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Haute Seats : Tracy Fong Designs Chairs With an Asian Flavor and a Sense of Humor

October 14, 1990|BARBARA THORNBURG

IN A FRESH, new melding of Pacific Rim influences, Southern California designer Tracy Fong is recasting a traditional Asian form in an urbane and inviting new hybrid that is familiar--but strikingly futuristic. She updates traditional rattan, used for centuries for furniture making in the Orient, by combining it with rich woods, leathers and modern geometric shapes.

Two years out of Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, Fong works at the family business, Fong Brothers (the longtime L.A. company was called Tropi-Cal until it was renamed in January). She designs extraordinary chairs that use common materials in decidedly uncommon ways. In her revolutionary Arc chair, an ample mahogany base with inverted-pyramid legs joins a metal-framed, woven-wicker back. Her burgundy Surabaya chair uses rattan peel (the outside of the rattan palm) as a kind of upholstery fabric over foam.

Fong once studied amusement-park design, and her furniture reflects her subtle sense of humor. Her Joanne chair, for example, is named for the friend whose signature scallop-shaped doodle she used as the basis for a seat design. The strength of Fong's work, a daring break from tradition, lies in her chairs' new forms--simple, clean and geometric. At the heart of her work is a painstaking craftsman ethic. For Fong and the whole new generation of furniture makers, that is the secret--and most basic--ingredient.

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