Argentinean-born, Barcelona-based architect and designer Jorge Pensi burst onto the international furniture scene with his 1988 design for a Knoll chair. The Toledo was commissioned with almost no limitations aside from that it work for both private and public use, and Pensi was encouraged to design a prototype from any material, working within any concept, with any budget. The result, a strikingly simple anodized-aluminum piece with high arms and a narrow back, became a marker of Pensi’s almost Loosian attitude toward ornament.
In 2006—almost 20 years later, after time spent developing his reputation in Europe but dwindling from the collective American design consciousness—Pensi has reappeared, thanks to the efforts of forward-thinking kitchen company Poggenpohl. The brief was reminiscent of the Toledo.
“We didn’t give him any guidelines or restrictions in the use of materials, of what he could make and what he couldn’t make,” Lothar Birkenfeld, president of Poggenpohl US, says. The fact that Pensi had never designed a kitchen before turning his efforts to PlusMODO hardly fazed the company, which was looking to think outside what Birkenfeld calls “the German frame.”
Instead of approaching the design as a set of functional issues, Pensi tackled the kitchen’s components as a series of architectural elements, concentrating on the play of light, the shifting of spaces, and the flow of parts. “It was very difficult to be different at the beginning,” he says. “We tried to play with empty and full spaces, with a lot of light, to have a horizontal landscape,” Pensi says of the shift toward architectural thinking. “We wanted to play with different materials, different combinations.”
The PlusMODO kitchen, commercially available since March, centers around a cantilevered stone-covered honeycomb slab. Despite its thickness the slab seems to float almost weightlessly above sliding trays and drawers, both equipped with Poggenpohl’s proprietary +Motion spring system, which stops the sliding parts from ever slamming, no matter how hard they are kicked or pushed. The horizontal line of the countertop is reiterated in the cabinet system, a band of satinized glass shelves inset with fluorescent lighting that can be turned on or off and fronted by a double set of rolling doors that can be slid open or closed. It’s all about the display, but it’s all optional.
“Normally when you see a kitchen, everything is full of drawers and doors,” Pensi explains of the move toward such a visually free-form kitchen. “We decided to have it empty.” Still Pensi was aware of the difference in attitude between kitchen-adventurous Europeans and more traditional Americans. The sliding trays under the countertop can be left entirely open—he prefers it that way—or framed in frosted glass. With these options, Pensi points out, “you can hide or show whatever you want.”
Pensi sees his design for Poggenpohl as more than simply a novel and refreshing take on a design that has been done and done and done again. “This,” he says, “is a kind of poetry.” It’s a sentiment and an approach that makes sense in Europe, where kitchens are bought in sets and moved like furniture, but on this side of the pond the poetry might prove a little bit harder to sell.