Huzzah! The first Matter Observed post of the new year is to announce that I won Inhabitat’s Top Original Reporting for this story I wrote (and photographed) on the Eames Case Study House last month. And in case you missed it, I also wrote a Matter Observed post and made a short video about the modern design mecca earlier this year. A nice start to to 2013!
Here’s to more designing, more writing, more photographing, more blogging, and more discovering this New Year. I cannot wait to share all of this with you, right here on Matter Observed.
Chicago Home+Garden‘s third annual “Chairs for Charity” was held at Consentino‘s beautiful West Loop showroom on Wednesday night. The evening was a resounding success with proceeds benefiting Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA). Matter & Order has been a huge fan of this event ever since being a part of the inaugural Chairs for Charity back in 2010. Some of Chicago’s leading designers and artists took inspiration from all sorts of places and transformed existing chairs, usually in disrepair, into showstopping, interior design centerpieces. Check out this year’s designs below:
Designer’s Statement: “Jillian O’Neill has a passion for designing furniture and Francine Turk was inspired to paint roses after stumbling upon an amazing rose garden while on a trip with O’Neill in Charlotte, NC.”
Designer’s Statement: “Vintage 1970s chair revamped into classic contemporary. I wanted to take the great bones of this chair, polish up the frame, and revamp the upholstery with textures that make it warm, touchable, yet clean in appearance to complement and interior. It is quiet and elegant with classic contemporary styling. I selected a gorgeous ash-colored leather, with mohair in a silvery gray on the seat and a frost tone on the back to contrast with the bright polished chrome frame.”
Designer’s Statement: “Gathered Together was inspired by the resurgence of the industrial found objects movement that’s recently gained a lot of momentum. The initial exhilaration of finding a one-of-a-kind item on a treasure hunt is short-lived when we later discover that the piece has simply gathered dust in a drawer or otherwise dimly lit chamber. When gathered together, these items create a magnificent way to revisit the past – while managing the point towards the future.”
Designer’s Statement: “This chair was particularly beat up when I found it. It had been reupholstered countless times in the past century, then left under a porch for the last 20 years. After removing the nearly 100 rusty tacks, it took a little care to re-glue the mortise and tenon joinery, and a lot of elbow grease to clean up the mahogany frame. The only part I rebuilt was the chair seat, from reclaimed mahogany flooring. I often use belts to reupholster furniture, and feel the bring so much color and texture to the piece. I especially love that you can still see all of the ear and tack holes from previous upholstery. Perhaps in a few decades someone else will come along and ind another creative way to modify this chair.”
Designer’s Statement: “The classic library chair and especially the armchair are well designed and comfortable. I wanted to create a more angular, modern juxtaposition to the curves of the original and add of bit of whimsy with the brushed aluminum and oriental feel.”
Designer’s Statement: “In thinking about what a chair is, its meaning and usage, I thought about chairs that have reference to place and events. This chair was originally in a monastery library. Made of thick walnut with very utilitarian design, it just feels solid; it spoke to me about integrity. When I made this chair, I was thinking about a day of grave violence in our city, and the plastic rods represent shots – with every gun shot, integrity is sacrificed.”
Designer’s Statement: “This once-proud chair lost its pizzazz; worn, torn, and dirty, but what wonderful bones it possessed. Max was in need of a contemporary update with fabrics, paint, and a plethora of nail heads. He shines once again.”
Designer’s Statement: “Furniture is sculpture to me. And as much as I love to engineer a good chair, sometimes I’d rather just carve one out. Using only reclaimed or leftover materials made this project that much more rewarding. Only the LEDs in this chair were purchased new.”
Designer’s Statement: “Rather than create something out of a whole cloth, the goal is to transform the mundane, to take a pedestrian object that we regularly encounter but rarely notice. To see something with fresh eyes and imagine the possibilities. That, and a racing stripe.”
Designer’s Statement: “The light color of this chair reminded me of the hone-colored wooden vigas and furniture of Santa Fe. Its simple, strong lines provided the perfect backdrop for the bold, bright woven colors and pattern of the blanket. I loved marrying the distinctly European form of the chair with the ethnic feel of the upholstery.”
