choose ONE of the articles and prepare a two-page written “response” to the article; it should be about 500 words total; feel free to single-space these, in which case it might only be one page long a response paper is just what it sounds like: what did you think about as you read through the article you’ve chosen; most people are unsure of what or how to write for this assignment, which is why I provide examples from earlier classes you can look at – find them by clicking here Actions , here Actions , or here Actions  but you can also retrieve them from the Day 1 Module you shouldn’t rely wholly on these examples, but you’ll note that each combines a bit of summary of what was read along with commentary and personal observations. One way to approach these writing assignments is to think, “what do I know now that I didn’t know before?” or “as I was reading through _______, I was struck by how it made me think of _______.” Feel free to write these in first person (“I thought this …” or “I didn’t understand that … “); in fact, first person responses are encouraged! I expect this writing assignment to take about an hour; you should proofread the essay for obvious spelling and grammatical errors, and it’s always best to include the name of the author of your article along with some reference to its title or subject somewhere in an introductory paragraph – try to avoid saying things like “the author of this article stated that …” and instead write “Preyer noted in her essay on Florentine casas that …”

The Furniture History Society
Author(s): Nigel Whiteley
Source: Furniture History, Vol. 23 (1987), pp. 108-126
Published by: The Furniture History Society
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23406702
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‘SEMI-WORKS OF ART’ CONSUMERISM, YOUTH CULTURE AND CHAIR DESIGN IN THE 1960S By Nigel Whiteley This paper concentrates on the chairs designed for the young, fashion-conscious market in Britain in the 1960s. In order to make sense of the stylistic developments in chair design, and understand the shift in association and general ‘meaning’ of the chair during this period, we need to analyse the wider post-War context of consumerism and its implications for design as well as the changing attitudes and mores manifested in youth — or Pop — culture. An examination of the changes in chair design in the post-War years has much to teach us about the broader role played by design in our society.1 The consumerist society2 of the post Second World War years arrived when the rationing and austerity of the later 1940s and early 1950s were superseded at an increasingly rapid pace by prosperity and private affluence. Between 1955 and i960, weekly wages rose twenty-five per cent but weekly earnings, which take into account the large amount of overtime resulting from a confident economy, grew by no less than thirty-four per cent. Retail prices in this period rose by only fifteen per cent and so an individual’s actual spending power (boosted by the lifting of controls on hire purchase in 1958) was signifi cantly increased, especially as the majority of technological consumer items — from washing machines and televisions to motorbikes and cars — were costing much less in real terms, and some actually less in money terms than they had at the beginning of the 1950s. Car ownership, for example, rose two hundred and fifty per cent between 1951 and 1961; and whereas only six per cent of households boasted a television set in 1951, a decade later one could be found in three out of every four. Disposed to reminding the population that they had ‘. . . never had it so good’, prime minister Harold Macmillan claimed at the time of the 1959 election that ‘the luxuries of the rich have become the necessities of the poor’: a simplistic and misleading statement that, nonetheless, effectively convinced the majority that it ought to be well-pleased with its material gains.3 Opinions about the qualitative effects of consumerism were determined by politics and ideology but the underlying quantitative trend of private affluence was undeniable. One implication for design was straightforward — people had more money to spend on goods. Another was less immediately obvious but had profound repercussions because it affected the role of design — social mobility. The new wealth and a more meritocratic educational system altered opportunities and expectations. Young adults who would previously have been expected to retain the outlook and aspirations of their parents were genuinely able to break with convention. By the mid 1950s only one man in three had the same social status (by occupation) as his father, and only one son in four of an unskilled labourer remained unskilled. People wanted to ‘better’ themselves and carve out a niche in the next social group up. Design could be a means to this end. Design has always been part of a social language which comprises all man-made artefacts, but from the mid 1950s this aspect became considerably more pronounced. Your choice of goods, like your choice of clothes and the decoration of your home, helped toThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ 109 communicate to others how you saw your place in the world and position in society. age of consumerism, the style of the objects you surround yourself with —whether light fittings are ‘high tech’ or high Renaissance — and the product-makes of the goods you own or use — whether your calculator is by Braun or W. H. Smith—-reveal your and your taste expresses who you arc or, at least, who you think you are or want to In retrospect it seems remarkable how little those who were supposed to be with design realized what was happening, let alone its significance. The Council Industrial Design (CoID), for example, continued to act throughout the 1950s conditions of society were unchanged. The Council railed against the ‘vulgar and design consumed by the ‘docile and uncritical’5 public — in other words the uneducated taste of the masses. Born of the social idealism of the post-War years, the CoID its mouthpiece Design magazine) adopted an aesethico-moral attitude to design combined pre-War Modernist principles with a machine-modified Arts and aesthetic. ‘Good design’, CoID spokesmen such as Gordon Russell and Michael pronounced, should make visible such concerns as ‘form follows function’, ‘truth materials’ and ‘integrity of surface’. There should always be an economy of means consequent ‘less is more’ (or rcductivist) aesthetic. The visual austerity of pre-War Modernism was toned down by either ‘softer’ forms an Arts and Crafts emphasis on natural materials. Herbert Read, in the preface to the edition of Art and Industry wrote of the ‘. . .justifiable dissatisfaction with the bleakness pioneering