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precisely edited catalogue – a full-throttled expression, if nothing else, of the adage that good design never goes out of date or style.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.