Play is an essential part of childhood, driven both by the child’s own imagination and their surroundings. Therefore, play furniture fulfils an important role in a home with one or more children.
As with most designs aimed at children, play furniture combines durable, impact-resistant, and ‘soft’ materials, such as wood, plywood, polyethylene and various fabrics, with bright and cheerful colours in order to create conditions for a safe, yet exciting, play time for the little ones.
One only need recall the classic rocking horse to realise that animals have always been a popular motif in play furniture. Charles and Ray Eames’s 1946 ‘Eames Elephant’ is not only a daring exercise in plywood (though it is now also available in plastic and manufactured by Vitra), but an also an endearing companion on children’s adventures.
This tradition of animal companions is still alive, and very diverse. Alessandro Mendini designed ‘Unicorno’ for Riva 1920, which combines wood from old Venetian mooring masts with Murano-glass eyes. Produced by Magis, Eero Aarnio’s ‘Puppy’ and Javier Mariscal’s ‘Nido’, a hollow slug where children can take shelter, expand the range of available animal designs.
The classic rocking horse also receives a makeover, either as Marc Newson’s ‘Rocky’ and Oiva Toikka’s ‘Dodo’, both for Magis; or Aldis Circenis’s ‘Roo’ for Riga Chair, all of which stay true to a more traditional representation. Highly abstracted, Pininfarina’s Riva 1920-produced ‘Giulia Big | Giulia Small’, which avoids using synthetic materials, or ‘Schaukelpferd Rocker’, designed by Doshi Levien for Lampert, Richard, serve the same function.
Another important sub-category could be described as furniture facilitating and reinforcing spatial imagination. Jörg de Breuyn’s ‘Playwagon’ and ‘Indoor Play Area’ are small houses where children can create their own worlds. For a less literal version, take a look at it design’s ‘itpet recreative furniture’, courtesy of Valérie Jomini and Stanislas Zimmermann, from which countless imaginary landscapes can be assembled simply by rotating and repositioning the individual pieces.