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Thursday, July 19


The Thonet model S64 chair has been considered a classic of 20th century design almost from its inception in 1929.    Designed by Marcel Breur soon after leaving the incredibly influential Bauhaus, the chair utilized, in the most elegant way, the newly available material of tubular steel.    Using only a single length of tube, Breur managed to bend it into a frame that supports all the elements of the chair; the seat, the back and the arms.   Additionally, the steel tube is sufficiently strong that it can support a cantilevered structure that both deletes the need for rear legs and creates a slight amount of comfortable bounce to the seat.   

A few years ago I bought a bargain priced original 1970's S64 at a thrift store and marvelled at the level of craftsmanship that went into its production.   The bending of the single tube is not easy to do, nor is the perfect finishing of the tube ends.   The wooden elements of the seat, back and arms were all impeccably crafted and have held up well considering the chairs forty years of use.     But it wasn't until I saw an original S64 next to a modern knock-off (spotted at the AGO artist in residence studio) that I really saw the elegance not just in the production but also in the details of Breur's  design.    The knock-off deletes the details that are so well executed in the original; the tube following exactly the curve of the wooden arm; the four bends that take the tube from the seat to the arm;  the single piece of bent wood that forms the frame of the back:  and perhaps most importantly , the overall scale and proportion of the chair.  

When viewing these chairs together, the idea of good design becomes as apparent as bad design.  One is a design with elegance and one is an approximation of elegance, which really isn't elegance at all.

Text by Josh T Hall

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