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AROUND HOME : Notes on Southwest Dishes, Wood Turning and Cesca Chairs : Breuer's Cesca Chair

July 10, 1988|DAVID LASKER

HAS ANY "ART"chair been knocked off as often as the Cesca chair? Brainchild of Hungarian-born architect Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), the chair ranks among the century's most familiar Designs with its cane back and seat and springy base of bent metal tubing.

Breuer taught at Germany's famed Bauhaus school, along with other modernist pioneers such as Kandinsky and Gropius. In 1937, he came to America to teach at Harvard, where his students included Eliot Noyes, designer of the IBM Selectric typewriter, and Philip Johnson, designer of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

The Cesca dates from 1928; Breuer named it after his daughter Francesca. But was it really "his" chair to name? At the time, the cantilever principle was in the air: Fellow Bauhausler Mies van der Rohe was shortly to come out with his similar MR chair, lampooned by Tom Wolfe in "From Bauhaus to Our House" as one of the most disastrously designed chairs of the century: "So that by the time the main course arrived, at least one guest had pitched face forward into the lobster bisque."

More to the point, Dutch designer Mart Stam had made the first cantilevered tubular-metal chair, constructed of gas pipes, in 1926. The following year, he showed a refined model at the 1927 Deutsche Werkbund exhibit in Stuttgart--practically a Cesca look-alike, except that the Cesca was still but a gleam in Breuer's eye. (Some historians unsportingly accuse Stam of swiping the idea.)

Regardless of who deserves credit for the Cesca, the chair, perhaps more than any other Bauhaus product, exemplifies the school's tenets of sophisticated, simple forms shorn of ornament and suitable for mass production. As Breuer wrote in 1928, it represents "the style-less, necessary apparatus of modern life." Like Helen of Troy, the Cesca chair has launched a thousand knockoffs--from smart restaurant seating to tacky dinette suites.

Breuer-style chairs are widely available throughout Southern California.

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