Designer’s Statement: “The muse for Intern Gilly was our summer intern – a modern classic with an unconventional streak. A juxtoposition of clean lines and funky upholstery (with exposed seams) hints at the fact that you never know what to expect from this gal. Oh, Gilly, behave!”
Designer’s Statement: “These chairs had been left for dead at my upholsterer’s – stripped of fabric, but with these great bones. I envisioned them as sexy French parlor chairs. The smoky purple velvet has a seductive feel, and the hand-blocked and embroidered fabric from Seema Krish adds a hint of the exotic.”
Designer’s Statement: “I had always wanted to incorporate Tony’s (Fitzpatrick) work into a piece of furniture. The reproduction of the drawing collage ‘Desire’ as a cushion seemed to be a warm and sensuous use of this lovely work of art.”
A special “thank you” to my friend Vanessa for these lovely photos of the event!
The Loop chaise lounge is a hybrid chair/rug created by young Dutch designer Sophie De Vocht, c. 2011.
The next time you take a seat in a chair, whether it is an ordinary café chair or a luxuriously appointed lounge chair, consider yourself privileged. Though chairs have been around for thousands of years, it wasn’t too long ago that only the wealthy and members of the highest echelons of society were able to take a load off in what we commonly know as a chair: a seat supported by four legs and a back. The bourgeois and working classes had always been relegated to sit on backless wooden benches or stools. By the 1880’s, however, the Second Industrial Revolution was in full swing and companies like Chicago’s Sears, Roebuck, & Co. sold “machined sets” available for the masses, democratizing the once aristocratic concept of a chair. Since then, the chair has been one of the most designed and written about artifacts of the modern age.
Now you may be asking yourself, “What makes the chair so special?” Aside from it being a mirror reflection of our culture, and giving us a glimpse into the architecture and technology of tomorrow, a chair can make an ordinary space extra-ordinary. Its form, material, and color all converge at once creating a functional sculpture and an anchor to a room’s design. Much like a work of art, the chair can elevate atmosphere and communicate an aesthetic unlike any other piece of furniture.
The evolution of the chair over the past 150 years is quite remarkable – from the early craftsmen working with only their hands and simple tools, to modern designers using AutoCAD and computer numerical control (CNC) machines – the chair has come a long way, and we think it deserves a little attention. So go on and find a seat (if you’re not already in one), lean back, get comfy, and picture yourself in one of these modern (and not-s0-modern) gems sure to be a piece de résistance to any interior.
Jean Prouvé’s Cité lounge chair, originally designed for a competition to furnish the student residence halls at the University of Nancy, France, c. 1930.
Pierre Paulin’s No. 577 chair, sometimes referred to as the “Tongue” because of its sinuous form, sits directly on the floor allowing you to relax in a comfortable, informal posture, c. 1967.
This Peter Behrens chair model was designed for the dining room of the Behrens’ villa on the Darmstadt Mathildenhohe upon the occasion of the exhibition “Ein Dokument Deutscher Kunst,” c. 1901.
The Pelican chair by Finn Juhl is an ode to one of his influences, sculptor Jean Arp, c. 1941.
The Elisabette arm chair by Sam Baron has connections to the French interiors of the XVI century. His works embody the chic spirit typical of the French decorative tradition, c. 2011.
According to a sale catalogue of 1883, this chair, designed by Christopher Dresser, was originally intended for a drawing room or boudoir. It combines a simple form with an unusual arrangement of vertical and diagonal struts in the back, c. 1880.
The Distex lounge chair, model no. 807 by Gio Ponti, was one of the early “Atomic Age” chair designs, c. 1953.
The RE-TROUVÉ Collection by Patricia Urquiola is inspired by the meeting of the present and the past: nostalgic design from the fifties with its curls and spirals combined with modern production, c. 2012.
The Maxell chair by Phase Design is geometric poetry, with harmonious proportions and intriguing angles all unifying to form the sculptural seat, c. 2012.
