geometric furniture design by frank lloyd wright

my first encounter with frank lloyd wright’s work was a tour one summer’s afternoon through fallingwater.  set deep in its beautiful wooded pennsylvania valley, you walk through the property and have a slight suspicion that you might be falling with the water below.  

fallingwater, frank lloyd wright

fallingwater, frank lloyd wright

actually, his design was not perfect and the building had been falling.  when we were there there were props holding it up while reinforcements were being added… not so impressive.

wright was so famous and popular because he accomplished a lot and preached himself successfully.  in effect, he was his own prop.  like many great designers, he taught, wrote, travelled, lectured, and was an interesting, and at times controversial individual.  (americans love trailblazers.)  in personal and business matters, by contrast, he was often a failure … like the faulty cantilevered fallingwater.  

living room at fallingwater

living room at fallingwater

living room at fallingwater

 

but you cannot deny both the drama and the serenity of the place with its stone floors and big open great room, balancing there as the water falls on and on below.  

when i was in school i loved mathematics, especially geometry.  i could happily fiddle with ruler, compass and pencil for hours, drawing neat curves and perfect angles.  very satisfying.  i later became a draftsman of engineering and architectural drawings, for a time (before the days of autocad!…yes, i am getting old).  so wright’s furniture designs make me smile.  

he borrowed traditional japanese styles.  he loved the japanese respect for the beauty of wood.  then he set about drawing neat circles and lots of straight lines.  easily manufactured and reproducible, was one of his goals.   

 

desk and chair at fallingwater

desk and chair at fallingwater

 

copy of the wright barrel chair, made for the dining area at fallingwater

copy of the wright barrel chair, made for the dining area at fallingwater

 

frank lloyd wright 1937 desk chair, us patent print

frank lloyd wright 1937 desk chair, us patent print

i have my doubts about his furniture’s comfort, though.  in his architecture, he studied the landscape and made his buildings spring out of it’s surroundings.  this organic emphasis seems lost in his furniture.  it disregards the body’s curves. function and form do not meet.  and aesthetically i miss any tribute to the subtler curves and lines found in nature.  

i don’t think he tried to make any cantilevered chairs. they would really worry me.  

but the cantilevered shelving at fallingwater is great.  i love the clean lines and smooth wood, especially in contrast to the rough rock floors.  perhaps i will knock my walls about a bit and cantilever some shelves….

Built in 1895 for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, these side chairs have high backs that extend above the heads of the sitters. When positioned around a dining table, the chairs created a temporary, intimate enclosure of space, a room within a room.

Built in 1895 for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, these side chairs have high backs that extend above the heads of the sitters. When positioned around a dining table, the chairs created a temporary, intimate enclosure of space, a room within a room.

Frank Lloyd Wrights 1949 Taliesin Origami Chair

Frank Lloyd Wright's 1949 Taliesin "Origami Chair" (whimsical but comfortable??)

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hollywood regency interior design: glamorous… and dusty

 

creamy vintage paris boudoir vanity chair

creamy vintage paris boudoir vanity chair

the glamor of the hollywood regency interior design style is a mimicry of the early movie heyday star’s lifestyles and tastes.  these people entertained lavishly, their homes were adorned with exotic furnishings and dramatic flair. they were adored almost as royalty.  hollywood regency furniture is a broad category difficult to define.  the look is not minimalist, but some pieces within the design can be.  it can include mid-century modern or older styles, asian pieces, blacks, whites, wood grains, just about any kind of color combination that suits your taste.  but heavily carved and heavily upholstered pieces are often included.  

designers william haines and dorothy draper lived this life and developed this look for others.  they were gutsy, wealthy, successful and admired.  these websites are worthwhile.  

haines interior

william haines interior

 

william haines
william haines, 1900-1973
The lobby of the Hampshire House, completed in 1937, Dorothy Draper

lobby of the hampshire house, completed in 1937, dorothy draper

 

dorothy draper 1889-1969

dorothy draper 1889-1969

we do not have to spend thousands to incorporate this style (just look like we did), thanks to online used furniture dealers. there is a large assortment of hollywood regency style furniture online, especially on ebay.  my favorite companies are ts and company and art collector-usa.  they offer an excellent blanket wrapped furniture moving service, tsc moving.

a regency is a substitute government or rulership.  they had them in europe when the royal heir was still a boy, for instance, or when there was no clear ruler for a time, or when the ruler was absent.  some would argue that hollywood movie stars are the royalty of america, substitutes because we don’t have anything else.  you don’t vote for or against the stars and argue endlessly about their ideas and actions.  the adored actors are just there.  wonderful, rich, envied.  this was especially true during and the decade after the second world war.  their world was a welcome escape.  it was a reminder that war and the hardships it created were not the only reality.  we welcome the same kind of refuge in these times.  when we mimic their style, we attempt to capture something of their lifestyle for ourselves, the ability to impress and offer the comfort and luxury to our friends as we entertain. 