functionalism . . .’6 and Nikolaus Pevsner criticized the ‘dictatorial quality’continental Modernism of the inter-War years (Figure 1). Modern British design, according to these writers, was ‘less puritanical, less exclusive’8 and they praised the work of Gordon Russell and Ernest Race (Figure 2). In the 1950s the Modern Movement had matured, thought Paul Rcilly, because ‘. . . the contemporary designer now uses his heart his head’.9 The appearance of the weapons may have changed but the CoID was continuing wage a war for aesthetico-moral ‘good design’ against what it perceived to be enemy 011 the same battlefields. Hence Michael Farr, editor of Design from 1952 to of the decade, testified to the ‘duty’ he felt to ‘. . . fight against the shoddy design goods by which most of our fellow-men are surrounded. . ,’10 Farr readily admitted ‘good design’ and good profits did not go hand in hand but tried to convince manufacturers and retailers that they had a responsibility to seek a balance between ‘. . . private and social duty . . .’.11 This crusade, with its tone of’Montgomery and sodawater’ (as once memorably described by Reyner Banham),12 seemed to blind the Council profound social changes that were taking place in British society as a result of affluence, social mobility and consumerism, especially in the later 1950s. With the formation of consumer protection bodies such as the Consumer Advisory Council (1955) and the Consumer’s Association (1957), and the arrival of Which? in October 1957, the CoID was increasingly exposed as being more concerned certain class-based notion of taste than with any objective analysis of a product’s fitness purpose. In a vitriolic attack in 1961, Reyner Banham accused the Council of approving ‘rubbish’.13 Which? reports had shown that some of the elegant and well-proportioned products selected by the CoID as exemplifying ‘good design’ did badly in performance 8This content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
110 ‘semi-works of art’ and this led Banham to denounce the Council’s judgements: . . tasteful rubbish rubbish . . .’ he declared, even if the product looks functional. Stephen Spender much the same point in his 1958 oration to the Society of Industrial Artists. Referring CoID’s recently selected examples of’good design’, Spender concluded that . . . the aim seems to be to look functional rather, perhaps, than to be it. The function translates itself into bareness, simplicity, squareness or roundness, seriousness. Above all, everything is impersonal’.14 A CoID style — a taste for a ‘less is more’ aesthetic — was clearly evident in the 3). What, ultimately, was little more than a stylistic preference was being elevated status of a set of moral precepts — but they were moral precepts that were relevant in an age of advanced consumerism. In 1935 the architectural critic J. M. Richards had written that the characteristics indeed the virtues — of modern design were not only impersonality, but also tion and simplicity.15 These characteristics referred to machine production and efficiency, and symbolized collectivist ideals. However, such characteristics expressed an individual’s hopes, desires and aspirations in the post-War age and social mobility. Affluence and consumerism are two of the reasons why the later 1950s was formal innovation in chair design. In progressive design circles the old moulds of chair design were, metaphorically speaking, broken and replaced by solutions keeping with the taste for sculptural or idiosyncratic expression — the equivalent Pevsner described as the ‘post modern anti-rationalism’16 of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp or Eero Saarinen’s TWA air terminal at New York. Saarinen’s pedestal chair of 1956-57 (Figure 4), made with an aluminium base and glass fibre enormously influential on younger generations of chair designers for its flowing, shape. Charles Eames’ moulded plywood shell and down-filled leather lounge and ottoman ‘671’ (Figure 5), first manufactured in 1956, quickly became one, most coveted chairs amongst the ‘designing class’, appearing countless times design yearbooks and up-market magazines for at least two decades. It was Eames early as 1949 in his ‘DAR’ chair, had been the first designer commercially to use for a chair. Glass-fibre became increasingly used at the experimental and up-market chair design in the 1950s, culminating in Verner Panton’s ‘Panton’ stacking (Figure 6) — the first chair manufactured in a moulded continuous glass-fibre shell. was even more widespread in the 1960s when it became associated, as we shall youth market. Chairs by Eames, Saarinen and Panton may have graced the pages of design the late 1950s and early 1960s, but they inhabited a very small number of actual more common in the homes of the design-conscious middle classes was Scandinavian design. Scandinavian furniture, and its British derivatives like E. Gomme Plan’ (introduced in 1953), was characterized as having the ‘. . . light, bright colours, crisp textures and simple, clear cut lines’ (Figure 7):17 it was elegant, natural. Because design was becoming a sophisticated social language, taste was indicator of a person’s social class.18 The aristocracy was little interested in content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ III contemporary design, contenting itself with its family heirlooms tradition and heritage; middle class taste — partly following down’ effect19 was a combination of repro-antique, pseudo-popularized modern; and working class taste was either a further class taste or the ‘vulgar and boastful’ design that the CoID dismissed The young had had no special or identifiable taste of their own general had reflected that of their parents and their class. The between the mid 1950s and mid 1960s. Youth became an independent reasons. First and foremost was the economic factor: youth enticing quantities and so it became a much sought-after manufacturers attempted to fulfil youth’s perceived needs demographic increase. The post-War ‘baby boom’ resulted increase in the number of fifteen- to nineteen-year olds combination of these two factors, along with the changing social these ‘children of the Age of Mass-Communication’21 an outlook from the past and a confidence that to many was as outrageous In 1959 Vogue had noted that ‘young’ was appearing ‘. . . as the all fashions, hairstyles, and ways of life’.22 By 1963 the media youth’s values, trends and idols. 