Alvar and I

Musings about vintage design furniture

Archive for March 2010

From our 50s couch: Auction edition

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Two additional auctions coming soon. Scandinavian design at Pierre Bergé & Associés in Brussels on 28 March and 20th Century Decorative Arts and Design at Christie’s in London on 24 March. Click on the catalogs below to access the auction’s site.

Written by Alvar and I

March 17, 2010 at 2:12 am

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String theory

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A few years back we were visiting the huge warehouse of a French dealer. It was full to the brim of Scandinavian masters. We hardly could figure out where to look. Then our eyes rested upon the most elegant and distintive daybed, a weigthless design of a long and sensual rosewood frame interlaced with nylon strings for the support. We asked the price, largely out of our range, and kept dreaming of it ever since.

Helge Vestergaard-Jensen¦Daybed¦1955

What reminded us of it recently was a lot of Jacques Guillon Cord Chair on offer at Wright Now. This was a first encounter with Canadian mid-century design. The chair’s striking looks combine elegance and lightness. The use of nylon strings for the seat and backrest give that minimalist feel.

Jacques Guillon¦Cord Chair¦1954

It was probably time for this blog to pay hommage to string furniture (and no we are not going to talk about beach and garden reclining chairs). This is also a nice opportunity for us to showcase some striking modern designs.

We can only but start with René Herbst, the precursor. His Sandows chair was made with salvaged bungee straps from the automobile industry (sandows in French), a first example of use of recuperated material in design and at the same time a breakthrough in industrial design and pure esthetics. The collector Michael Boyd recounts in Modernist Paradise how he came to meet with a dealer and good friend of Herbst in Paris and visit his office, which had been put away in storage for safekeeping. There were three original Sandows chairs, which Boyd used to make a perfect chair with one set of intact bungee cords, something that no museum had.

René Herbst¦Sandows Chair¦1929

Our next exhibit is the Harp chair by Jorgen Hovelskov, a strinking design combining Folklore, modernity and daring as only the Scandinavian can do. Incidentally the chair is also called the Viking chair, a testimony to its multiple personality.

Jorgen Hovelskov¦Harp Chair¦1968


Lastly, another incredible design, for which there is nothing else to say that it comes out of nowhere and does not resemble anything else. The PP 225 or “Flag Halyard” from the name of its cord seating, by Hans Wegner is indeed unlike any of his or any of his peers design. There is something primal and brash about it that makes a pretty indelible impression. It’s a real nest and probably incredibly comfortable (we have yet to try).

Hans Wegner¦PP 225¦1950


Written by Alvar and I

March 16, 2010 at 9:52 pm

From our 50s couch

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Our vintage couch surfing this week:

1. The collection of Serge Mouille’s brother in law goes on sale in France. Expect high prices (HT: Sleek design).

2. The Fondazione Vico Magistretti opened in Milan (HT: Abitare)

3. A Frank LLoyd Wright rug revealed by LAMA (via Prairiemod)

4. A striking white metal table by Charlotte Perriand courtesy Expertissim (in French)

Image HD : Charlotte PERRIAND (1903-1999). Table de salle à manger.


Written by Alvar and I

March 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Modern Britannia

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Old Blimey is not usually where vintage design hunters would set their sights in their quest for the finest pieces, rather going for France, Italy or the Nordic countries. This would be missing important early modernists and excellent 50s furniture. Also, the UK was an important market for modernist furniture, being for instance the first export market for Aalto furniture (distributed by Finmar Ltd) and there is nice vintage from other designers as well.

Gerald Summers and the beautifully named Makers of Simple Furniture is said to be the most innovative UK designer of the 1930s. This claim is easily supported by his armchair (1933-1934) a masterpiece of modernism. Uniquely, for the time,  the chair was manufactured of a single sheet of plywood following an ingenious design. This solution was motivated by the intended use of the chair in tropical climates where metal joinery would not have resisted humidity. Unfortunately Makers of Simple Furniture was active for only 11 years from 1929 to 1939 when it had to shut down because of restrictions on the importation plywood. Summers never really went back to design. Only 120 armchairs were produced.