To see more chairs, pick up a copy of the August Today’s Chicago Woman magazine, on newsstands now. If you don’t live in Chicago, you can read it on-line here.
When you enter the property of Charles & Ray Eames in Santa Monica, California, you pass a stacked cord of firewood, a shed of old tools, potted plants in clay jars, and a multitude of mulch-covered paths. There is nothing particularly remarkable about the landscape but, by virtue of their very proximity to the Eames’ house, everyday objects acquire a unique charge that can only be described as Eamesian. The Eamesian touch is tempting to describe, but best left for the images to speak for themselves. ~Michael Neault
A friend of mine who’s in the business of hocking cool furniture recently joked that if he heard one more person describe a piece of furniture as “Eames style,” he would absolutely lose it. I suppose if you’re in the industry and have a respectable knowledge of the expansive catalog of Mid-Century modern design and its designers, hearing something described as “Eamesian” without valid explanation could be a little grating on one’s intellect. The Eameses were undeniable rock-stars of furniture design (and textile design, and gadget and toy making, and film making, and advertising, and branding, etc.) in their day – but in the age of the internet and the revival of all things mid-century modern, their legend has grown to epic proportions – so much so that rapper Ice Cube is even cruising on the Eames’ plywood-made bandwagon.
Despite their ubiquity and iconic status, as a designer I still hold a strong reverence for the work and philosophy of Charles and Ray Eames. How can one not, as a visual artist, or even a person of academia for that matter, respect their mission to educate and communicate through the power of design? Their endless curiosity and experimental approach to everything they touched has undoubtedly changed the way the modern world thinks, works, and lives. And though their philosophy to only take from Mother Earth what is necessary, and their quest to “bring the best to the most for the least” has not fully been realized (their licensed products are, let’s just say, pricey), this utopian-minded thinking was ahead of its time in the midst of the splurge and excess of late 1950′s and 1960′s consumerism.
On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was given the opportunity to take a private tour of Case Study House No. 8, or more commonly, the Eames House, by a former employee of the Eames Office and an old friend of Charles and Ray. The home and studio rest on a hillside in the affluent neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, just north of Santa Monica, with vistas of Santa Monica Pier and the ocean just beyond the towering Eucalyptus trees that were left untouched per the revised design for site. The modest buildings, though not organic in material (steel and glass) or shape (a box), somehow exist in harmony with the leisurely maintained coastal nature surrounding them.
The interior was remarkably preserved the way Ray had left it, except for the living room, which was on loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for their California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”exhibit. In its absence, the Eames Foundation cleverly recreated a 1951 Japanese tea-party the Eameses had hosted in the living room, where guests like Isamu Noguchi, Shirley Yamaguchi, and Charlie Chaplin dined and talked about current projects, and about life (oh, to be a fly on that suspended Hans Hofmann painting!).
As I walked the grounds photographing the meadow where the Eameses played and picnicked, and also the exterior architecture of the simple but beautifully designed home and studio, I began to understand on a deeper level their life’s work and philosophy. From the eclectic compilation of worldly objects scattered throughout the home, to the lush foliage of the adjoining patios, to the ingenious musical tower made of xylophone keys, wood, and plexiglass, 203 North Chautauqua Boulevard truly is a must see whether you’re a fan of the Eameses furniture, or simply appreciate their contribution to modern thinking about design and its impact on the world around us.
To learn more about the life and work of Charles and Ray Eames, check out the very informative PBS documentary film, Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter, here.
From starting Matter Observed way back in January, to taking on several exciting interior design projects with Matter & Order; traveling near and far, including a last minute trip to Italy covering the Salone del Mobile for Inhabitat, to welcoming two beautiful new members into the extended family. There were ups and there were downs, as can be expected in any calendar year – but it was a good year. A challenging year. I learned a lot in 2011, and for that I am so very grateful.
As we bid 2011 adieu, I want to thank everyone who has supported me and Matter & Order through kind words of encouragement, and also thank those who took the time to read Matter Observed posts (over 6,000 visits to date!). I cannot express in words how much this means to me. In the year ahead, I will strive to design more, discover more, and write more, and of course share all of it with you on Matter Observed!
