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Design Classics

Armchair, 1958

Designer: Norman Cherner
Manufacturer: Cherner Chair Company

WHO
American designer Norman Cherner studied and then taught at Columbia University and at the Museum of Modern Art. His initial interest was factory-made houses. He designed one of the first pre-fab modular homes in the United States and wrote a book called Fabricating Houses From Component Parts. When he turned his talents to furniture design, he found the subject for his next books, Make Your Own Modern Furniture (1953) and How to Build Children's Toys and Furniture (1954).

WHAT
If you don't fancy making your own furniture, you can still acquire one of Cherner's dramatic mid-century chairs. In the tradition of bentwood furniture that began in Europe with inexpensive café chairs and jumped the Atlantic with the interest of such designers as Charles Eames and George Nelson, Cherner's version is one of the most successful. The seat and back of the hourglass-shaped chair are moulded out of a single piece of laminated wood that narrows at the bend like a wasp-waisted showgirl. The slender ribbon-like arms wrap around and disappear under the seat. The dancing metaphor continues with slender legs that touch the floor as if on a ballerina's toe shoes.

WHEN
In 1958, the Massachusetts company Plycraft was looking to improve on the technically challenging Pretzel chair designed by George Nelson that it manufactured for Herman Miller. Nelson suggested Cherner for the job. The result was this classic chair (an armless version is also available) plus a series of nasty legal battles over ownership rights. Cherner's two sons started the Cherner Chair Company in 1999 to manufacture their father's chairs, tables and cabinets. Their version of the chair is an exact reproduction of the original using Cherner's blueprints, tools and processes.

WHY
This sculpted chair is whimsical, welcoming and delightful. The sweeping arms invite you to sit within their embrace while also evoking a feeling of constant movement like a mobius strip. More European than American in its aesthetic – it reminds me of something that could have been designed by the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi – you'll be surprised at how comfortable it is.

National Post, March 30, 2006.