but be warned: this style is dusty.  writing this piece i cannot help thinking about numerous vintage furniture items i have dealt with in the hollywood regency style.  you need a maid (or you are the maid).  these people had maids, believe me.  the tufted upholstery chairs are tricky to clean.  folds of fabric and those fabric covered buttons trap dirt and animal hair.  the buttons tend to go missing.  they are one of the most expensive re-upholstery jobs, the most time consuming if you attempt it yourself.  lots of carved woodwork, chandeliers, interesting ornaments sitting on coffee tables, all gathering dust.  do we honestly have time for this?  does the imagined serenity of the rich and famous really rule our desires?  maybe that ambition is also dusty.

globalization, interior design, and art nouveau

Tassel House, Brussels, 1893, Victor Horta, First floor landing with view toward staircase

tassel house, brussels, 1893, victor horta, first floor landing with view toward staircase

if i could be transported to another time and place, i would be fascinated to visit the few decades before the first world war.  ideally i would not be in one place. i would travel the world and the world would be traveling to me.  globalization on the rise.  

Orchid desk, Louis Majorelle and Daum Frères, mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass

orchid desk, louis majorelle and daum frères, mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass, france 1903

Vilmos Zsolnay Vase, 1899, Hungary

vilmos zsolnay, vase, 1899, hungary

a crazed group of 1910 british bankers sing a frenzied song at little micheal banks in mary poppins, trying to induce him to invest his tuppence  in railways through africa, dams across the nile, fleets of ocean greyhounds, majestic, self-amortizing canals, plantations of ripening tea. 

this economic globalization paralleled a radically changing europe’s outlook and lifestyle. interior design and furniture design would be forever changed. you can argue for or against globalization, but this seems to be a waste of time.  it just happens.  go with the flow.  

interior designers, especially in the art nouveau movement, began the modernist trend toward lighter more open rooms and furnishings. forms and techniques used in islamic and asian, especially japanese, art and architecture were incorporated. new materials and techniques were possible because of the industrial revolution.  ancient styles, materials and techniques were rediscovered.  

the result was a grand flourish of exotic possibilities, pushing design away from the heavy, stodgy forms of the past.  

for more info go to the art nouveau exhibit at the national gallery of art from which i borrowed these four images.

the ladies luncheon Room, ingram Street, glasgow, scotland, 1900, charles rennie mackintosh and margaret macdonald.

the ladies' luncheon room, ingram street, glasgow, scotland, 1900, charles rennie mackintosh and margaret macdonald.

adjustable lounge chair by william morris the socialist dreamer

still searching for a lounge chair for an outdoor seating area.  what angle should the backrest be?  it could be adjustable.  william morris (1834-1896) seems to have been the original creator of an adjustable chair.  at least his name has been attached to the much copied design.  

morris chair, desert craftsman, phoenix, arizona

morris chair, desert craftsman, phoenix, arizona

 

morris chair, copy, from 1866 drawing

morris chair, copy, from 1866 drawing

Morris chair by L. & J. G. Stickley

Morris chair by L. & J. G. Stickley

 

morris was an english designer who like many popular designers made a lasting impact with not just their art but their break away thinking about the times in which they lived.  morris was an architect, artist, textile designer, poet, and an outspoken proponent of socialism.  he reacted to the industrial revolution’s mechanized workplaces and poor living conditions for so many workers by dreaming of another happier world.  he did not lounge all the time, though.  he worked and thought about work.

“It is right and necessary that all men should have work to do which shall be worth doing, and be of itself pleasant to do; and which should he done under such conditions as would make it neither over-wearisome nor over-anxious.”  william morris*

think about that for a minute and the types and work that men should do becomes a very short list. i think he had the dreamy world of artists in mind.  

morris was also a skeptic when it came to leadership.

“History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; Art has remembered the people, because they created.”  william morris* 

“No man is good enough to be another’s master” william morris*

but morris was a leader himself, followed because his ideas and art were admired.  in a sense, he was a king or master of the english arts and crafts movement, which hoped society could get back to good craftsmanship and smaller personalized production in which all the workers could feel a pride and ownership.  i don’t think he foresaw that his utopian socialist world would require the fiercest kind or kingship and mastery to enact.  socialists are not pragmatic observers of humanity.  there just always are leaders and followers, ceos and janitors, generals and foot soldiers.  when anything is destroyed the leaders always get blamed whether it is their fault or not….. anyway, back to the lounge chair search.

here is another variation, sitzmaschine, designed for an austrian sanatorium. 

