FOR HOUSEHOLD products, it's fair to say that the design and production cycle isn't getting any longer. Mass production techniques and commercial pressures ensure that some designers today knock out new furniture and other products pretty much by the yard, constantly moving onto the next thing and sometimes not worrying too much about those all-important details - the things that mark out a classic. But that wasn't always the case. The most timeless, classic 20th-century designs have something in common: a bit of loving care and attention. It's no accident that, of the items chosen here as classics of 20th-century design, several come from the middle of the century, when the pace of life was slower and automated production hadn't completely taken over. Lane Crawford's creative director of home and lifestyle Ross Urwin says he's obsessed with the period between the 1940s and 1960s, mainly due to the precision of designers then. 'Generally they would spend years working on one item; keep sampling, testing, until they thought it was ready for the general public's use. Although more and more of today's designers are learning that it is better to perfect one piece, consumerism dictates that the more designs launched in a year, the better.' According to Urwin, the pieces 'have a common denominator: they create design related to architectural forms. The structure of their design encompasses beautiful shapes ... and comfort'. Renowned New York-based interior designer So Takahashi says that for him, classic, timeless designs can be divided into two categories. One is personal - 'Objects you own, inherited or are familiar with. Chairs you sat on at elementary school, the shape of your food utensils ... or your favourite pen you use every day. Objects that carry your personal memories. Here, most of the objects are designed anonymously.' The other, he says, is history: 'Objects that are a record or symbol of a certain time in history. Here, most of the objects are designed and signed by known designers or manufacturers.' The much-emulated Egg Chair, he says, for example, is a record and a symbolic icon of Scandinavian culture from the late '50s and '60s that still echoes with our lifestyle half a century later. 'This is the reason it's a design classic.' Aalto Vase Curved, sinuous, organic lines mark out the Aalto vase, also known as the Savoy vase, created by the husband-and-wife team of Alvar and Aino Aalto in 1937 for Helsinki's Savoy restaurant. Originally created by blowing glass irregularly through a collection of wooden sticks stuck into the ground, it was modelled on the traditional dresses worn by the Sami women of northern Scandinavia. 'The design is timeless,' says David Chiu, owner of furniture retailer Aluminium. 'Seeing it today, you wouldn't think it's something from so early. It's a breakthrough in people's perception of a vase. You can even buy several and join them together like a puzzle.' Takahashi says that when he lived in Oslo for three years, he was given an Aalto vase as a gift on three separate occasions. 'People in Norway are in love with this vase. It might be one of the first organically inspired designs after Finnish modernism. Many imitations of the vase have gone on the market but no one has got it right.' Produced in virtually every colour imaginable and copied and adapted ad nauseam, its popularity has never waned, partly because it's one of the few modern design classics that's eminently affordable. 'It's sold at a low price for something so iconic,' says Chiu. 'It's easily reachable for a big audience.' Knoll Asymmetric Chaise Take one look at the Knoll Asymmetric Chaise and you can tell it was designed by a sculptor. The pleasingly off-centre chair came into being in 1952 when Italian-born American sculptor Harry Bertoia decided to bend metal rods into unusual shapes and see where it took him. Part of a collection of dazzling bent-wire furniture created by Bertoia around that time, it's an experimental expression of sculptural forms that also happens to be remarkably comfortable. It existed only as a prototype until 2005, when Knoll decided to make it available commercially. 'You can tell it's a good piece of design, because you can look at it from any angle and it still looks beautiful,' says Chiu. 'It's versatile - it can match any interior: you can put it in a hotel, an office, a big house, anywhere.' The asymmetry of the design, he adds, apparently following natural lines rather than being forced to fit into any preconceived regular scheme, is what gives the chair its timeless quality. 'If you have a flower, it's not a square - not a shape that's even. That kind of detail can make something iconic, but it's very difficult to do something that distinctive these days. Mass production has made manufacturers become very calculating in their designs.' Eames Lounge Chair Rarely have style and comfort been so perfectly aligned as in the Eames Lounge Chair. Actually two separate items properly known as the Eames Lounge and Ottoman, it was the first upscale design from married couple Charles and Ray Eames, making its debut in 1956. With a welcoming shape that promises total relaxation, and its friendly but sophisticated leather-and-plywood appearance, this is the La-Z-Boy it's OK to like. 'The Eames lounge chair is a classic,' says Geoff Fuller, managing director of furniture retailer Tequila Kola. 'It inspired many designers to create chairs with plywood shells and plush seating. The Eames chair looks great and is comfortable - not often the case with 'high design'.' For Chiu, the chair's enduring popularity comes from its near-universal appeal: 'It's the perfect guy's chair,' he says. 'Nine out of 10 guys would say they like it, but it's still acceptable to women. The only thing is that you need a lot of space for it.' Egg Chair Designed in 1958 by Arne Jacobsen for what was then the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, the Egg Chair garners universal praise from the interior design luminaries consulted here. When the hotel opened, the architect and designer had the rare opportunity to create everything for it, from the exterior to the cutlery - but it's this most iconic of modern chair designs, now sold by Fritz Hansen, that has stood the test of time. Urwin says that still, today, 'The Egg Chair is one of Lane Crawford's most popular easy chairs due to its comfort and beauty.' Leo To of furniture retailer ViA attributes that success to 'the strong emphasis placed on harmony between man and innovative technology'. For Tequila Kola's Fuller, the Egg continues to make its presence felt both as an enduringly popular item in its own right and an ongoing influence on interior aesthetics. 'Now 52 years old, the Egg Chair has been an inspiration for many modernist designers,' he says. 'Its womb-like wrap-around design makes it appealing for consumers.' Alessi Bird Kettle Some times it's the little things that matter. The Alessi Bird Kettle comes in an elegant but not particularly innovative conical shape - but stands right out from the crowd thanks to the bird on the end of its spout that 'sings' when the water in it has boiled. Italian household products company Alessi is well-known for its quirky riffs on everyday items created by big-name designers, but the bird kettle has been its greatest success, shifting more than a million units since it was created in 1985 by American architect and product designer Michael Graves. Takahashi attributes its success to the way it perfectly captured a moment in design history - one that continues to resonate to this day. 'This one always made me smile,' he says. 'In the '80s, post-modernism in industrial design might have been the first movement to use humour as an expression of the design. This design captures that.' Kartell Louis Ghost Chair Post-modernism hijacks a classic and puts it to uses both cheeky and practical in the shape of the Kartell Louis Ghost Chair. Created in 2002 by that most iconic of contemporary designers, Philippe Starck, it's a play on the classic Louis XV chair, with the formality of the original transposed onto a stark yet inviting polycarbonate structure. The joy of the Louis Ghost Chair lies in the way it retains the comfort of the original in a startling, translucent, one-piece design that's so hard-wearing that it's suitable for outdoor as well as indoor use. Vince Lau of furniture retailer Ovo calls it 'a masterpiece in design', while Aluminium's Chiu says that 'It's the most iconic design I've seen in the past 10 years'. It looks like one recently designed household product that's likely to stand the test of time - but then, with an ancestry that stretches back more than two centuries, it does have some pedigree.