hans olsen’s bikini chair

bikini chair, hans olsen @ dosbananos.com

bikini chair, hans olsen @ dosbananos.com

this chair is a beautiful rare sculpture of wood and upholstery.  from the 50s or early 60s this is a masterpiece of design skill, with the compound bent wood and dramatic shape. the piece was expensive to build and few were made.  

the name makes me smile.  i wonder what shape of woman he had in mind when he came up with the shape.  or after it was designed, what woman and bikini did it evoke, and hence the name. either way, it reminds me of a visit to a gym or a walk on a beach.  a normal beach, mind.  your average neighborhood gym.  not the ones on tv where the beautiful slim selection is on show. come to florida and give the normal american world a glim.  the possible variations of women’s shapes is wider than you may think.  the abstract design world has plenty of models!


faux bamboo furniture in hollywood regency design

faux bamboo has been included in a lot of design styles: rococo, art deco, …and now hollywood regency.  for a touch of asian exotic, go with faux bamboo. 

Oriental Chinese style (20th Cent) faux bamboo altar console table with carved teak floral filigree apron

Oriental Chinese style (20th Cent) faux bamboo altar console table with carved teak floral filigree apron @ newel.com


faux bamboo chair

faux bamboo chair @ artcollector-usa

faux bamboo is a thought provoking combination of nature and man made materials and geometry. bamboo’s uniform growth pattern lends itself to manmade replication.  the embellishment has a pleasing aspect, but i find myself arguing with the fakeness of the result.  

faux bamboo mirror at art collector usa

faux bamboo mirror @ artcollector-usa

real bamboo tapers gently.  i miss the natural uneven dimensions.  and for me it is always a common building supply.  

i grew up in hong kong where bamboo scaffolding was a part of the always persistent culture of construction.  small chinese men fearlessly whipped that stuff together as they climbed the towering grids that wrapped the tall buildings.  sometimes it blew down a bit in typhoons, but it was cheap and easy to replace.  for me, bamboo evokes confidence and strength, but a normal everyday kind.   

bamboo scaffolding in HK

bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong

bamboo’s fast growth is amazing.  one botanical garden near my house walks you through a great variety of species, and the winding path through the unique dense forest is quite magical.  

bamboo at kanapaha botanical gardens, gainesville, florida

bamboo at kanapaha botanical gardens, gainesville, florida



i don’t have faux bamboo at my house.  i prefer cleaner simpler lines.  however, if you like the ornamented hollywood regency style, some bamboo look alike accents fit in wonderfully, with more polished symmetry than the original, and in all types of materials.  

Faux Bamboo (Italian 1940s) style gilt metal nest of 3 coffee tables with rectangular glass tops @ newel.com

Faux Bamboo (Italian 1940s) style gilt metal nest of 3 coffee tables with rectangular glass tops @ newel.com

jens risom, living and working past 92!

i plan to live into my 90s and be productive and useful in some way until i die. you think about these things when you are nearing 50…  

if you need inspiration to set yourself such a goal, read an article about furniture designer jens risom at dwr’s design notes.  in my hunt for decent design websites, dwr, design within reach is so far my favorite.  they offer some thoughtful substance, not just bits of waffle and a picture or two. 

2008, jens risom (age 92), with dwr design studio, originally designed in 1949 for the caribe hilton hotel in puerto rico.

2008, jens risom (age 92), with dwr design studio, originally designed in 1949 for the caribe hilton hotel in puerto rico.

dwr worked with risom in 2008 to remake a 1949 chair and ottoman, and a bench.  what an opportunity, to be able to tap into all those years of hard work and wisdom. they used different materials and techniques, but risom has always been interested  in efficient production and exceptional accessible design.  he worked with this dwr team to do the same thing again.  

my granny lived into her 90s.  i remember her, her smile and the twinkle in her eyes well.  my goal is a distinct possibility….

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.

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.

6 tips for practical furniture design – chairs, curves, glasses of wine

life is complicated, it has radical ups and downs.  we need more curves, they calm, they welcome us…. and a long lunch sometimes with a good friend,  good cheese and a glass or two of wine.

i noticed at this cafe (where i was appreciating the company, and the fare, this week) that the chairs were all in the style of thonet’s 14.  metal versions with vinyl seats, but here was thonet’s design, which was originally launched and sold millions in the mid to late 1800s in europe and america.

thonets innovative no. 14 chair

thonet's innovative no. 14 chair

later the same day i watched the 2005 movie “pride and prejudice” (one of my favorites).  there was nothing like this design in all the interiors. everything was elaborate, ornate, heavy- more so with the more affluent.  i wondered how thonet managed to be successful with this design in the society of those times.  and why, after 150 years, is it still popular?  these questions brought me to today’s blog, and here are my answers.

6 basics that thonet’s chairs have – great for any chair design, but especially for dining chairs.