So I raise my proverbial glass, wishing you and your family the very best for 2012.
Chicago Home + Garden‘s second annual Chairs for Charity was an overwhelming success, with thousands of dollars raised for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Last year, Matter & Order participated with our submission, The Happiest Man – a vintage valet chair from the 1950′s. This year, we covered the event for Inhabitat and had just as much fun. Click here to read all about the event, and see the amazingly creative and inventive chairs from some of Chicago’s top designers.
Last year, Matter & Order was invited to participate in Chicago Home + Garden‘s first ever Chairs for Charity event, where 15 Chicago-area designers including Larry Vodak of Scout, Julia Buckingham Edelmann of Buckingham Interiors, Kara Mann of Kara Mann Design, and Monica Pedersen of HGTV, among others, were asked to take a vintage chair, give it a new life, and donate it to be auctioned off with all of the proceeds benefiting Designs 4 Dignity.
For our entry, we took a flea market found valet chair from the 1950′s – the exact same chair in Don Drapers old bedroom on AMC’s Mad Men – nickle plated it (courtesy of Precision Finishing, Inc.), built a plush new seat (courtesy of Covers Unlimited), wrapped it in Indian silk fabric (courtesy of Gregg Fishman of Fishman Fabrics), and topped it off with a Jason Lewis-made base and walnut tray for keys, cufflinks, cigar cutters, etc., completely transforming a chair in despair into a smart, functional, and classic manly throne entitled, The Happiest Man.
Then, to give this new chair the attention it deserved, we put together a little photo shoot with some friends, including gifted photographer, Lindsay Gallup, fashion designer Anastasia Chatzka and her stunningly beautiful clothing lines, her then business manager and stylist, Sean Moran, vintage hair and makeup specialist Angelica Rivera of Tigerlilie Salon, and (first-time) model, the lovely Agnieszka Haligowska. We all had a blast creating Mad Men inspired imagery to represent the underlying theme of the event: the transformation of the old into new. And among a packed house at the Tile Gallery on November 3rd, with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres being served from some of Chicago’s finest restaurants, the auction raised over $10,000 for an incredible organization and an amazing cause.
Outtakes of “The Happiest Man” photo shoot:
Postcards we printed and distributed around the city to promote the event:
Coverage of the event in Chicago Home + Garden:
This year’s event, benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, promises to be just as exciting and fruitful with chair designs from Karen Kalmek of Green Home Chicago, Morlen Sinoway of Morlen Sinoway Atelier, Cody Hudson of Struggle Inc., and HGTV Host & Author, Frank Fontana, just to name a few. So get your tickets to the second annual Chairs for Charityhere, and don’t miss out on your chance to bid on and own a one-of-a-kind chair and work of art, all the while helping support yet another great cause! November 2, 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m., Chicago Art Source, 1871 N. Clybourn Ave.
Cruising down the proud highway, I65, toward the Blue Grass State, windows down and the radio just above the volume of the air rushing in, I thought of the place that I quixotically built up in my mind over the years, constructed mostly from stories I’ve heard and the occasional TV spot while watching the “two most exciting minutes in sports.” To me, Kentucky was a virtual utopia of hillside whiskey distilleries and perfect fence-lined meadows with rocky streams cutting through both, and of course there were horses. Lots and lots of horses.
So as we finally drove over the Ohio River into this once imaginary, now all of a sudden very real state, I was delighted to see that there was much more going on here than advertised – from Louisville’s interesting architecture, both old and new, and its rich arts and culture scene; to Lexington’s Victoria Square and the University of Kentucky College of Design’s iconic Pence Hall (a proposal is on the table for an addition by none other than Studio Gang Architects of Aqua fame); to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, with its stunningly simple hand crafted furniture and sinuous, poetic stair cases. Kentucky, just a little over a five hour drive from Chicago, is an absolute must observe and an ideal 3-4 day weekend getaway with something for just about everyone.