Gerald Summers- Armchair – Makers of Simple Furniture

Isokon was founded on the same year as Makers of Simple Furniture and ceased its activities in 1939 for the exact same reason. We are very found of the idea that Isokon was founded by a bacteriologist, a sollicitor and economist! Isokon was closely associated with the Bauhaus, and harbored German designers fleeing the Nazi regime. Walter Gropius was controller of design there between 1934 and 1937. He recommended Marcel Breuer whose most striking design is his armchair, a translation of an earlier metal design for Wohnbedarf in Switzerland. Another iconic design is the Penguin Donkey by Jack Pritchard and Egon Riss. Jack Pritchard was managing the company and went on to relaunch Isokon in 1963 and work with Ernest Race (more on him below). The company was relaunched a third time in 1999 under the brand name of Isokonplus.

Marcel Breuer- Chaise Longue- Isokon

Jump forward to 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain, where two major names of British design, Ernest Race and Robin Day came to the fore. The Springbok chair by Ernest Race was picked for the Festival’s cafe. This design is now slightly forgotten for the more famous Antelope and Unicorn chairs.

Ernest Race – Unicorn chair- Race Furniture Ltd

Bukowskis-Unicorn chair

Robin Day was commissioned at the Festival of Britain to design the Royal Festival Hall seats. The Royal Festival Armchair is a particular favorite. He and his wife Lucienne, a textile designer, went on to become the much loved British equivalent of Charles and Ray Eames and embody British modernism. Lucienne Day sadly passed away last month. Robin Day established a successful collaboration with the furniture maker Hille. The Polyprop and Polo chairs they produced together were huge successes.

Robin Day- Armchair for the Royal Festival Hall

The 1950s and 1960s saw several good designers and editors producing modernist furniture, inspired by Scandinavian and names like Ercol, Heritage, Archie Shine, G Plan, Merrow Associates and Stag are coming back into fashion. Here is a good BBC Homes and Antiques article and links to good UK dealers of these design. Hurry while they are still affordable: prices are rising fast and new pieces constantly appear on the market. You can also  pay a visit to Concrete Box and Mark Parrish who offer a very good selection of British vintage designs.

Vintage in London

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London has quite a few more good vintage shops than the ones around Shoreditch mentioned in this recent New York Times Style blog post. What is interesting in the London vintage furniture scene is that it seens relatively less mature than in other European cities like Paris, Copenhagen or Stockholm. Sure, prices tended to be inflated until recently by the high value of the pound, but that it has gone done a bit, there are good deals to be had and good dealers to buy from.

But let us come to the main reason of this post. We were happy to see an old haunt of ours being mentioned. Two Columbia Road is where we once found this very distinctive Wegner bed for Getama. Note the unusual combination of teak, cane, vinyl and glass.

Written by Alvar and I

March 5, 2010 at 3:41 pm

From our 50s couch

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Spring is coming and so are auctions in the United States:

1. Wright Modern Design, March 23rd, with a large selection of American designers. Some fine European pieces too. Since the chair is the emblem of this blog, these two Alvar Aalto Model 21 have caught our eye. Not in pristine condition, but clearly pre-war models sourced in the U.K. See also several pieces by Pierre Jeanneret from Chandigarh (Wright offered some already last year): it will be interesting to see how they fare compared to last week’s Artcurial auction.

2. For Eames lovers, Wright Eames Auction on April 8th. Given the size of Charles and Ray Eames production and the number of knock-offs, we always found it a challenge to identify good Eames vintage. A catalogue raisonné would definitely help. We can trust Richard Wright to assemble a great selection for us. Looking particularly forward to a nice vintage ESU model.

3. Treadway-Toomey Galleries Auction, March 7th,  with two fine lots of a K.E.M. Weber armchair by Lloyd Manufacturing. See our previous post on Weber.

4. Rago Arts is inviting consignements for its Modern Auction on April 25th.

5. LAMA is also inviting consignments for its Spring Auction.

Written by Alvar and I

March 1, 2010 at 2:14 am