1963 has been described as ‘. . . it was the year that the word ‘pop’ became the catchword for any with the young. Fashion became a topic of national interest ‘. . . legs never had it so good’.24 The mini had arrived although, respectably worn by women of all ages. The Beatles’ first LP, April 1963, was number one 111 the charts for six months and sixty-one weeks. If Liverpool was Pop’s holy city, the road paved with gold discs. British art (‘Pop’ and ‘New Generation’), received worldwide acclaim. The young, according to George Melly, demanded ‘. . . music as transitory as a packet of cigarettes and expendable as a paper cup’.25 The same was true of fashion. Biba’s ‘knock down, throw-away-and-buy-another philosophy’26 was typical of the approach adopted by boutiques in the mid 1960s: fashionable, cheap and so expendable clothes were sold ‘. . . in a hypnotic atmosphere of pounding pop music and swinging short skirts and is tops for girls who want lots of new, cheap, not very well-made clothes . . .’. The essence of Pop, as a fashion journalist so accurately observed in 1965, was its ‘. . . enjoy-it-today-sling-it tomorrow philosophy . . . uninterested in quality and workmanship as long as the design is witty and new’.27 Taste for the under-25s was now less based on class than on age. Pop music and fashion may have been the main axes of youth culture, but it was inevitable that interiors and furniture design would come under the Pop orbit sooner or later. Quite understandably., the Pop devotee did not want to come home to a living room full of Scandinavian modern or repro-antiques. Dissatisfaction by the young with the taste of their elders (or, in CoID terms, betters) began to be heard around 1963 in that publishing symptom of the ‘swinging ‘sixties’, the ‘coloursupp’. The first — the Sunday Times Colour Supplement (STCS) (later Magazine) — began in February 1962 and included features on young fashions (Mary Quant clothes), modelling (Jean Shrimpton), photography (by 8’This content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
112 ‘semi-works of art’ David Bailey), and a James Bond story. The Telegraph Colour Supplement followed the Observer Magazine in 1965. All had a staple diet of travel, adventure, cookery, fashion and design which dovetailed perfectly with their glossy advertisements. The ‘coloursupps’ were obsessed with young ‘lifestyles’ (an archetypally ‘sixties and all carried regular design features which had a substantial effect on taste. The Times Colour Supplement’s ‘Design for Living’ feature, for example, commenced 1962 with an attack on decorum and ‘good taste’: Poor design has become a target for anyone with a brick to throw: good design is a sort of sacred cow. The attitude to function is racing to the same level of absurdity; testing is turning into an obsession. There are times when one longs to buy something plumb ugly and utterly unfunctional.28 Here was a point of view which undermined both the aesthetico-moral principles CoID and the objective performance assessments of the consumer associations. contemporary Scandinavian design received its share of criticism. In December STCS launched an attack on . . . thin, weedy-looking rooms. Neutral rooms filled with bland teak sideboards, smooth stain-resistant table tops and mean chairs, the whole ‘brightened’ with Swedish glass. Part of the trouble with these rooms is that they’re dull.29 In their place the ‘coloursupps’ promoted anything colourful, novel or even gimmicky so long as it had visual impact. With their liberal peppering of features on consumer goods and seductive advertisements for desirable hardware, the ‘coloursupps’ helped bring into currency the idea of young taste and trendiness. The first retailer to understand the new mood and young market was Terence Conran who opened his first Habitat in May 1964. Conran described Habitat as a shop ‘. . . for switched-on people selling not only our own furniture and textiles but other people’s too. It’s functional and beautiful’ (Figure 8).30 As well as its own designs, Habitat sold bentwood furniture; chairs by Le Corbusier and Vico Magistretti; lighting equipment; toys; bright enamelled tinware; fabrics; kitchen utensils (especially of the ‘French farmhouse’ variety); and general ‘below stairs’ Victoriana: a truly eclectic mixture of styles and periods. Habitat exploited the aspirations of young, upwardly-mobile buyers for moderately cheap, reason ably fashionable furniture and design displayed in a lively and ‘young’ manner. A second Habitat outlet was opened in October 1966, and by the end of the decade there were five branches and a mail order service. Some of the furniture sold by Habitat was in ‘knockdown’ form — furniture that was assembled at home by the purchaser from a flat-pack kit of parts. Most of the contract furniture for the new universities and hospitals was of knockdown construction whose interchangeable components made it economical to produce, and easy and cheap to replace. Knockdown furniture appealed to manufacturers (ease of production) and retailers (ease of storage) but also offered some benefits to consumers — it was slightly cheaper, more likely to be in stock (because ofits storage potential) and so immediately purchasable, and easier to transport home. The vast majority of knockdown furniture in the mid 1960s was, however, conventional in appearance. Nicholas Frewing’s ‘Flexible Chair’ (Figure 9), manufactured by Race and introduced in 1965, may have been described in Industrial Design as ‘. . . one ofThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ 113 the most ingencous chairs produced in Britain for many years’,31 but it appealed those yearning for ‘young’ and fashionable furniture. Nearer the mark was a knockdown chair by Jean Schofield and John Wright, manufactured in 1964 by Anderson Manson (Figure 10). It was described by one ‘. . . transitional, at a stage between the functional stuff and designs with a bit of wit whimsy’.32 The designers admitted starting with a pre-conceived idea of a shape methodology contrary to the ‘form follows function’ approach of Modernism. dominant curves and strong colours (red, yellow, blue, cream, brown, or black) chair a ‘youthful directness and simplicity’:33 the designers were perfectly happy to the chair as ‘fashionable’ and they admitted that they hoped it would ‘catch on younger generation’.34 Furniture design was being aimed at the young although, at Schofield and Wright’s chair still far from satisfied the Pop criteria of cheapness expendability. An interesting development of knockdown furniture was Max Clendinmng’s ‘Maxima’ range, manufactured in 1965 by Race (Figure 11). The rounded corners jigsaw-like pieces were mannered and eccentric and likened by one critic to ‘Charles Mackintosh taking a trip’.35 The range was based on three sizes of plywood box onto shaped sides, backs or legs could be bolted to make different chairs or tables. Nearly pieces of this ‘transformation furniture’36 (as Clendinning dubbed it) could be assembled from the twenty-five standard parts which came in a number of