Oh yeah, and that utopian place with the horses and the meadows and the bourbon? That part is every bit as true and beautiful in person as it was in my imagination all those years.
From Louisville’s native son:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
Traveling to Italy to experience design is like visiting the bluegrass region of Kentucky to experience Thoroughbred horses (a future Matter Observed post). Sure, there are many places in the United States and around the world that breed and race Thoroughbreds, but it’s impossible to fully understand and appreciate the history and tradition of the sport until you visit the likes of Calumet and Claiborne farms, attend a yearling auction at Keeneland, or sit in the grandstands at the Vatican of horse racing, Churchill Downs. The history and tradition of design in Italy runs just as deep, and much like how the upcoming Kentucky Derby showcases the most elite Thoroughbreds on the planet, the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the world’s largest and most important design trade show held every year in Milan, showcases the best new designs from Italy and around the globe – only the field is not 20 but some 2,000+ companies in a fast and frenetic five-day long race for the spotlight and a piece of market share. An exciting time, indeed!
I was fortunate (and lucky) enough to experience the granddaddy of design expos as a writer for the well-respected and eco-friendly design blog, Inhabitat, covering the newest green and sustainably made products out there – but I also took time to observe some of the contemporary furniture exhibits, where iconic companies like Vitra, Magis, and Kartell, and also some of the more unfamiliar brands like Pinton, Imperfetto, and YDF revealed to the world their latest and greatest designs. Among the many highlights include Konstantin Grcic’s aeronautical-looking Table B for Barceloa Design; Campeggi’s prototype of an oscillating public/private conversation and sleeping unit; and Kartell’s over-the-top, Moulin Rouge inspired set design. As overwhelming as it may seem with the number of the images below, this truly is just a millimeter sampling of an endless arena of new and innovative design that happens every April at the Salone del Mobile.
The smell and sound of a good wood shop is about as comforting to a furniture devotee as freshly mowed Wrigley Field grass and organ music is to a Cubs fan. The rich aroma of cut hardwoods permeate the air, sun beams illuminate a suspended universe of slowly moving particle dust, while a bevel edge chisel and table saw provide the verdant soundtrack. Just like Wrigley, it is a living, breathing time capsule – and this is exactly the scene Matter Observed walked into when we visited Chicago-based furniture maker, Jason Lewis, at his West Town laboratory of lumber. We caught up with Jason to get his thoughts on design, learn a little bit about his working process, and discover what’s on the horizon for this talented, up-and-coming furniture designer.
Matter Observed: Jason, first tell us a little about your background and how you got into furniture design.
Jason: I sort of got into building furniture before I got into designing furniture. In 2000 I found out about this local place that was basically a functioning custom furniture shop combined with a woodworking school. The guy took on apprentices to work for free and just learn by immersion in this environment. I had been looking for something like that to do, and ultimately I went and worked there for about a year. That was my first exposure to traditional joinery and this kind of furniture construction. I had always sort of built things, but never on this level.
After that I put together my own shop and started doing whatever commissions I could get. So this was when I really started working on design – both the one-off custom type work but also my own designs. Basically between paying jobs I would just work on my own pieces and try to build as much as I could, experimenting with different things.
Matter Observed: Aesthetic remnants of Shaker furniture and mid-century Danish design can be seen in much of your work. Do you look at what you are doing with your furniture as an extension of these styles and their fundamental principals?
Jason: Definitely the Shakers and a lot of the mid-century stuff are both big influences. I think the basic purity and functionality of the designs, the proportions, the way the details of a piece elevate a simple shape. All of that I try to incorporate in my own work.
Being a woodworker, I respond to that tradition of craftsmanship and the link between design and construction. The Shakers had this pure sense of design but were also totally inventive, ingenious builders. And all those great Danish designers either built their own furniture or had close collaborations with master woodworkers or cabinetmakers (and later manufacturers), usually the same one for years and years.
Matter Observed: Is there anything else that informs your designs in the creative process? Take us through how a design goes from an idea in your head to the finished product.
