Posted 10 years ago
This is a personal kitchen favorite! It came home about five years ago from the Salvos and has been used regularly at home ever since. It is an earlier version from the sixties and is not enameled within the pot. The handles are a fabulous feature of the design and if placed off-centre they aid in checking food during cooking.
When I first bought it I thought “Copco Denmark – who can the designer be?” I had in mind one of the Danish notables but when I looked up the internet got a surprise about an American designer working for a Danish company. That was cool! And totally unexpected!
The Guardian said of Micahel Lax in his obituary in 1999:
“Michael Lax, who has died aged 69, was an industrial designer best known for the two icons of the1960s that he brought into the American home: a brightly-coloured, enamel-coated kettle with a teak handle, and a telescoping, cube-shaped desk-light.
Lax was inspired by Scandinavian products, but had a sculptor's eye for material and shape. His products brought together a measure of modernist restraint with an organic feel that seemed distinctively American, drawing from the work of Russel Wright, Harry Bertoia and Charles and Ray Eames.
Lax's hands-on approach to design was legendary. Whereas an earlier generation of American designers sported bow ties and pencils, he was one of the few to be able to apologise for not coming to the phone because "I was up to my elbows in plaster". His refusal to adopt the emerging computer-aided design methods was as characteristic as his perfectionism.
Born in New York, his education in ceramics began in 1948 at a local tile and lamp manufacturer, followed by three years at New York State College of Ceramics. In 1954 he won a Fulbright Fellowship to Finland, where the influence of the architect Alvar Aalto was inspiring a wave of clean, organic modernist design. Returning to New York in 1958, Lax completed his apprenticeship with Russel Wright, who held that functionally simple, needs-based designs for the home improved peoples' lives.
Lax's first real break as a solo designer came when Samuel Farber, a friend he had met while taking his daughter to nursery school, announced that he was setting up a company, Copco. A 20-year collaboration, and a longer friendship, ensued. Lax developed a line of cast-iron and porcelain enamel cookware for the fledgling firm (at the time, an industry first), followed in 1962 by Copco's signature piece, a kettle, made of pressed sheet metal and porcelain enamel (subsequently available in orange, yellow, blue and olive) with a bent teak handle. The cheery, elegant, stove-top kettle without a whistle became a symbol of modern design; more than 1m were sold before it was discontinued in the mid-80s.
Fame did not follow, but a significant commission did. A friend at Lightolier, a firm founded at the turn of the century as the New York Gas Appliance Company, asked Lax to help the company capitalise on the craze for high-intensity lamps. The market leader, Tensor, used the latest low-voltage transformer technology in a miniature, if unsightly desktop unit with a bright white light. Lax and Lightolier went one better with a stylishly minimal alternative, pairing a cube base (which housed the transformer) with a ball reflector that extended on a telescopic arm. Named the Lytegem, it immediately captured 10% of the market and won a place in the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art. It was joined in the museum in 1972 by Lax's household air ioniser, which took the form of a simple black pyramid.
Lax's central preoccupation always remained the same: the formal, but loving, exploration of materials and shapes, aimed at bringing beauty to everyday objects - glasses and tableware for Mikasa and Rosenthal, containers for Tupperware, and even an acrylic bathtub for the American Cyanamid Company. He also diversified into exhibition and graphic design, as well as creating a wooden playset for children's playgrounds.
His design work was often inspired by his sculpture, which increasingly absorbed him from the mid-80s. He won the 1977 Rome Prize to study art at the American Academy in Rome, and returned to Italy in 1984 to work on a series of architectural forms in marble and cast bronze. A subsequent series of cast aluminum bowls for Metaal, a line made by the Grainware Company, were directly moulded from the breasts of a series of bronze nudes he had created.
As a craftsman, Lax was an arch-perfectionist. He invariably travelled to the countries where his products were being made, in order to oversee the manufacturing process, a habit which, in the early days of his work for Copco, meant carrying plaster models of his designs to Denmark. As computers became more prominent, he increasingly turned to sculpture, moving to Italy to study and work in bronze and marble.
Lax was known for his quick wit, charm and strikingly good looks. His marriage to Rosemary Raymond, begun in 1950, ended in divorce in 1978. He is survived by his daughters, Jennifer and Rebecca Lax, and his companion, Kirsten Childs, a New York interior designer.
Michael Lax, designer, born November 8, 1929; died May 28, 1999”