colours. The range aimed at the ‘young, fashionable market’ and those ‘in touch’,37 but it was generally price — a dining chair cost £17, an easy chair £85. The significance of the ‘Maxima’ was that the knockdown construction partly determined its appearance, and the advantage was shifted toward the purchaser who got a fashionable item and flexibility — furniture equivalent to Mary Quant’s ‘mix and match’ range. Clendinning had hopes attitudes to buying furniture would be transformed by Pop: his ‘Maxima’ range type of furniture ‘. . . you ought to be able to buy in parts off the shelf like a can beans’.38 Furniture, in other words, ought to be as immediately appealing (?) as baked beans, as instantly available, and as expendable. Similarly, there should be term emotional attachment. Clendinning had other thoughts about furniture in the age of Pop. ‘Mini skirts’, he declared, ‘should make a difference to chair design’.39 Clendinning was actually making a sub-functionalist point that, when clothes were voluminous in the eighteenth and nine teenth centuries, chairs were accordingly designed to accommodate the mass: in the 1960s, chairs should reflect the skimpiness and weightlessness of the mini. His statement proved to be right, but not in the way he had supposed. The mini affected chair design in two general (and usually overlapping) ways: the first was the application to furniture of the bold, colourful and decorative Pop patterns that were to be seen on minis; the second was the transference of the attitude towards the mini, namely, that chairs could be fashionable, fun and disposable. There were several prototypes and one-off solutions which exemplified one way or the other. Some designs by a young designer called Carol Russell were illustrated in Queen magazine in 1966: one was a slotted plywood chair in Pop art colours that could be hung 011 the wall when not in use — probably (according to the author of the article) the ‘first everThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
114 ‘semi-works of art’ instant-functional abstract painting’.40 Jonathan Grove’s ‘Chaise Ronde’ was a could be rolled up to form a drum which had brightly-painted Op targets at its (Figure 12). It was hand-made and sold at Anderson Manson during 1965. Less exclusively, secondhand or cheap, plain furniture could be bought and decorated in fashionable patterns. The Telegraph Magazine commented that ‘. . . painting furniture is one of the relatively furnishing ideas which can be translated effectively into do-it-yourself terms’.41 To ordinary mortal’s creative talents, Habitat sold a stencil kit for £1.36. Sophisticates buy the fairground- and canal boat-influenced designs of Binder, Edwards and group of designers who painted their elaborate designs on furniture (which between £20 and £30) as well as on cars and walls (Figure 13). Items of their work bought by Paul McCartney and Henry Moore. Paint was also applied in an illusionistic and one writer noted the fashion for faking finishes and making one material another. Aesthetico-moral principles of design — much to the annoyance and even of the CoID and Modernist-influenced designers — had no place in the world Fashionability was the guiding principle. Painted furniture could be fashionable and disposable on two counts: old furniture could be picked up cheaply and easily discarded; and the patterns could be regularly over— ‘Change the paint, change the fashion’.42 Retailers and manufacturers were quick realize that the craze for colour and decoration in furniture design had commercial Habitat sold painted and stained furniture; Goods and Chattels imported stained furniture; and companies such as Ducal, LM, Youngers and Ercol (who even colourful Windsor chair) all sold ranges of brightly coloured furniture — in the latter of the decade purple, orange, red and green were particularly popular. The retailers’ manufacturers’ enthusiasm was not hard to understand: colour turned furniture into a more fashionable commodity, and hence increased turnover. As Peter Collins wrote in 1965, it was inevitable that the young who bought fashionable clothes and went to discos would . . . want furniture in up-to-the-minute colours, pop shapes and pop, op, or wild floral patterns: stuff which is cheap enough to repaint with a five shilling [2jp] aerosol spray or throw away when a new style, pattern, or colour appears.43 The most complete example of fashionable and disposable Pop furniture was Peter Murdoch’s paper chair of 1964 (Figure 14, 1). It was composed of three different papers to make a board of five laminates, giving it a washable finish and the ability to stand prolonged wear for three to six months. The chair was stamped out as a piece of flat card at a rate of one per second, thus reducing the unit cost of production to a few pennies. Problems of storage in factories and shops were dispensed with: 800 chairs could be stacked in a four feet high pile. Murdoch’s chair was decorated in bright Op and Pop polka dots which were printed on at the same time as the card was pressed and scored. New patterns and colours could be introduced frequently without necessitating any modifications to the form of the chair which kept production costs low over a long period of time. By mid 1966 the chair had received international recognition, but Murdoch was unable to find a British manufacturer who would produce it — they remained, characteristically, too conservative to see itsThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ “5 potential. The chair was eventually produced in America and imported into England it retailed for £1.50. Following the lead created by Murdoch, Bernard Holdaway designed tough, washable, reinforced cardboard furniture which was commissioned for room in the ‘Ideal Home’ exhibition of 1966 (Figure 14, ii). It was constructed of a tubes fourteen to sixteen inches in diameter, cut away and infilled with chipboard. Holdaway’s aim was ‘. . . exciting designs at the lowest possible price: in fact, the idea the furniture should be cheap enough to be expendable’.44 The chair sold for about fifty-four-inch diameter table sold for£6.7$. Bright colours — a choice ofred, blue, green or purple — or strong contrasts provided by cushions in complementary gave the furniture its fashionable and fun Pop connotations. The range, ‘Tomotom’, was featured in international design magazines and put into production Hull Traders, a small firm who had previously marketed printed fabrics. By the end of 1966 several items of fashionable and disposable Pop furniture had produced, but Olive Sullivan in Vogue thought the best was yet to come: ‘There is feeling around that there is about to be a big breakthrough . . . comparable phenomenon in the dress trade five years ago’.45 Experimentation