Top tap: Why Vola’s ‘111’ mixer tap is a true design classic
As creative partnerships go, there are few so serendipitously creative as the one between Verner Overgaard, the founder of Danish bathroom hardware specialist Vola, and one of Denmark’s most beloved sons, the architect Arne Jacobsen.
In 1968, the two unveiled to an unsuspecting world the ‘111’, a revolutionary wall-mounted mixer tap in which all the functional parts were hidden behind the wall, exposing only the brass of a streamlined handle and slender spout.
Vola 112 photographed by Morten Bo, 1968
Vola 112, 2018
Since then, the ‘111’ has been installed in the bathrooms and toilets of homes, offices and public buildings all over the world, lending even the most quotidian setting an instant jolt of sophistication.
What’s more, its sleek silhouette is still instantly recognisable for the simple reason that Jacobsen’s original design has stayed remarkably constant in the intervening five decades – a quality of sustained individuality that, not surprisingly, has made both the tap and the Vola brand such a favourite with architects and designers.
“Homes are places of calm and for people with frantic schedules and for this client, their London home is a sanctuary from incessant travelling. The design is clear, considered, intelligent and relaxed - Vola in the bathrooms reflects this attitude with perfect functionality.”
My Vola collaboration
Fiona Naylor, Johnson Naylor
Vola Products Bathroom 5401-061A and 111 in Matt Black Kitchen: 590 in Matt Black
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It helps too that because the ‘111’ is the centrepiece, if not foundation, of a flexible modular design system which is only made to order in Vola’s factory, it lends itself easily to what the brand describes as ‘infinite possibilities’ of personalisation.
In most other contexts, such a statement would smack of hyperbole, but because of the sheer quality of Vola’s manufacturing process and its commitment to sustaining Jacobsen’s aesthetics, the ‘111’ more than stands up to the billing.
‘It lends itself easily to what the brand describes as ‘infinite possibilities’ of personalisation’
“Interior design is an intimate reflection of the way we live. What we choose to surround ourselves with can make an already responsive architectural space even more interactive and in tune with our sensory needs. For an art collector’s house in Beverly Hills, we wanted the master bath suite to be a beautiful, well-appointed retreat. T39 – sculptural in quality and the ultimate in luxury – was the obvious finishing touch.”
My Vola collaboration
Ron Radziner, Marmol Radziner
Vola Products Master Bathroom: T39, SC10 and 590 in Polished Chrome
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Since every product is made to order – astonishingly, often within a day of receipt of the order – the factory keeps nothing in stock. Every handle, plate and spout can be changed and customised to spec. Each piece is selected and finished from a base palette of 14 colours, alongside a spectrum of darker metallic hues – a godsend for any designer, especially one with an indecisive client.
Even more remarkable is that the ‘111’ remains a truly contemporary modular system, its resistance to dating the result of a careful curation and conservation over the years of the creative process. Interchangeable parts are still available for every single Vola product ever made, which means that design models dating from the 1960s can still, incredibly, be specified today.
There are eight metallic finishes within the Exclusive Colour Series.
‘Design models dating from the 1960s can still, incredibly, be specified today’
A selection of spouts, handles, levers and back plates from the Vola 111 family
In every way, Vola represents the very best, if not timelessness, of Danish design. In fact, the unique quality of the ‘111’ modular system owes much to the individuality and durability that sit at the heart of the brand – dual aspects of an aspiration that, as it turns out, has also long defined us at Wallpaper*.
In the early 1960s, Verner Overgaard, the enterprising owner of Vola – a Danish bathroom hardware specialist – approached Arne Jacobsen with the idea of creating a new type of wall-mounted mixer tap in which all its mechanical parts were hidden away behind the wall, exposing only the handles and the spout.
Jacobsen, who had just won the competition to design both the interiors and exterior of the National Bank of Denmark, was intrigued by Overgaard’s proposal. At its core, the idea appealed to the architect’s innate sense for simple, streamlined design, an ideal that was very much in-vogue along with the catchy rallying cries of ‘less is more’ and ‘form follows function’ then ringing through the design world.
Jacobsen got to work. Inspired by the eternal loop of the circle, he stripped the idea of a tap down to its fundamentals – a control and a spout with all the peripheral mechanics hidden away behind the wall – and conceived the ‘111’. Its departure from the prevailing silhouette of spoked tap handles and flare-tipped spouts was a bona fide evolutionary leap in the design of bathroom fixtures. Anchored by straight lines encircled by a round tap that was operated by a recessed lever, the new mixer was a startling paradigm shift.
Vola HV1, 1968
A companion iteration, the Vola ‘HV1’, debuted in the same year – its mechanics, this time, hidden below the surface – and, like the ‘111’, it was a splash-hit. This year marks the 50th anniversary of both designs.
The enduring simplicity of the design of the ‘HV1’, however, belies the underlying complexity of the engineering. Concealed within the tap is a maddeningly difficult interlocking system of pivoting bearings, and flow regulators that provide precise control of the proportion of hot and cold water. The physical structure, too, is a seamless engineering feat of fully flush surfaces whose creation involves skillful and experienced workmanship and soldering.
The universality of Jacobsen’s original design is so timeless that the ‘HV1’ has not only changed very little in the ensuing half century, it has also been a staple of Vola’s precisely edited catalogue – a full-throttled expression, if nothing else, of the adage that good design never goes out of date or style. The model has been expanded to a wide product range focused on a modular approach, allowing for more flexibility – the handles, spouts, cover plates and accessories can be combined in countless configurations to satisfy a designer’s brief – while staying true to Jacobsen’s original ideals.
Geometric forms in Vola
In fact, successive teams of designers, including Teit Weylandt, a Jacobsen protégé, and, more recently, Torben Madsen have been utterly uncompromising in their mission to preserve the tap’s simple functionality and sleek lines. In particular, they have smartly eschewed the temptation to create seasonal collections, that, in the hands of less alert design stewards, can sometimes dilute a brand identity.
It’s precisely this level of commitment to the cause that’s kept us turned on to Vola all these years.