Niko Kralj was born on September 7, 1920 in the town of Zavrh pri Trojanah. He attended grammar school in Ljubljana, while at the same time working as an apprentice in a carpenter's workshop. After the war he enrolled in the Ljubljana Technical Faculty to study architecture. Under the mentorship of professor Edo Mihevc he defended his graduation thesis in 1952, winning the the Prešeren Prize for promising students.
At the age of thirty-one he took a job in Slovenia's largest bentwood furniture factory, Stol Kamnik. It was there that Kralj established the first development department and design bureau in Yugoslavia and became its head.
Until 1960 he worked in Stol as the head of the research and design department, and was then invited to take a teaching position at the Department of Architecture at the Ljubljana Faculty of Architecture, Construction and Geodesy. He never forgot to mention that he learned from the best; his teachers included Jože Plečnik, Edvard Ravnikar and Edo Mihevc. In 1962 he received Slovenia's most prestigious award in the field of culture – the Prešeren Award for excellence in the field of design and architecture.
In 1966 he founded the Institute of Design. Over the course of his work he filed and registered 118 patents and models and written 39 research papers, both in Slovenia and abroad.
Kralj as a designer
Niko Kralj is one of the leading industrial designers on a global scale. We had the opportunity to get to know him as a teacher, designer, manager, innovator, and most importantly, a person. He has always been driven by his pursuit of excellence and progressive thinking, and even years ago he insisted that a modular and lightweight design is an advantage which will become increasingly important features of best-selling products as time progresses in an increasingly globalized world of internet shopping. His products have a strong social emphasis - in his work he was trying to achieve superior product designs which would be accessible to the lower-income consumer. He has been a supporter of sincere and rational use of materials, as well as adapting the form to the material and machine processing features. He regarded wood as an unparalleled natural and renewable resource which would maintain its leading position in furniture making for a long time.
An important characteristic of Kralj's designs is their adaptiveness to rational industrial production and consideration of the way of life and needs of potential users. His goal was to create "timeless furniture" which would serve people regardless of the fashion and trends existing at any particular time. Bent plywood is the basic element of Kralj's seat furniture, often combined with metal or solid wood, and many chairs are made entirely of solid wood.
While Kralj is most known for his furniture products, it should not be overlooked that he has been involved in many areas of design, working alone and with his colleagues at the Institute of Design on the development of exhibition displays, car seat backrests, toys, ceramic dishes etc.
Interesting facts about Niko Kralj
- He learned from the best; his teachers included Jože Plečnik, Edvard Ravnikar and Edo Mihevc.
- Erik Breglud, a Swedish professor, once said that if Yugoslavia had five Kraljs, it would become a superpower in the field of design.
- In 1960 the Swedish daily Dages Nyheter proclaimed him the best furniture designer in Europe.
- In the course of his professional career he filed and registered 118 patents and models, written 39 research papers, appeared at 94 exhibitions and published over 100 articles on design.
- His products were manufactured by 18 domestic and foreign companies.
- Even as a graduate of the Ljubljana Faculty of Architecture he received the Prešeren Prize for Students.
- In the Stol Kamnik factory he established the first research department and design bureau in Yugoslavia at the time.
- In 1957 he attended a six-month academic course in Stockholm where he worked in Olaf Pira's office and contributed his innovative insights to the internationally acclaimed Pira modular home and office furniture system.
- In 1966 Kralj founded the Institute of Design.
- He served as an expert in the United Nations Industrial Design Organization (UNIDO) in Israel.