in search of the perfect lounge chair – betty joel and art deco

do you have $37,500.00 handy?  if so, you may be interested in this chaise lounge chair attributed to betty joel.  it is available at newel, nyc.   i like betty joel’s style.  and she was a brit, born and raised in hong kong, like me.  so she gets extra points. 

Betty Joel)

English Art Deco maple recamier of sleigh form upholstered in white cotton with fringed edge (attr: Betty Joel), $37.000 at newel

joel was influenced by the chinese art she was surrounded by in hong kong, and though she lived through the first world war, she was not so shocked and disillusioned by war as were the europeans. her contemporary modernist designers at bauhaus were philosophically warped and became overly idealist.  millinary works, uk describes joel, on the other hand, as “a confident realist, not concerning herself with design theory, political ideology or an art movement.”   joel’s work just has a flair and fun about it that makes me smile.   

Betty Joel 1894 – 1985, british art deco designer

Betty Joel 1894 – 1985, british art deco designer

art deco chaise-longue, by betty joel, england 1930

art deco chaise-longue, by betty joel, england 1930

hong kong, which was a british crown colony, is a great place to grow up as a brit.  it builds you up and brings you down at the same time.  you are called, to your face, a “gwai lo”, (well, you can’t spell it in english) but it means ‘white devil.’  you are on the one hand not welcome, a foreigner, part of an overlord race that is unjustified, that should not be there  (hong kong was sort of stolen from the chinese).  but on the other hand you are also admired and respected.  hong kong provided a well governed haven for chinese escapees from mao’s communism (in the 1960s and 70s, when i was there). it was also an incredible opportunity for any hard working person to reap the benefits of living at a cultural crossroad and a great hub of world commerce. people were desperate, thankful and skeptical all at the same time.  

there is something about being born and raised in a multicultural place, and especially a non-country sort of place like hong kong, that causes you not to take any national culture or human ideology very seriously.  the best way to live is to realize that every national culture has its strengths and its stupidities.

when joel and her naval husband moved to england after the war, they wanted unique furniture for their modern home.  friends asked them for duplicates and this led to their successful art deco business.  you can almost see tasseled ladies leaping up from these chaise lounges to dance the charleston.


british military influence on bauhaus furniture design

folding british campaign chairs inspired the basculant and wassily chairs.   

this is an interesting connection. 

roorkhee chair

a late 1800s roorkhee chair reproduction

   Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Corbett, sitting in a Roorkhee chair in Dhikala, India

Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Corbett, sitting in a Roorkhee chair in Dhikala, India

the british military were the spearhead of empire, of world commerce, christianity and civilization (british style).  they did a lot of camping, of living on the frontier, of folding their lives up and moving on.  this was not the whole picture, though.  behind it all was the victorian and edwardian leadership, the bankers and ceos in london, the plush english houses with their rose gardens, the educators fighting to bring the possibilities of the next generation to the children of the slums of manchester and the african bush, and radical missionaries with bold and kind hearts reaching millions for the gospel. it was one package: a powerful, prosperous, piratical machine.  

Basculant Chair LC 1 by Le Corbusier (1928)

Basculant Chair LC 1 by Le Corbusier (1928)


marcel breuers 1925 wassily chair

marcel breuer's 1925 wassily chair

le corbusier and breuer of the 1920s bauhaus set were champions of the modern style of that decade, their furniture design reflected an attempt to cope with the newly industrialized world, crowded unsanitary urbanism and disorder. they focused on clean open geometric form and new industrial materials, rejecting the soft, complex and rich forms and ideas of the past.  

yet they were also camping on the edge of possibilities as they saw them.  you cannot escape the world with your design style, but you can create a refuge of sorts from the elements of life that you wish to reject.

caution: when you go out the door, the world is still there.