Anna Smith of Anna Bode Co. has a background in history and decretive arts. She has let us in on her #designdecoded blog series, in which she dissects iconic objects in design history.
This month we’re taking a look at Harry Bertoia and his gorgeous wire chairs. Bertoia was born in Italy in 1915, moved to America as a teenager, and eventually attended Cranbrook Academy where he rubbed elbows with other soon-to-be design big-wigs such as Charles Eames (fiberglass chairs!) and Eero Saarinen (tulip tables!). Cranbrook was kind of a big deal at the time.
After finishing his studies he was asked to stay and spearhead the metal workshop, where he made mostly jewelry (metal was scarce during the War). Then he headed over to California with Eames to develop an inexpensive method for molding all those plywood chairs Eames was so crazy about. Unfortunately, Eames pulled a fast one on him when the chairs were finally produced and gave Bertoia zero credit. What!
Miffed, Bertoia exchanged the West coast for the East and settled in at Knoll (another important name, in furniture production). The Knolls knew Bertoia was brilliant, and basically told him he could come design whatever he wanted—it didn’t even have to be furniture! They just wanted to see what he could come up with.
Bertoia’s line of wire chairs was launched in 1952, and has been in continuous production ever since. Seriously. People haven’t stopped buying these chairs once in the past 60 years! Can you imagine if your sofa was so popular, people were still buying it in 2078?
That, my friends, is what they call timeless
Okay, okay. What’s the big deal about these chairs? Well for starters, the materials were pretty groundbreaking. Wire mesh chairs don’t seem crazy to us because they’ve been around for half a century, but in Bertoia’s time most chairs were still made of—you guessed it—wood. Yawn. Also, Bertoia’s chairs are sculptural works of art (And guess what? He was a sculptor. Surprise, surprise). He took industrial materials and made them both elegant and beautiful, which is certainly a feat worthy of admiration.