25 per cent recycled post-consumer plastic

Heller passed away in 2021 and the company was bought by former Design Within Reach CEO, Edelman, who reintroduced some of the brand's classic designs alongside products by emerging talents like Jumbo.

Jumbo's Lee and Donnelly met while studying architecture and founded their studio in 2016. Their bold and playful designs often employ a visual softness that lends them emotional resonance, such as the tubular steel chair and matching lamps that form the Neotenic collection.

The photography is courtesy of Heller.

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