panton’s unlikely chairs

last week i was calmly sitting on a swivel barstool when it decided to collapse. i had sat on this chair many days a week for years at a thrift store’s desk.  not that i sit much, but unnoticed this wood chair had succumbed to the florida heat and humidity so that when i did sit there this day, it gave out.  it was a strange feeling having the chair collapse under me, once so trusted.

so i come to the unlikely chairs of verner (or vernon?) panton, l’enfant terrible of danish furniture design. his designs have been described as innovative, provocative, sensational, visionary, and eccentric.  

vernon panton cone chair @ retrodecades.com

vernon panton cone chair @ retrodecades.com, a 1958 design

will it hold me?  maybe you are a small person and this question has never come up.  i am not particularly large, but i would not call myself small either.  i find myself eying this chair with suspicion.  impressed by the improbable design, i am not convinced of its strength. given the larger average proportions of people over the decades, i would be interested to know what weight the design holds.  

panton seems to have been escaping reality and weight, as others were in the 1960s.  

the first one-piece molded plastic chair, the panton chair, 1960

the first one-piece molded plastic chair, the panton chair, 1960

phantasy landscape, verner panton, 1970, at the visiona 2 exhibit, cologne design fair

phantasy landscape, verner panton, 1970, at the visiona 2 exhibit, cologne design fair

marcus miller explains panton’s well known fantasy landscape: “This soft, undulating womb of an environment, composed of upholstered foam panels, virtually dispenses with gravity. Leisure-seekers would recline across any number of organic protrusions built into modules that paid little or no attention to conventional coordinates like up or down. Panton’s immersive environments and futuristic designs of the 60s gave flesh to the dream of a blissful world free of constraints.” Marcus Miller

the phrase l’enfant terrible, literally the terrible child, refers to a successful avant garde, unorthodox person.  it also carries the meaning of a shockingly candid child embarrassing his elders with his comments and ideas.   i do find panton’s dismissal of constraints shocking, but the wild abandon has it’s attractions… can’t get the falling chair out of my mind, though…

dosbananos.com has several vintage panton pieces available this week.

vintage cone chairs, denmark @ dosbananos.com

vintage cone chairs, denmark @ dosbananos.com

vintage heart cone chair @ dosbananos.com

vintage heart cone chair @ dosbananos.com

george nakashima and burlwood furniture design

it strikes me as an anomaly that we should highly prize furniture made with burlwood.  george nakashima, american architect turned furniture maker, was famous for his inclusion of this type of wood in his designs.  

burls (brit. burs or burrs) are malignant abnormalities that form on some trees when they have been under some unusual stress from disease.

burr on an old scottish black poplar

burr on an old scottish black poplar

burr on a larch tree in scotland

burr on a larch tree in scotland

not the graceful elven tree forms forms we expect.  they remind you of the hunchback of notre dame.  yet when sliced or carefully detached from the normal wood (this takes a lot of work and care because of the twisted, hardened nature of the burl) the veneer, the table tops, or the naturally sculpted forms that emerge are rare treasures.  

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

nakashima dining table

burlwood and glass end table @ TSandCompany

burlwood and glass end table @ TSandCompany

cabinet, george nakishima, @ treadwaygallery.com

cabinet, george nakishima, @ treadwaygallery.com

why is this not the case with people?  we shun abnormal people.  we stare at and then pull back from people with scars or injuries.  we do not relish visits to hospitals and nursing homes.  our tv screens are filled with the beautifully perfect people only.  our tv news anchors are the ken and barbie dolls we love.  

yet my experience is that there is a deep strength and beauty in the hearts of the not normal.  i would rather their company than many more outwardly perfect people i know.  nakashima had a soft heart for the suffering.  i suspect he had suffered himself at some points in his life.  maybe this explains his long successful work with not normal wood.

vladimir kagan furniture design and the lounge search

a torrential down pour moved through florida early this morning.  i have an outdoor lounge chair search on, and vladimir kagan’s set strikes me on this soggy day as almost perfect.  no damp cloth seats or moldy wood to deal with when our sun returns.   

vladimir kagan chairs and table @ dosbananos.com

vladimir kagan chairs and table @ dosbananos.com

 but on a dry day, this one would be wonderful

multi position aluminum frame lounge chair @ vladimirkagan.com

multi position aluminum frame lounge chair @ vladimirkagan.com

kagan’s simple lines and sweeping curves are most elegant

contour high backed lounge chair, walnut frame @ vladimirkagan.com

contour high backed lounge chair, walnut frame @ vladimirkagan.com

kagan has some cubist designs i am not so crazy about, but his use of plexiglass and contours combined is interesting

erica chaise @ vladimirkagan.com

erica chaise @ vladimirkagan.com

 

 here we go, for a super lazy florida day!

