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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You look so familiar: Part 2 - Molded Plywood

Michael Thonet patented his bent wood furniture process in 1841 and experimented with plywood in the 1880s. During World War I, the aviation industry found ways to make plywood more flexible and durable, and in the years following the war, modernist designers found that plywood offered a solution to their search for a material that could be inexpensively mass produced.

In 1927 Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, a Dutch cabinetmaker, made a seat from a single piece of plywood. Then, in the early 1930s,  Alvar Aalto produced plywood stacking stools and the Paimio chair, which had  a one-piece plywood seat and back in a plywood frame. In 1936 Marcel Breuer created a molded plywood dining table.

By the early 1940s, young American designers such as Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi and a young British designer name Gerald Summers began to work in molded plywood. In 1946 the MoMA asked Eames to stage his first one-man show, and the highlight of the event was the DCW (dining chair wood) and the DCM (dining chair metal). This was the same year Ilmari Tapiovaara designed his stacking chair. By 1958 the Cherner chair had streamlined seat, post and back into one piece while keeping the tapered legs typical of the other chairs.

Plywood fell out of vogue during the 1960s and 1970s, but it was reintroduced by British designer Jasper Morrison in the 1980s. His 2009 BAC is a perfect example of combining design elements of two or more dissimilar styles. The BAC is a plywood chair with a center back post that manages to look very much like the chairs with tall legs and wraparound arms that were the subject of my initial post in this series. To me it could be the offspring of Wegner's The Chair and the Eames DCW. It definitely blurs the lines between the two categories.


The Molded Plywood Chair with the Single Post Back

Ilmari Tapiovaara - 1946

Eames DCW - 1946

Thonet  - 1950s

Norman Cherner, 1958

Jasper Morrison's BAC

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