was, indeed, rife At the exhibition of prototype furniture held at the Design Centre in January 1967, Murdoch included an adult-size plastic-coated paper chair; and David Bartlett, recently left the Royal College of Art, exhibited a chair in polythene-laminated fibreboard called the ‘Tab’ chair (Figure 14, iii). Like Murdoch’s 1964 paper chair, the ‘Tab’ fashionable item, and produced as a flat board which was scored lightly, then shape and held together by interlocking seams. Bartlett went on to form his own company which brought out a paper nursery including tables, chairs, toy bin and ‘Wendy House’. His intention was to target markets: I have never thought that the whole furniture-buying public was open to cheap disposable furniture. But there are gaps which just cry out for it and, gradually we are plugging those gaps.46 Others were noticing the same gaps. The Reed Paper Group made corrugated fibreboard desks and chairs for Buckinghamshire County Council who intended to use them in its nursery and infant schools as an economic measure — Polycell marketed this furniture under the name of’Child’s Play’ in 1967. A chair was 62p; the table £1. Peter Murdoch designed a similar range — ‘Those Things’ — which were blue, turquoise, pink or orange and priced around £1 each. The range won a CoID design award in 1968. Disposable Pop paper furniture could never have secured a mass market. It never even sold to the young in particularly great quantities but was largely treated as a novelty: ‘. . . a fashionable plaything, sold in fashionable stores to fashion-conscious sophisticates’.47 Furniture was too closely associated with the psychological requirements of status and security to be bought widely. As one critic put it: People who will buy paper chairs for their bed-sits, seaside flats or playrooms, will never be weaned from the almost obsessive emotional need for ‘real’ furniture in their more established environments.48This content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ The same could have been said of inflatable furniture. Inflatable furniture, usually made in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), upheld the Pop characteristics of youthfulness and fashionability. Some pieces were also expendable. In Britain in 1964 the architects Cedric Price and Arthur Quarmby both developed prototypes but little more was heard about inflatable furniture until late-1967 when chairs by Quasar Khanh; the French team of Aubert, Jungman and Stinco; and the Italian designers Scolari, Lomazzi, d’Urbino and de Pas became available in Britain. The Italian designers’ ‘Blow’ chair (Figure 15) became the best-known inflatable chair although it was expensive. Slightly cheaper were Khanh’s inflatables, imported into Britain by Ultralite and eventually made in Britain under licence. This reduced the price of the chair from £28 to £21.75. In 1968 Paul Woods designed a sofa (£16) and chair (£9) for Incadinc, a company that specialised in inflatable products. Woods’ furniture was transparent, tinted blue or pink, or coloured red, white or blue. The chair was composed of several inflatable tubes or ‘build ups’ secured by nylon nuts and bolts. Additional tubes could be bolted on to change the shape of the furniture and so the whole floor could become an inflatable area. Incadinc also produced an inflatable ‘Air Chair’ (sometimes called the ‘Pumpadinc’ made from polished PVC laminates in see-through purple, red, dark blue and white (Figure 16). The ‘Air Chair’ was a circular bowl, twenty-four inches high at the back, eighteen inches at the front and thirty-eight inches in diameter. It sold for just under £7, the same price as a blue-tinted translucent chair made by Pakamac. By the summer of 1968 Habitat was selling an imported inflatable chair in red, white, yellow or blue for £3.75, and a firm called X-Lon was making ‘inflatable pop cushions’. Worries about the fragility of inflatable furniture were often exaggerated. If items were kept away from sharp objects, intense heat, and cigarette ends, they could survive the rigours of everyday living. A puncture could be repaired with a PVC patch and glue, usually provided with the furniture. A more common fault that continually taxed designers and manufacturers was the rupturing of the seams. Although inflatable furniture was novel, fashionable and youthful, the shapes of many items were traditional. Most were little more than air-filled copies of the conventional three piece suite. One journalist, without irony, approved that they ‘. . . blend well with Georgian proportions’.49 While the traditional forms may have helped to sell the unconven tional idea, inflatables never really lost their connotations of novelty and trendiness. An advertisement for an inflatable chair in 1969 referred to its ‘space-age comfort’: inflatables remained firmly within the Pop orbit. The claims made for disposable furniture were sometimes as inflated as some of the furniture. Lena Larsson, for example, made the prediction that . . . pretty soon our whole household can be moved in a big bag — when inflatable plastics and folding cardboard have become popular as furniture materials. The trend towards simpler and cheaper furniture is already under way and cannot be stopped. It will probably alter our whole attitude towards furniture and furnishings leading to a freer, less preten tious, less status-conscious melieu.50 Another writer believed that disposable furniture was ‘. . . a stimulating new trend which shows us one more blow struck, youthfully and boldly, on behalf of a more liberal conception of the changeability of life’.51 Some writers believed the new furniture was aThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ 117 sign of the times, a symbol of emancipation from humourless and puritanical values — triumph of youth culture. A youthful, informal quality was apparent in much late 1960s furniture. The furniture on display at European trade shows in 1968 had a common theme which Jose Manser described as … a blatant invitation to relaxation and ease . . . From Italy, France, Scandinavia and Great Britain, the news is the same: chairs are to be lain in rather than sat upon, preferably en masse, but almost certainly a deux, and the lower the user’s centre of gravity the better. The new furniture was moving away from free-standing, individual pieces of furniture to the idea of the ‘interior landscape’. Roger Dean was one of the designers at the forefront of this development. While he was still a student, Dean had designed the ‘Sea Urchin’ chair (Figure 18). Dean wrote that his starting point was ‘. . . a vague notion of a chair one could do anything with: one could sit in it in any position, and approach it from any direction’.53 The twelve-section polyurethane-foam