“I didn’t know it was impossible—so I did it.”
There is perhaps no greater satisfaction in life than witnessing the impossible made possible. I recently had the privilege of meeting with Josef Lang, a 22 year-old entrepreneur who is turning heads in the interior design world with his chair “CR45.”
What makes Lang’s chair so special?
The Chair No One Thought Was Possible
Well, to start, his design was thought to be impossible by expert artisans in the interior design profession. Lang was studying interior design in Denmark at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. His class was broken into three different groups: veneer, hardwood and metal. When the metal section was further broken down into hollow tubing and solid rods, Lang was directed to work with the solid rods.
“I wanted it simple—a cantilever chair with solid rods,” Lang said. “No one told me it was impossible.”
A cantilever is defined as “a horizontal beam or girder that’s supported only on one end.” A diving board, for example, is a cantilever. So, a cantilever chair is supported only on one end.
Since the 1920’s, craftsmen have only been able to make cantilever chairs out of steel hollow tubing or a really large, flat bar. The reason for this is because with other materials, the lack of support makes the chair collapse in on itself, or “squish” together.
“I just knew that I didn’t have tubing, so I was just going to try to make rods work,” Lang said.
The Entrepreneur’s Inspiration
Lang had been inspired by 1800’s England bridges built during the Industrial Revolution, making hundreds of sketches of them. These bridges used geometry similar to that of modern A-frame trusses, using appropriate cross-bracing to strengthen the members under the most stress. He took the triangle concept from the bridges and applied it to the chair for better support.
His professors told him the triangles fixed the chair from collapsing in on itself, but the frame wouldn’t hold weight and the rods would break under pressure. But by this point, Lang didn’t want to use any other material; he liked the aesthetic, minimalist look of the solid rods.
His professor, Flemming, was taught by famous Danish designer Poul Kjearholm, widely considered in the 1950’s to be the best furniture designer working metal and known for pushing the limits of possibility. In other words, Lang’s professor knew what he was talking about.
But he was wrong.
“Flemming [his esteemed professor] sat in the chair when I wasn’t looking,” Lang said, laughing. “He is at least 250 pounds. And it held.”
This Chair Is Truly One Of a Kind
At an awards ceremony at the end of the program, Lang received an award for his work. But the best moment came when Flemming said the following words to the audience, in regard to Lang’s design: “As far as I know, it’s the only one.”
“Everyone went quiet, then cheered,” Lang said. “That was an awesome moment.”
Not only is this chair the first of its kind, to date it remains the only one. That’s right: no one else has been able to complete Lang’s chair model. The design calls for such precision while bending the rods into the correct shape that any small mistake will ruin it. Lang has had to create every model of the CR45 himself. He made his first chair in Denmark, and since has made several tweaks to the design to make it even stronger.
From a young age, Lang knew he wanted to work with his hands. He recalled one of the first times he’d made use of his design talents, “I made a bean bag toss with my dad, a clown-shaped one. I was awestruck, being able to build something. I was a kid in a candy store. I was thinking, ‘are we really allowed to change the shape of the wood? This shouldn’t be allowed!’ I was six.”
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Looking back, Lang says that he didn’t create something so innovative on purpose. He simply followed what he wanted, and when obstacles came his way, he kept with it. “I was just sketching, just drawing and making my love of engineering meet my love of aesthetics.”
Let this be a story for all aspiring entrepreneurs out there:
Follow those dreams. They might just end up becoming something that was thought to be impossible.
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