 

outdoor chaise, 1960s @ architonic.com

outdoor chaise, tubular steel, 1960s @ architonic.com

bold surreal josef frank fabric and furniture design

a designer savy friend is incorporating panels of josef frank’s wallpaper into her new home in florida.  frank’s dramatic designs are clean, crisp and full of color.  my friend is expecting a new baby.  perhaps she feels there should be more perk in the child’s upbringing.  or maybe she is freaking out from her move to florida from europe and this is a coping mechanism…..

Svenskt Tenn at Strandvägen in Stockholm

Svenskt Tenn at Strandvägen in Stockholm displays Frank's furniture and random design style.

frank’s designs come from vienna in the 1920s and then sweden from the 1930s on.  they are remarkable given their time and place.  while the severe minimalist bauhaus designers were becoming vogue, frank and his partners rejected those restrictions but still advanced in a modern direction of their own, adapting various 1800s styles and forms, european and asian.   

vegetable tree, josef frank

vegetable tree, josef frank

 

dixieland, josef frank

dixieland, josef frank

 

Gröna fåglar, cotton

Gröna fåglar, josef frank

 

catleya, josef frank

catleya, josef frank

 

teheran, black, josef frank

teheran, black, josef frank (he made a lot of patterns with an alternate white background)

 

US tree, josef frank

US tree, josef frank

“Mix old and new, colors and forms. Things that you like will all the same melt into a quiet unity. The home does not have to be planned in detail, not artful, just linked together by parts that its occupants enjoy and love.”

Josef Frank (1885-1967)

easy chair 568, josef frank, 1936

easy chair 568, josef frank, 1936

 

easy chair, 336, josef frank

easy chair, 336, josef frank

 

Sofa 968, josef frank

Sofa 968, josef frank

 

chair, josef frank

chair, josef frank

you can see this ‘chuck a whole bunch of unlikely things together’ philosophy in the fabric dsigns themselves.  personally, i do not see it all melting into a quiet unity.  although there are some more mellow designs in their inventory (see many more samples and info about frank at  Svenskt Tenn ) i cannot conceive of an inclusion of his fabrics on chairs or walls in my home without creating a loud disunity.  

fran, where is your sense of adventure?, you might ask. (and i have been asked many times…) sorry, maybe i am a bit dull, but i find the surreal aspects of his designs unsettling.  surrealism  has a disorienting, hallucinatory dreamlike quality.  like reading ‘alice in wonderland’ as a child, or singing along to ‘the yellow submarine’ as a teenager.  wow, strange but cool ideas. then later, when you are a mother reading ‘alice’ to your children, you are relieved to discover that lewis carroll was on drugs when he wrote the book, and so were the beatles much of the time.  ah, you say to yourself, that explains it.  not that you trash alice and the beatles, but they become less marvelous.  

i am not accusing my friend of being on drugs because she likes josef frank’s designs.  i cannot find any evidence that frank was on drugs.  he did live in disorienting times, though.  vienna was a dynamic crossroad of culture and history during his early training.  radical crossroad upbringings can be disorienting.

i wonder what his viennese jewish family suffered while frank and his wife took refuge in sweden from the nazis.  maybe to frank the world was surreal. understandable.   

for myself i need to hold on to truth and real ordered uncluttered design.  i find this settling in an unsettled world.   

but maybe i am looking at this the wrong way.  frank and his partner, estrid ericson, loved life, family, pets, and the ability to rearrange furniture and furnishings often.  they liked to incorporate new things and a variety of styles in one room, as if it had been thrown together by accident.  perhaps i am confusing accidentalism with surrealism.  even so, i find neither very calming….

you should have more color in your life, though, fran, my friends say…..  just spare me from too much pink…

Gösta Glase)

Josef Frank and Estrid Ericson admire Josef Frank’s "Primavera" pattern. (Photo: Gösta Glase)

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??)

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.

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