interior shaped a four-foot diameter dome to the sitter’s posture by depression. The remainder of the foam formed a support for legs and arms. It could be either a recliner (if approached from a high angle), or an upright chair if from a low one. When the ‘Sea Urchin’ appeared in the ‘Prototype Furniture’ exhibition in 1967 a critic in the Architects’ Journal was moved to comment that ‘the service it provides is not so much support as symbiosis’.54 Hille showed interest and undertook to produce the chair but were defeated by technical difficulties. Of similar shape and associations to Dean’s chair were ‘sag bags’ or ‘bean bags’. These contained as many as twelve million plastic granules or polystyrene beads which adjusted to the shape of the body. The first, and one of the most stylish, was the ‘Sacco’ which was available in eight colours (Figure 19). It was designed by the Italian team of Gatti, Paolini and Teodoro and sold for £33, but derivatives were widely available and relatively inexpensive. Despite their cheapness, ‘bean bags’ were not bought by low income groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The designer Victor Papanek believed the reason was that for these groups had been successfully conditioned by advertising and the media to feel that ‘bean bags’ were not ‘proper’ chairs. Because of their associations with informality and fun, ‘bean bags’ appealed to a specific market: the Pop young. In 1969 that chair spokesman for a generation, Max Clendinning, argued that: ‘Followed to its extreme, furniture would be a series of versatile, interchangeable, multi purpose cushions’.55 Margaret Duckett in Design was in broad agreement: ‘Explosive new design concepts are no longer contained within individual pieces of furniture. Alert designers are now pre-occupied with the total environment . . ,’56 Was this the end of the chair in youth culture? It was certainly true that many young designers, Clendinning included, turned their attention to the ‘interior landscape’ — a development I have traced elsewhere.57 Others retained a Pop character in their designs by looking towards Pop art. Two designers, Jon Wealleans and Jon Wright, made what they described as ‘. . . fun furniture for children and adults’,58 a soft PVC seat in the shape of a giant set of false teeth (Figure 20); a set of seats resembling a jigsaw puzzle; and a soft telephone which could be used as a chairThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
118 ‘semi-works of art’ when the receiver was removed. The two main shops to sell this ‘fun furniture’ Freedom and Luckies. Also available at these outlets were a ‘giant bumper gym shoe small sofa made from eight, five-foot long foam-rubber ‘cigarettes’ covered in cream large ‘Liquorice Allsort’ cushions; and a shiny fibreglass chair in the shape of Visually these pieces were pure Pop, but as they were one-offs or limited editions they very expensive: they ranged between £140 and £200 and it was not until the later 1970s some items of’fun furniture’ were mass produced — and then for a younger market. One item of’fun furniture’ with more serious intentions was Roger Dean’s Bear’ chair, featured in the ‘Experiments in Living’ exhibition at Maples in London (Figure 21). The ‘Teddy Bear’ was a chair you could cuddle in to at the end of a and one of its arms could be wrapped around the sitter to provide comfort and reassurance. Dean was motivated by the psychological function of the chair: ‘Nobody buys because it is practical, and most people buy it mainly for emotional reasons’.admission of childlike needs and urges was a radical departure from the conventional that a child is childish and an adult serious. These conventional and radical attitudes were typified in the different approaches to design of Modernism and the Pop designers: one was formal, serious and (often literally) upright; the other informal, playful and ‘laid back’. ‘Fun furniture’ and the Pop climate provided the incentive to a number of artists to experiment with chair design. In 1969 the painter Allen Jones made a table, seat and coatstand in the shapes of a fetishistically-clad woman. A one-off chair was the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe’s ‘Chair Man Mao chair’ (1971), a three-dimensional caricature of Mao Tse Tung which ‘grew’ from an upholstered armchair. This ‘furniture’ commanded fine art prices. The trading between design and art in the 1960s was, however, two-way and the distinction between the two became more blurred at the decade unfurled. Many young designers were educated at art colleges alongside fine artists in the post-Coldstream fine art atmosphere. Writing of the likes of Schofield and Wright, Clendinning, and Carol Russell, the critic Mario Amaya considered that these designers ‘. . . parallel our painters and sculptors in inventing new shapes and forms through the use of new materials’.60 Amaya cited the influence of Anthony Caro’s work, the architectural forms of Phillip King, and other ‘New Generation’ sculptors including Tim Scott and Michael Bolus. Painters such as Richard Smith, John Hoyland, Peter Sedgley, Allen Jones, Peter Phillips and Paul Huxley had had a major influence too sharpening up shape and liberating colour. The work of the new chair designers, Amaya continued, ‘. . . could well turn . . . into semi-works of art on a mass-produced level’.61 Amaya’s statement can serve as an epitaph for much 1960s furniture. Forms which were part functional chair, part sculptural object abounded in the later years of the decade. The majority of them came from Europe, and in particular Italy. Some, including the sculptor Cesar’s chair of 1969, made use of injection-moulded polyurethane foam; the majority of visually innovative chairs exploited the myriad formal possibilities of various plastics, especially moulded glass fibre. Alberto Rosselli’s ‘Jumbo’ chair of 1967 and ‘Moby Dick’ chaise longue of 1969 both used moulded glass fibre to create a flowing, bulbous but light mass; Eero Aarnio’s 1968 ‘Pastilli’ chair, offered in a range of six colours, used the material to create a solid and heavy-looking form that was circular in plan; Cesare LeonardiThis content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art’ 119 and Franca Stagi’s ‘Dondolo’ rocking chair of 1967 developed the rigid structural of glass fibre to create an elegantly twisting plane in space (Figure 17). By the end of the decade the ‘cheap and nasty’ connnotations of plastic had been and, according to Design, . a plastic aesthetic was well established’.62 Plastics did not, however, achieve mass market sales — partly because the high cost meant that plastics furniture was seldom cheap; partly because, as one writer put homes are renowned for their cosiness, and plastics are not inherently