Frank Gehry has a reputation for being a pretty wild guy, throwing plywood, chain-link fencing and 30-foot-tall fish and snakes around with abandon. So it comes as a surprise that the maverick architect has settled down to make elegant chairs. In the Gehry Collection, available through Knoll at the Pacific Design Center's annual Westweek celebration later this month, he has literally woven together four chairs and two tables by bending strips of maple into sinuous forms. Comfortable, simple and light, they are affordable (as little as $300), durable and environmentally correct--trees harvested to make the furniture are replenished.
Gehry spent three years working in his Santa Monica studio with project designer Daniel Sachs and technician Tom MacMichael on more than 100 prototypes. The idea was to create domestic thrones that would grow out of the nature of plywood, so Gehry and his crew turned to a century-old method of gluing and bending thin layers of wood into curving shapes. By weaving these strips to maximize their strength, the designers slowly eliminated separate legs, backs, supports and even rivets, leaving only cushions as options for those seeking maximum comfort.
The results--chairs that mold themselves to your body--have been hailed by some critics as instant classics, and they are already the subject of two exhibits, including one at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The chairs have the simplicity of Shaker furniture, the mass-produced strength of a Thonet cafe chair, the elegance of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's bentwood forms and the forthrightness of Charles and Ray Eames' classic plywood chairs. They also are refinements of Gehry's own 1960s cardboard chairs--which were funny, overscaled and purposely disposable statements. Making cardboard furniture taught Gehry how to work with humble materials and simple shapes, and now he has put those lessons to work in this more mature collection.