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Publication Date: 2011-10-28


Master Builders: Architectural Influences In Furniture

The Breuer chair, the Mies chair, the Saarinen table—icons of modern design, toppers of many a homeowner’s most-wanted list, and—the last sometimes goes forgotten—proof of the lasting influence architects exert on the world of furniture design.

Architects provide a unique perspective, says Alex Lamis, a partner at New York City-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects. “One of the things we can bring to interiors in general and furniture specifically is a broad understanding of spatial context,” he notes. “It’s an awareness of the built environment—what I would call a contextual knowledge of how all the furniture and other objects of everyday life relate to people and to each other. Perhaps we think of furnishings less as products than as elements in a designed environment.”

Since many of the pieces are made for projects they are designing, architects frequently focus on creating objects that serve a specific purpose in a specific setting. “A non-architect might think more globally of a chair,” points out Ron Radziner, principal of Los Angeles-based Marmol Radziner. “But as an architect I’m generally thinking about the particular house and location and site when I’m considering what a chair or dining room table or sofa might be.”

Architects’ rigorous training reveals itself in other ways, such as careful consideration of scale, according to Annabelle Selldorf of Vica Design in New York City. “That is reflected in everything,” she says. “What is the depth of the seat, how does the height of the back impact the comfort of the user and the perception in the space?”

There’s also an emphasis on “real materials put together in a clear way,” says Radziner. “For example, in our Dining Group of furniture if you look at the table you can see there are gaps between the legs and the top. Similarly, the chairs have a real separation between the upholstery and the wood itself. With this clear separation it’s understood where the different parts come together.”

Concern with the enduring quality of a piece in terms of materials and aesthetics, while not unique to architects, is paramount. “There is a hole in the marketplace,” says Lamis. “There are things that are useful and dull and then there are things that are extremely fashion-oriented but that after a year and a half are no longer something anyone wants. We think there is a middle ground for pieces that have a sense of the design of our time but also a sense of historical perspective. We want to do things that 50 years from now Sotheby’s will want to auction.”

-Deb Schwartz


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