Jason: It depends. Sometimes I get an idea for just one element of something – a certain way to make the arm of a chair or something, and that’s what I build the rest of the piece around. Other times I start with an idea for more of a whole piece – maybe a basic outline of a table or chair, a certain profile. I typically work the idea around in my head for a while and then try to do a drawing, or sometimes I just start making it and kind of adjust dimensions or angles as I go along.
Matter Observed: Last year a client of Matter & Order wanted a writing desk with storage that could also double as a small dining table, and after some collaboration you designed and built a simple but gorgeous black walnut table (above) with sculpted joints where the legs meet the surface. What other types of wood do you work with, and do you like to mix different woods into a single design?
Jason: With custom work I use a wider range of materials, but most often it’s domestic hardwoods – walnut, oak, ash, cherry. On my own designs I tend to use walnut the most as kind of a default, I love the look and it also happens to be a really nice material to work with. I do sometimes mix woods, but I try to be pretty subtle about it. I think a little contrast goes a long way.
Matter Observed: Where do you source your lumber and do you ever work with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or sustainably harvested woods?
Jason: I source wood from a few different places around the area – some smaller sawmills that take local trees and mill them, and also some larger lumber dealers. I do work with sustainably harvested stuff wherever possible, and can always use it if requested. I have also done a number of projects with reclaimed lumber – wood that is salvaged from old barns or industrial buildings and can be cut down and reused.
Matter Observed: CB2 recently took one of your chair designs (above) and manufactured it in a brushed nickel-plated steel, calling it the Fleet Chair (below, $179 available at CB2). What was the process like working with the Chicago-based company in getting your design from wood into metal form? Is there a story behind the naming of the chair?
Jason: We started looking at some of my existing designs and trying to see if there was something that could be reworked so that it could be manufactured in metal at a manageable price. They can produce that chair in metal a lot cheaper than wood, and the design lends itself to metal because you keep that visual lightness – the thin frame, the thin bent back – in a way you couldn’t in wood at that level of production. As far as coming up with a name, I happily deferred that to the creative folks at CB2.
Matter Observed: Well we love the name, and the chair sings modern elegance. It’s definitely one of our favorite new chair designs under $250, as recently reviewed in dwell.
Matter Observed: Describe your ideal client or ideal project.
Jason: Any client that is excited about the product and the process is ideal for me. I’m also on the lookout for eccentric billionaires who need furniture.
Matter Observed: That’s funny, because eccentric billionaires are on Matter & Order‘s radar for potential clients, too.
Matter Observed: So what’s your favorite chair or piece of furniture that you’ve designed? How about a favorite chair or piece of furniture that you did not design?
Jason: I don’t think I really have a favorite of my own, the upholstered rocking chair (above) has been my best selling piece and so I’ve had the most chances to make & refine it over the years. It’s also something I use every day at home, so it has a more personal connection.
As far as something by another designer, again it’s hard to pick a favorite. I think the first piece of furniture that really made me think about or be aware of design was an Eames bent plywood chair (an LCM) that was in my grandmother’s house when I was growing up. That is still definitely one that I look to as an inspiration.
Matter Observed: What are you working on these days that you are particularly excited about?
Jason: I’m working on some new stuff with CB2 that should be out later this year, including (hopefully) a piece that I’ll be producing here in the shop as well as designing. Also getting ready to start on some furniture pieces and a reception desk for an apartment building lobby – this really beautiful old hotel in Hyde Park that is being completely renovated with modern interiors.
Matter Observed: Lastly, Matter Observed would like to know the answers to the following:
Last author read: Alan Brinkley Last song heard: ‘Connecticut’ by Superchunk Last food consumed: A banana Last drink imbibed: A cup of coffee
Matter Observed: Jason, thank you for time.
Jason: Thank you, Nate.
Jason Lewis’ work is both familiar and striking: familiar in form, striking in its incredible craftsmanship and attention to detail – as if Fritz Hansen had a lovechild with Mother Ann Lee. Using joinery techniques developed centuries ago, his designs are modern yet timeless wooden sculptures that double as heirloom-quality furniture. For contact info and to see more of Jason’s work, visit his website at jasonlewisfurniture.com.