- Arts and Design
The Bertoia Chair Meets the iPhone
The Bertoia chair photographed using an iPhone
I love mid-century modern furniture and sometimes I've found it hard to explain to people why one of my favorite furniture designs is the Bertoia side chair.
Well, there's a personal reason that I'll get to shortly, but what I love is the way that these are sculptural objects as well as super-stylish (and comfortable) pieces.
The way the light hits the chair ... the way it casts incredible shadows ... to me, these factors make these into art objects.
Although it's hard to describe these wonderful items in words, it's extremely convenient to have a tame iPhoneographer in the family so I asked my other half to take one of ours outside and photograph it so that I can show you just what I mean.
You get an idea from the photograph on the left. The squares (or are they diamonds?) intersect each other creating fabulous geometric shapes combined with the curve of the chair's framework.
Then, just when you're looking at that, the sun appears and suddenly there are the most fabulous shadows. As the chairs are metal, there's then the reflection element added to the mix. A truly remarkable artwork.
This is one of our chairs out on the dock. I love the way that the planks forming the dock give it a linear background. The piece is placed with the front edge of the seat exactly parallel to the horizontal edge of the dock and yet you can see from the shadows that it has a 'crazy' angled aspect because of the shadows. Add to that the sun shining on the chair and it's got a great look.
Heal's of London
Before I show you more photographs of our chairs, I want to tell you how I first came across them. See the portion of the receipt above?
This is made out to my dad and dated June 10th, 1966. It's for furniture for our dining room - a rosewood veneered Mid-Century dining table with a chrome base and six genuine Bertoia chairs. This was the furniture I grew up with.
Sundays and holidays were the only time were sat together to eat as a family - at other times were were all just so busy.In addition to being a wonderfully designed piece of furniture, the chairs that we have in our home today make me think of family lunches, riotous Christmas dinners (always with too much wine when we were older), family gatherings and evening meals with friends - even some notable family arguments.
As well as art objects and functional pieces of furniture, they stir up memories too. I have lots of stories about mad things that took place in that dining room and I'm reminded of days gone by when all the family were together. Today, my mum is no longer with us and some of the family are in the USA and others in England. We all have great lives but a humble piece of furniture can take me back to earlier family days - good nostalgia.
The chairs I have today
I've had these for several years now. Living in Florida, I found that there was nowhere locally that I could get hold of them. I saw one or two in antique shops but the prices were crazy. I had two choices - I could either wait until I won the lottery or buy reproduction versions online. Well, since I don't even do the lottery - and tend to have rotten luck with that sort of thing anyway - I checked the prices online and found that yes, a pair of these were well within my reach. When they arrived, I studied them carefully and the quality is so much better than I'd thought it would be. They were - and remain to this day - truly marvelous.
This is in the same position as it was on the previous photo but now it's the iPhone that has moved and here it's being seen from another angle.
Now the shadows are completely different. 'Kinetic art' refers to sculptures where the art itself is moving, such as the mobiles and sculptures created by Alexander Calder - whose work is also very sought after by lovers of Mid-Century Modern design - and yet can a chair be called kinetic? I'm not sure, because the 'sculpture', the chair, doesn't move and yet it changes completely when the viewer moves.
Was Harry Bertoia influenced by kinetic works such as the one seen on the right by Naum Gabo? This piece was made in 1920 so it's likely to have been an influence. Or was he walking around a harp?
Or maybe he was looking at the interior of a grand piano (which is basically a horizontal harp, after all). Perhaps he was recalling the patterns formed by the fishing nets in his native Italy?
A more common question I'm asked about the chairs is 'are they comfortable?' and the answer is, extremely. When we used to have family dinners, we would sit for literally hours - talking and laughing.
There are Bertoia chairs in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. One of the reasons that these chairs were so popular, and retain their popularity, is that they almost seem to disappear. See below what the designer himself said about them.
Photographed on the iPhoneClick thumbnail to view full-size
The chair was made in several designs. The most popular was arguably the sidechair - the design I have. The diamond version is incredibly popular too but slightly too big for my tiny apartment. But because of their light and airy look, they are ideal for small spaces. The bar stools are very popular too because they seem to 'disappear' and keep a room looking modern and sleek.
Photographs by Andy Royston. The Gabo sculpture image is via Wikipedia Commons.
Bargains on eBay
You might find a bargain genuine Bertoia chair on eBay! Below is an ever-changing feed from eBay - sometimes it will show genuine pieces, some will be reproduction - but it does demonstrate the high prices that genuine examples can fetch at auction. Yes, the reproductions are truly a bargain.
© 2013 Jackie Jackson