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Furniture's Ferraris: Carbon Fiber Chairs

August 18, 2000|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It doesn't look revolutionary, but the new Talon Chair being introduced in the U.S. this summer in upscale contemporary furniture stores is definitely breaking barriers.

It's a standard stacking chair but remarkable for being ultra-light and ultra-strong as well as fireproof, weatherproof and recyclable. That's because it's constructed of woven carbon fiber, an advanced composite best known for such uses as the body of the snazzy racing Ferrari F50.

The new chair retails for about $530, said Dan Fogelson,vice president of marketing for the New York-based ICF Group, which specializes in sleek furniture and has imported the chair from Bang Design in Australia. The price is considered affordable--Italy has been making a carbon fiber chair priced at $1,000, he said.

"We like the fact that it has 10 times the strength of steel and only weighs 2 pounds," he said. "People pick it up and their jaws drop." Although it was designed for heavy-duty commercial use such as large auditoriums, the Talon started selling almost immediately for residences, said Fogelson.

"It comes with a silver or black seat and back, and the woven carbon fiber has a beautiful character to it. People like the look of it. Talon is already working on other furniture that uses carbon fiber, as well as other new materials. Aluminum is incredibly hot right now."

It's the look of the 21st century, says Patricia Oliver at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design, where "cutting edge" is almost a byword.

Oliver is chair of the environmental design department (which includes furniture, lighting and other accessories for interiors) and an expert on emerging trends. The search is always on for new materials, she said. Carbon fiber is relatively new to the furniture industry, she said. "It is incredibly lightweight and strong but has been expensive. If it can be mass marketed, that should reduce the price."

What it symbolizes, she added, is an ongoing focus on lightweight furniture, moving away from cumbersome heavy woods. Designers are thinking about a future in which space and resources are becoming more scarce and furniture needs to be portable and adaptable.

Ten of Oliver's furniture design students were invited to exhibit their furniture work last spring in Italy at the prestigious Milan furniture fair, which gave them a look at the industry's newest and coolest ideas.

Flexibility was a keyword at Milan too, said Oliver. "We saw a lot of stretchy kind of fabrics that go over a frame or foam mold to give it a shape."

"And the recycling thing is really making headway in furniture materials," she said, thanks to a combination of environmental pressures and better technology. "There are so many new composites from materials that have been chewed up and spit out. And there is more computer-driven machinery that has the ability for molding and cutting that are more feasible in a production situation."

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Connie Koenenn can be reached at connie.koenenn@latimes.com.

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