cosy disguised as wood’.63 Indeed, if what was stocked in the High Street for the was the measure of the value of the experimentation of the 1960s, the new ideas were worth. The British furniture industry was still conservative, obsessed with ‘repro’ remained, lamented Gordon Russell, ‘. . . neolithic, like a dinosaur: 60 feet long with the size of a teacup’.64 The innovations in chair design in the 1960s have, in my view, lasting significance not so much for the particular designs that were regularly colour-supplemented consumerist delights of the young, fashionable and ‘in touch’, but for the implicit that underlie them. A study of chair design in this period reveals the shifting attitudes values both in society as a whole, and in design in particular from the Modernist-beliefin ‘good design’, to the group-orientated notion of’appropriate design’. realise, in the words of David Pye, then a professor at the Royal College of Art, We choose furniture, after all, just as we choose clothes, whether men’s women’s, whether fashionable or not. We choose it not primarily for what it does, what it says.66 This, in the age of consumerism, was a fact that many people — including designers and would-be tastemakers such as the CoID — either failed to see or accept. A chair was not just a utilitarian item which performed a service, but loaded symbol which helped to express our attitudes, aspirations and identity: cated to others our chosen ‘lifestyle’. An acceptance of this premise — whether consciously or not — enabled designers in the 1960s to ditch outmoded Modernist methodologies experiment with iconological forms and sculptural shapes which radically opened formal possibilities for chair design. They helped to create the chair as a ‘semi-work that we can enjoy with our eyes as well as our bodies. U9 University of Lancaster REFERENCES 1 This cultural shift is one of the main themes of my book Pop Design: From Modernism to Mod design 1952—1972) published by the Design Council (London, 1987). 2 The term consumerist society is subtly but significantly different from consumer society. roughly synonymous with capitalist society and so has been in existence for some centuries. Consumerist signifies an advanced state of consumer society in which private affluence on a mass and ‘democratic’ dominant force in the market place. 3 Quoted in Bernard Levin, The Pendulum Years (London, 1970) (paperback edition 1972), p. 211.This content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
1 Z.U SEMI-WORKS OF ART 4 Michael Farr, Design in British Industry (London, 1955), p. xxxvi. 5 Ibid., p. 52. 6 Herbert Read, Art and Industry (London, 1934) (1956 edition), p. 7. 7 Nikolaus Pevsner quoted in Farr, op. cit., p. 314. 8 Ibid., p. 319. 9 Paul Reilly, ‘The Changing Face of Modern Design’, Design, August 1952, p. 18. 10 Farr, op. cit., p. xxxvi. 11 Ibid., p. 289. 12 Reyner Banham on ‘A Tonic to the Nation?’, BBC Radio 4, 29 November 1976. 13 Reyner Banham, ‘H.M. Fashion House’, New Statesman, 27january 1961, p. 151. 14 Quoted in John and Avril Blake, The Practical Idealists (London, 1969), p. 133. 15 J. M. Richards, ‘Towards a Rational Aesthetic’, Architectural Review, December 1935, p. 216. 16 Nikolaus Pevsner, ‘Modern Architecture and the Historian’, RIBA Journal, April 1961, p. 236. 17 Advert for Crown paints, Ideal Home, April 1962, p. 156. 18 For a fuller account of this tendency, see Peter Lloyd Jones, ‘A Taste of Class’, Architectural Review, February 1979. PP- 73-79 19 See Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York, 1899). 20 Gordon Russell, ‘Kitsch’, Design, December 1951, p. 4. 21 Peter Lewis, The Fifties (London, 1978), p. 118. 22 Quoted in Georgina Howell, In Vogue (London, 1975), p. 278. 23 Editor, The Times leader article, quoted in Levin, op. cit., p. 66. 24 Ernestine Carter, ‘The Year in Fashion’, Sunday Times Magazine, 29 December 1963, p- 31 25 George Melly, ‘Pop World and Words’, New Society, 18 October 1962, p. 32. 26 Barbara Hulanicki quoted in Barbara Bernard, Fashion in the Sixties (London, 1978), p. 148. 27 Barbara Griggs, ‘Fashion on the Boil’, Harpers Bazaar, February 1965, p. 66. 28 Janice Elliot, ‘Design + Function’, STCS, 15 April 1962, p. 26. 29 Priscilla Chapman, ‘Are You Suffering From Shape Starvation?’, STCS, 8 December 1963, p. 17. 30 Quoted in Polly Devlin, ‘The Furniture Designer Who Became a Reluctant Businessman’, House and Garden, November 1964, p. 78. 31 Gillian Naylor, ‘British Furniture: A Critical Evaluation’, Industrial Design, March 1965, p. 42. 32 Peter Collins, ‘Curl Up With a Good Chair’, STCS, 12 September 1965, p. 48. 33 Whitechapel Art Gallery, Modern Chairs exhibition catalogue (London, 1970), caption to plate 68. 34 Collins, ‘Curl Up With a Good Chair’, op. cit., p. 48. 35 Michael Webb, ‘Action in England’, Industrial Design, October 1967, p. 47. 36 Quoted in ‘Clendinning’, Queen, I4july 1965, p. 45. 37 Peter Collins, ‘Knockdown Furniture’, STCS, 13 March 1966, p. 49. 38 Ibid., p. 49. 39 Quoted in Ann Barr, ‘Max Clendinning’, House and Garden, November 1967, p. 51. 40 John Vaughan, ‘Rethink’, Queen, 13 April 1966, p. 46. 41 Hilary Gelson, ‘Paint Your Chest’, Telegraph Colour Supplement, 27 September 1965, p. 21. 42 Anon., ‘Trends and Fashions’, Ideal Home, February 1966, p. 26. 43 Peter Collins, ‘Throw-Away Furniture’, Telegraph Colour Supplement, 19 September 1965, p. 43. 44 See Design, April 1966, p. 54. 45 Olive Sullivan, ‘The Late Sixties Look’, Vogue, August 1966, p. 78. 46 David Bartlett, quoted in ‘Men Who Influence By Design’, Ideal Home, February 1969, p. 32. 47 Peter Collins, ‘Movement Movement’, Interior Design, May 1967, p. 50. 48 Jose Manser, ‘Furniture: Mainstream or Throwaway?’, Design, January 1968, p. 30. 49 Margaret Duckett, ‘Sitting on Air’, Telegraph Colour Supplement, 23 August 1968, p. 29. 50 Lena Larsson, ‘Paper and Cardboard After the Scene’, Form (Sweden), no. 9 (1967), p. 586. 51 Anon., ‘Love it or Leave it’, Mobilia, October 1967, n.p. 52 Jose Manser, ‘Free-Form Furniture’, Design, December 1968, p. 28. 53 Roger Dean, Views (Limpsfield, 1975), p. 13. 54 Anon., ‘Prototype Furniture’, Architects Journal, i8January 1967, p. 215. 55 Anon, ‘Men Who Influence By Design’, op. cit., p. 29. 56 Margaret Duckett, ‘New Furniture: The Domestic Market’, Design, February 1969, p. 49. 57 See my article on ‘Interior Design in the 1960s: Arenas for Performance’, Art History, 10, no. 1 (March 1987), 79-90. 58 Quoted injose Manser, ‘Furniture to Live With’, Design, February 1971, p. 266.This content downloaded from on Fri, 03 Apr 2020 15:09:12 UTCAll use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
‘semi-works of art 121
59 Margaret Duckett, ‘Leave Your Prejudices at the Door’, Telegraph Colour Supplement, 25 September 1970,
p. 48.
