kinder MODERN’s Lora Appleton stands up for the little guys

Why Child Design Matters

By Lora Appleton

Launched in 2012 by Lora Appleton and Bachman Brown Clem, New York’s kinder MODERN gallery is a champion of children’s design. In its short lifetime, the gallery has quickly become the world’s leading destination for vintage and contemporary child designs, featuring works by historical design masters and some of today’s most interesting designers. Never one to rest on their laurels, though, the kinder MODERN team just upped the ante by launching KINDER journal, a new quarterly publication dedicated to “Child Design Past, Present, and Future.” And like all things kinder, we love it. 

Just like the gallery, the new journal delves deep into the significance of play in kids’ intellectual and social development as well as the ingenious ways that designers tackle these designs—often using the most of-the-moment materials and processes.

In honor of KINDER journals debut issue, out just this month, we’re sharing Lora Appleton’s wonderful treatise on why child design matters oh so very much.:

A few years ago I began a blog for my gallery, kinder MODERN, the only gallery worldwide dedicated to child design. This blog focused on the full spectrum of child design, including international child-related art and design programs at museums; the best and most innovative products and furniture for children and families; and features on artists, designers, thinkers, and makers who inspired me as both a gallerist and a budding furniture designer. Through this process it became important to me to not just highlight vintage and contemporary design, but to engender a dialogue about its rich history and influence on today’s designers, while also identifying the vital connection points in child development and pedagogy that shape the design, education, and architecture of this fascinating segment of the industry. As we dug deeper into this amazing niche, our audience grew and we quickly realized there were many readers and enthusiasts interested in the history and current landscape of child design; thus KINDER journal was born. And yet, I am still constantly asked the same question by well-meaning friends and occasional skeptical colleagues: “Why?”

Child design matters. The way children view and interact with their surroundings is a critical link in the human social and emotional developmental chain. Children have very specific developmental needs that adult furniture does not support. Unlike adults, children take exploration and play very seriously. More importantly, play is a significant educational experience, imperative for cognitive growth and healthy development. It is the cornerstone of early development, and thoughtful, functional design definitively cultivates creativity, autonomy, critical thinking, and language, as well as those integral social and emotional skills. Cooperative play encourages children to learn how to take turns, share, and problem solve. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that designers for children consider these needs during the design process.

When we actually design items for a child’s use and function, and do not simply “shrink” that which is meant for adults, we can enable deeper engagement than with an ordinary chair or table. With thoughtful design, a rich visual and sensory exploration helps turn children into forward-thinking, creative adolescents and, eventually, adults, and allows for the brain to function at its fullest potential throughout all stages of development. It is because of the questions design compels children to ask that they ultimately discover the universe and their place in it, both physically and intellectually. Seeing, feeling, and interacting with different materials and types of functional design encourages discussion with others about the way things are made, who made them, and why. This process engages children in external discovery and leads to dynamic learning.

The way children view and interact with their surroundings is a critical link in the human social and emotional developmental chain. The mid-twentieth century saw a proliferation of designers finally considering children and their needs in a precise and academic way. The small scale and small audience gave these designers, many now considered iconic, the space to experiment without fear of criticism or waste of expensive materials. In the early 1900s, designers were creating innovative forms of toys and furniture, and could experiment with avant-garde interpretation. Play objects and toys utilized new forms to engage mini-users in ways that had not yet been explored. As Modernism took root, designers such as Gerrit Reitveld (Netherlands), Ko Verzuu (Netherlands), Jacques Adnet (France), and more were working professionally to design simple and practical school environments, while also creating unique pieces for family and friends. Materials such as tubular steel, washable paint, bentwood, plywood, etc. were all engaged for their lightness in form, easy care, and the imagination fostered through open themes. During this time we saw the development of iconic pieces, from Reitveld’s child wheelbarrow to Adnet’s bentwood and tubular steel school chairs and tables. Modernist designers were designing after one simple theory: items in a room should be inspirational, not just decorative.

Since I launched the kinder MODERN gallery and began collaborating with artists all over the world to create contemporary child design, I have seen an uptick in both interest and effort towards creating amazing new furniture and objects for children. It is this initiative that has us focused on making hand crafted pieces, rather than mass-produced, choosing thoughtfulness in design and quality over quantity. We’ve made it our mission to engage a level of superior craftsmanship in new production, putting value on long-term use and sustainability. With these values in mind, kinder MODERN has launched our own in-house design studio, and we expect to launch our first collection next year, while we continue to encourage and engage other designers in this incredible and ever growing niche.

Some of my favorite contemporary child designers who have done work for children are: Italian designer Gaetano Pesce, whose poured-resin child chairs inject whimsy and clever materiality into child design; German designer Marco Hemmerling, with an incredible interest in form and play; Mexican designer Christian Vivanco, whose cozy comfort-based designs are innovative yet simple; Japanese design firm Nendo, commissioned by Walt Disney Japan to design a basic, yet conceptual line based on the classic children’s book and film Winnie the Pooh; American designers Kalon Studios, who are producing great pieces for the entire home; and so many others, including an incredible stable of designers from our own gallery. With a blending of art, design, and craft at the forefront, we witness more creative exploration for children’s pieces in general, with innovative material exploration and unique production processes.

Between our work preserving the history and shaping the future of child design at kinder MODERN, sharing in-depth editorial through KINDER journal, and adding our own design work to the conversation with kinder STUDIO, I feel that I am truly living my personal and professional motto: great design = smart + happy kids.


*This article also appears in the debut issue of KINDER journal, kinder MODERN’s new quarterly online publication dedicated to all things wonderful and inspiring in children’s design. Learn more here.


*Introductory text by Anna Carnick

  • Text by

    • Lora Appleton

      Lora Appleton

      Lora is the founder and creative director of kinder MODERN gallery and the editor-in-chief of KINDER journal, both dedicated to historical and contemporary child design. She is also a furniture and textile designer who finds inspiration in urban landscapes, geometric forms, and her seven-year-old son/muse.