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More than just hot air

A '90s trend: inflatable furniture is celebrating a comeback

Everyone knew what it was, everyone wanted it and anyone who had one was totally trendy: we're talking about blow-up armchairs. Squeaky, colourful, showy. At the start of the '90s there was an outbreak of hype surrounding these furnishings. And now this long-forgotten furniture is celebrating a comeback.

Transparent inflatable sofa in a living room.

The interior design sector is celebrating an unforeseen comeback: blow-up sofas are showing off their stylish side in 2022, proving that plastic furniture has come of age. (Photo: Mojow)

'90s furniture is ballooning again

Flares, platform trainers and so on can be seen on every street corner nowadays. There's no denying it any longer: the '90s are celebrating their comeback. Why the '90s? Just as style guru Iris Apfel says: “If you hang around long enough, everything comes back.” And it's true. We've seen some of the trends from the '70s moving back into our homes, and even some of the excesses of the 80's . So it was just a question of time before nineties design turned up again.

And there's another reason: everyone who was a child or a teenager back then, and grew up in that decade, has either just turned 30 or will do so very soon. This means that the Millennials are rapidly becoming the key driving force in the furnishings market. They're moving out of their one-room flats and now at last have enough capital to invest in designing their own houses and apartments. Quite often a little bit of the past moves in with them. And now the interior design sector tops it off with a further scoop of nostalgia and brings back inflatable furniture.

Mojow Inflatable Sofa in Orange with Glass Frame

It's 2022 and inflatable furniture has arrived Although the colours are inspired by the '90s, the designs are a lot more contemporary. (Photo: Mojow)

Inflatable furniture yesterday and today

But inflatable armchairs give us all a chance to indulge in happy memories of our teenage bedrooms. The trend has its roots, not in the Britney Spears era, but much earlier. Way back in the Sixties, designers were having a shot at inflatable furniture pieces and other inflatable items. At the 1968 Structures Gonflables exhibition in Paris, all kinds of fantastical blow-up structures were on show, including an inflatable pavilion with inflatable furniture. In the same year, the Vietnam-born designer Quasar Khanh introduced an inflatable furniture range named Aerospace, which included blow-up chairs, sofas, tables and even lamps, all in the groovy design of the '60s.

In 1967 the first inflatable armchair went into mass production It was called “Blow”, and sold for just twenty dollars, including an air pump and a repair kit. The chair was created by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D'Urbino, Paolo Lomazzi and Carla Scolari, four young designers from the Italian Anti-Design Movement. It was produced by the Italian manufacturer Zanotta and was manufactured and marketed as the perfect item of furniture for transient or urban dwellers: easy to inflate, transport and store, since once deflated it took up hardly any space at all.

But after that it all went quiet on the inflatable furnishings front. It was not until the late '90s that they put in an appearance again. Although very fashionable for a while, the furniture pieces themselves always had to contend with the same problems: once filled with air, they were often flabby, uncomfortable, and almost entirely impractical. But this has not prevented a fresh generation of designers from experimenting with inflatable materials and breathing life into the 2022 nostalgia trend.

Epoxy resin seating

The design appears light and airy, but it's as sturdy as wood or rigid plastic. Designer Seungjin Yan manufactures his seating furniture from epoxy resin, creating a visual and tactile illusion. (Photo: Yoshihiro Makino)

All blown up and grown up: modern inflatable armchairs & Co

A Google search shows that the strident designs of the Nineties have not vanished completely. But the new generation of inflatable furniture has little in common with the concepts of the early '90s. If the earlier trend could not possibly be too colourful, these days it's showing its grown-up side.

One trailblazer in the furnishings sector for modern blow-up furniture is Mojow . The Swiss designers behind the brand describe themselves as a creative laboratory – and they certainly live up to this title. Their designs take an abstract, almost graphic approach. Whether it's a blow-up sofa, armchair or table: all that matters is unconventionality. Ahead of any others in the industry, Mojow is bringing the '90s trend for inflatable furniture back into the world of interior design. And the brand consistently creates a symbiosis of past and present by combining plastic with contemporary materials. Their soft inflated seats contrast with frames of firm metal, wood or glass. This combination ensures a strong, exciting look. Similarly, Mojow's colour palette, which includes restrained black and white tones, pays tribute to the origins of blow-up furniture, while bringing the strident colours of the '90s into contemporary spaces.

But it is not just in terms of the designs that Mojow has taken inflatable furniture a step further. Plastic and PVC are among the most environmentally damaging of materials. In future the brand intends to use exclusively recycled and biodegradable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) in the manufacture of their products. In contrast to the PVC used previously, TPU is much more robust, durable and environmentally friendly.

The design duo Objects of Common Interests is also resurrecting the '90s trend. Their blow-up standard lamps and sculptures are created from transparent plastic, although it is their shape which makes them eye-catchers. Inspired by the natural environment, the design duo works chiefly with round, amorphic forms. It must be admitted that, at up to 3 metres tall and priced at up to 8,000 euros, they are not for everyone, but they do at least demonstrate that an interior filled with air can be truly artistic.

As early as 2009, designer Egidio Panzera came up with a design suitable for everyday use. The partition Sacea Bablò is a multifunctional piece of furniture that can be used either as a room divider or as an air mattress.

Seungjin Yang's pieces are also exciting. At first glance they look just like actual balloons, but in fact they are imitations made of epoxy resin. The Korean designer uses it to create a witty alternative for anyone who does not want to forgo the look of inflatable furniture, but who finds the material too flimsy.

The '90s are ready for the future

Whether this is a passing fad or an enduring trend – inflatable armchairs, sofas etc. are still in their infancy. But it's already clear that it is a trend with great potential, and not just in terms of its design options. And in view of the environmental damage caused by global transport, furnishings that can be blown up and then folded down and packed into a suitcase may genuinely be able to contribute to a more sustainable future.

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