60 Mario Amaya, ‘Semi-Works’, The Spectator, 18 August 1967, p. 194.
61 Ibid., p. 194.
62 Robert Malone, ‘Plastics as Plastics’, Design, January 1969, p. 22.
63 Manser, ‘Furniture to Live With’, op. cit., p. 43.
64 Gordon Russell, quoted in Margaret Duckett, ‘New Furniture’, op. cit., p. 44.
65 David Pye, ‘How Will Furniture Develop’, Country Life, 23 March 1967, pp. 667-68.
Figure i. MartStam, ‘S33’chair, 1926. Figure 2.
Ernest Race, ‘B A’chair, 1945.
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Figure 3.
Ernest Race, ‘Sheppey’ range, 1961, given a
Design Centre Award in 1963.
Figure 4. Eero Saarinen, ‘Tulip’ pedestal chair,
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Figure 5. Charles Eames, ‘670’lounge
chair and’671’ottoman, 1956.
Figure 6. VernerPanton, ‘Panton
stacking chair, i960, not produced until
Figure 7. Scandinavian home furnishings.
Chairs by Borge Mogensen, c. i960.
Figure 8. Habitat in the mid 1960s.
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Figure ii. MaxClendinning,
‘Maxima’chairs, 1965.
Figure 9. Nicholas Frewing,
‘Flexible Chair’, 1965.
Figure 12. Jonathan Grove,
‘Chaise Ronde’, 1965.
Figure io. Jean Schofield and
John Wright, ‘Ci’ chair, 1964.
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Figure 13. Binder, Edwards and
Vaughan, painted furniture, 1965.
Furniture by this group of designers
was too expensive to be disposable. It
was, for a short time, collectable

Student Name goes here —–>  Iman A. Student III

Class Name goes here —–> History of Furniture

Due Date of Assignment goes here —–>  July 28, 2020

Title of Assignment goes here —–>  Reading Response #8: Organic Modern: Aalto & Wright


Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect, was one of the key players in the organic movement within modernist architecture.  Organic modern architecture is characterized by a harmony between human habitation and the natural world through designs that integrate elements from both worlds in the most unified, interrelated manner.  The designs are meant to emulate nature whenever possible – they have a particular flow, it is harmonious, spiritual, and in the present.

Aalto was also known for his work with rationalism.  He was fascinated with science and human invention, so it is no surprise that his “conversion” to rationalism was considered by many to be “inevitable” (6a, 58).  Rationalism, in architecture, refers to the concept that architecture is a science that can be thought of rationally, not unlike the traditional sciences.  “The ‘new architecture’ arises rather from the attempt to place the aesthetic experience of fanciful stylistic idioms on a more realistic basis,” says Aalto (6a, 59).  He attempts to describe rationalism, noting that it is one of the best set of principles under which to make designs during the time of his work.  Aalto says that rationalism “calls for almost impossible formal solutions to questions arising from new lifestyles, technology and practical life” and argues that this is one of the two halves of art, the other half being work produced by free creativity, or a lack of a practical purpose (60).  This is clearly a valuable form of design in architecture, as the age of industrialization was in its midst and practical designs would be most helpful in promoting further such growth in society.

Aalto wrote extensively about the evolution of architecture and the “problems” that it faced while he was active.  Because he worked with organic architecture, he wrote about the concept of unity that was so important in many of these designs.  In his essay “The Trout and the Stream” he discusses how cultural heritage as well as personal experience come together in the designs of many organic architects.

This “oneness” of organic architecture was also evident in much of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, specifically in Fallingwater.  Fallingwater is a house that Wright designed for Edgar Kaufmann in the late 1930s in Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.  It was “designed ‘to the music of the stream’…for ‘one who liked to listen to the waterfall,’ Fallingwater materializes the temporal dimension of architecture” (6b, 225).  This lodge in the middle of a forest perfectly accentuated the presence of nature in Wright’s design.  It “exists as a complex of changing aspects of which that view is only one” (225).  Just by looking at the exterior, one can tell how much nature has influenced the design.  The home looks to be coming out of the forest floor, nestled between the trees, almost as if nature itself had put it there.  Above all, this is the crux of the unity and oneness that are such important concepts to organic architecture.  The design was the combination of the geometric precision of Wright’s ideas with the beauty and flow of the surrounding natural environment.  The level of integration demonstrated by Wright in his design of Fallingwater was simply astounding, and to this day it stands as one of the greatest examples of organic architecture within the modernist movement.



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