Sitzmaschine Chair with Adjustable Back (model 670). c. 1905., josef hoffman, produced by kohn

Sitzmaschine Chair with Adjustable Back (model 670). c. 1905., josef hoffman, produced by kohn

i find the design rather scary.  the name does not help.  it brings to mind enforced sitting.  associated with a long sickly stay in a sanatorium, the chair is not attractive.  but on the other hand, if you have to sit for a long time for any reason, it is wonderful to be able to adjust the angle of the backrest.  

* quotes copied from thinkexist.com

kohn bent wood baby cradle furniture design find at moma

need a baby cradle?  

childs cradle, 1895, ebonized bentwood, jacob and josef cohen

child's cradle, 1895, ebonized bentwood, austria, by jacob and josef kohn, chief competitors of thonet

in 1867 the austrian manufacturer J. & J. Kohn became thonet’s chief competitors using the art nouveau stylish bent wood technique.  this egg shaped cradle held soft cushions and the arm above supported draped netting.  why would one need draped netting?  in tropical climates, it helps to keep bugs out, but i put some netting over my first child’s crib to keep cats out.  i suspected the cats would leap in and sleep with the child.  by the time i had my second child, i realized i need not worry about the cats.  europeans do not have so many bugs, but they may have had cats… and a few worried mums.    

i found this crib on the museum of modern art’s website (moma).  their collections section has some good finds for furniture classics, with links to more info about the designers and the history of those times.  the site is a bit tricky to navigate, but it is worth the hunt.

furniture design, bent wood chairs, alvar aalto, and my dad

 

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

alvar aalto was an anti bauhaus modern designer “immersed in his struggle against metal in furniture design,” in the 1920s.*  he and his finnish business partner, otto korhonen, perfected the bent knee technique for their stool 60 and sold millions of them in the next decades.  for anyone who enjoys wood, working with wood and the beauty of it, bent wood remains a remarkable feature in furniture design.  aalto’s stool 60 and chair 43 were some of the early classics.  

Alvar Aalto

Stool 60 in Viipuri Municipal Library, 1933-35, Viipuri, Russia (formerly Finland). Architect: Alvar Aalto

stool 60

stool 60

i would also object to interior design in which there is no wood.  like the scandinavians who feature wood so beautifully in furniture and interior design, i grew up with a love for trees and their uses.  in this love, i was influenced by my dad.  he spent most of world war two as a boy scout and school boy in southampton, england, though there were not so many school days in those years, because of the german bombs.  when the americans finally showed up (thank God) and the allies were pushing back across france, my dad had turned 16, and went to work in the nearby new forest.

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

after training in north wales, he worked in nigeria and hong kong in forestry and conservation.  some of my best memories of my wonderful daddy include watching him skillfully chop down trees with an axe, working with him in his carpentry shop, and listening to him talk about wood and trees in forests we would walk through together.  

but aalto and my father held very different world views.  they both lived through terrible times of war and the dramatic changes in the world brought by the industrial revolution.  aalto became an avid proponent of humanism.  he believed that the solution to life’s problems were to be found in humanity, and that the reason for life was to improve humanity itself.  “We should work for simple, good, undecorated things, but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.” (Alvar Aalto, speech in London 1957)**  to aalto, wood was a tool for humanism.

on the other hand, in war torn england my father met God and did not waver through his life from his christian faith.  he saw, as i do, no hope in humanity without God, or in working for humanity alone. actually i do not see how anyone could walk through forests or work with wood and reject God and any relationship with Him.  the beauty of His creation screams His presence and the hopelessness of humanity compels me to His power and love.  as a young teenager my dad spent a lot of time chopping firewood with his boy scout troop.  once they were out in the woods camping when there was an unexpected air raid.  many nights he spent alone or huddled with his mum, dad and granny in the little air raid shelter in the garden. lots of time to think.  my dad thought of God, and though he died a few years ago, i know that now he is, through Christ, alive with God.  throughout his life he inspired many others to his same belief.  there is no other shelter.  

*Furniture Design, Jim Postel, 2007 (page 78).

** quoted in wikipedia

high brow furniture website, a great find in my lounge chair search

highbrowfurniture.com is my great find of the evening.  i spend bits and pieces of time during my week working on my blog and quick research finds are bonus.  at this site, they focus on “twentieth-century iconic classics byAmerican designers,” and when you scan down the list of possibilities, a neat photo pops up to give you a first look.  web designers take note. this beats scrolling through long pages and lists, only to click and find it is not what you were after.  i shall add them to my blogroll and pop back often. the whole design is invitingly uncluttered.  

what do you think of this design for some outdoor lounge seating — i am leaning towards some folding pieces and a wood frame to compliment our wood deck and woodsy back yard. 

 

wegner folding chair @ high brow furniture, tn

wegner folding chair @ high brow furniture, tn

wegner folding chair with hanger

wegner folding chair with hanger

high brow price: $6126,  $6502 with hanger.