  1. it is curved – most of nature has curved lines.  man’s inventions are most practically made with straight lines and sharp angles. maybe the curves are attractive because we need a break from the ups and downs of our man made days.  there are many angular modern furnishings available today, but i find this style unwelcoming.
  2. the design is simple – the french and american revolutions, and the industrial revolution, were pushing away the need for everyone to prove that they were rich and upwardly mobile in society.  class mattered less. increasingly, you could sit with a friend from any walk of life at a local cafe and have a meal together.
  3. it is radical – the simplicity and the new lines of the modern were, in thonet’s time, shocking.  this is a good thing.  we often need to be shaken out of our old ways, thoughts and patterns of living.  otherwise there is no change.
  4. it is strong – thonet’s chair must have held up well to use, or he would not have kept selling them.  when thonet’s bent beechwood proved to be weak in tropical climates, he worked on twisting the wood while it was being bent, and he bought the glue factory that supplied his factories so that he could improve the glue.  many chairs these days are made of cheap, weak materials, weak at the joints, or the design just does not hold up to use.  and now there is the problem of obesity.  recently i was shopping for a new lounge chair for our deck and the label said, among other things about the care of the chair, “maximum load 300 lbs.”  new challenge for chair designers!
  5. the seating can be replaced easily – the seat on thonet’s chair could be replaced and cleaned easily.  the seats were solid wood or a woven grass. when similar chairs are covered with fabric, which will inevitably get dirty or torn in a dining setting, a new covering can simply be stapled on and seat reattached the chair.  sounds like an unimpressive feature, but i have worked on many chairs that were a nightmare to repair or re-upholster.
  6. it is light – heavy furniture is made by people who never do any cleaning.
another thonet design for an after dinner rest with curves

furniture design – thonet’s lifestyle

how do you get from this….
The Battle of Trafalgar by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1822–1824)

to this?

Thonets mass produced no.14 chair

Thonet's mass produced no.14 chair

you cannot separate great designers from their life and time.  case in point, michael thonet.  he was a cabinet maker by training.  interior design at that time was following the trends of architecture and that was inspired by royalty (and the church.)  see me, my great buildings, trust me and follow me (even though i am rather foolish), sort of thing (well, not the church entirely, nor all royalty, but lots of it).  but this was the beginning of the end for those that inherited moneyed upper classness.  along with the rise of british naval power was the beginning of the industrial revolution.  hard working innovators were the rising rich, first in britain and spreading to western europe and north america.  meanwhile, in prussia, and then austria, thonet and his four sons experimented with chairs.  

trade and war went hand in hand during the early industrial revolution, and the greatest need for both was fast ships.  the shipbuilders were the only ones bending wood.  lighter, stronger, sleeker, faster.  then sail to china, bomb their ports, trade your opium and tea, steal hong kong (1842). back to london for huge profits. (for example).

i was born and raised in hong kong and only the very old sat around there, much.  everyone worked hard to make the most of every opportunity — which was plentiful because of the hard work of the people that had built the place (and few regulations, low taxes, and good government).  factories were set up in tiny apartments, where whole families also lived, even in the shacks perched on the slippery hillsides.  little 3 year olds studied their characters to make it into the first year of school.  everyone studied english.  people were selling anything and everything wherever they could.

hong kong island, transformed from the 1800 fishing village

hong kong island, transformed from the fishing village of the early 1800s

but back to thonet and sons, whose story reminds me of hong kong.  he was born in 1796, apprenticed with a cabinet maker, was invited in 1842 to be the royal furniture designer for austria.  turned the offer down to keep his independence and vision of worldwide sales.  below is a excerpt from “Thonet 14,” by Giovanni Renzi.   bear in mind that there were no phones or emails, no cars or trucks.  steam ships and trains were only just getting under way.  there were no gas stations, no credit cards.  europe and north america were growing and changing rapidly, with every man for himself, more or less.  

The history, development and copies of the bestselling chair in the world 
Over a hundred and forty years ago, in 1859, a Thonet factory in Koritschan in Moravia, produced the first chair known as number 14 in the catalogues of the Viennese company. Since then several million chairs of this model have been manufactured and sold. 
According to various scholars of the Thonet phenomenon 
(1), it is possible to speak of fifty million examples manufactured and sold by 1930, whilst according to the advertising of Gebruder Thonet in its contemporary catalogues, fifty million chairs had been sold before 1914. This success was followed by extremely widespread competition from local, national and international firms, with several million (2) copies of the original built using the same bent beech-wood technique. Finally, the same model was reproduced using other materials; firstly iron, which was initially handcrafted and later worked using modern welding techniques, and then plastic. 
Such figures have never been repeated in the furniture sector, and although they have probably been inflated by advertising propaganda, they still represent the worldwide success of an extremely simple model: an archetype of the chair. 
Ever since the last quarter of the nineteenth century news papers and magazines and travel magazines have portrayed people of all races and ranks sitting on the number 14, firstly in drawings and later in photographs. 
The success of number 14 is the success of Michael Thonet and the final result of the stubborn conviction that beech-wood and the bending technique represented the future of chair making. Following twenty years of experimentation, marketing mistakes, technological intricacies and partial failures, Thonet managed to create the economic chair for mass consumption. 

michael thonet and sons, who started their own company in 1819

michael thonet and sons

more on thonet another time, but i am impressed by his story and his chairs.  we want things to be given to us today.  make it easy, make it fast.  but that is not how it happens.  get to work – or dream on and only see it on your dreams.