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Chairs with flair.

The Alice chair waltzed into High Point for the October International Home Furnishings Market following a whirlwind spring tour that took it from Detroit, home of designers Paul and Lois Jack, to Milan for the Salone del Mobile and then to New York for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair. No wallflower, Alice's dance card was soon filled -- courted by dozens of dealers in San Francisco, Boston, North Carolina and Florida, among others.

This is no small feat for a slight but charming chair that appears to have strayed off the pages of a children's book or possibly from a Disney ballroom scene. Skinny legs, a tad knock-kneed, stand ready to pirouette on shiny steel taps. Watch out - this chair may glide up and sweep you off your feet - if it has not already bowled you over with its good looks.

The Alice chair paraphrases elements of classical design in an update for 1990s' interiors, the designer said. One might note that its curving lines echo chairs from the Louis XV period and its crest-rail finials could have been added by Chippendale, but comparisons would be irrelevant for a chair so original.

Designer Paul Jack described himself as self-taught. He acquired a hands-on education in custom cabinetry, then spent 10 years as an interior designer. He and his wife, an engineer in the automotive industry, moonlighted in furniture design until their recent success which requires Jack's full-time attention. The Jacks currently are developing prototypes of a chair, chaise and sofa for 1996 shows.

More fun than anybody

These days, it seems, chair designers and manufacturers have more fun than anyone else. Larry Laslo daydreamed about Hollywood circa 1930-1940, the heydays of glamorous movie stars, while designing his Act 11 Collection for Directional. He named individual pieces Diva, Harlow and Norma Jean to underscore the cinematic references. (Norma Jean was Marilyn Monroe's given name.)

Laslo's Stiletto chair is decked out in dangerously high heels, black patent leather, silver nailheads and a slash of lipstick red. If the Alice chair could be a Disney prop, this cheeky number would need only shoulder pads to grab the limelight in a Joan Crawford film.

Craftique is another example of a manufacturer letting its hair down. The traditionally staid company has been seriously interpreting 18th century designs in mahogany for half a century. In April, however, Craftique introduced a gaggle of 18th century design chairs that would make Thos. Chippendale flip his wig.

Mahogany remains the wood of choice for the 1995 collection, just as it was for chairmakers in the 1750s. And the standard repertory of 18th century design elements -- acanthus leaves, balloon seats, cabriole legs and shell carvings -- was not forgotten. But Craftique has turned classic, formal chairs into lighthearted creations suitable for casual dining, sun rooms or even children's rooms by dressing them up in bright colors.

Imagine a 1770 Chippendale sidechair in aquamarine, with a striped awning seat, or a Queen Anne armchair in royal blue, with a perky ruff led cushion. These are chairs that generate smiles.

Finishes range from brilliant to subdued. Blue Bonnet Blue, Scarlet Poppy, Buttercup and Tiger Lily are additional bright colors. Conservative colors include: Buttermilk Sky, Buttermilk Green, Buttermilk Red, Lily White, Crackled Egg Shell and Blackberry.

Wit and whimsy

"Why not make furniture witty and unexpected?" asks Chicagoan Thomas Stender who creates one-of-a-kind and limited edition studio furniture in a style once described as "Shaker on acid." His furniture has been widely shown, published and collected.

One of Stender's best-known designs is Canilune, an occasional chair based on canine and moon motifs. The new moon crest rail is obvious at once, but it may take a few moments to discover the canine reference in the hind legs of the chair.

Also having fun fashioning fanciful furniture, sculptor and carver Sandra Kazanjian offers the Wild Rose chair in a limited edition. The back is carved from wood of a linden tree into the shape of a flower. Exaggerated cabriole legs ending in scroll feet are carved from laminated cherry. "This is for the person who is interested in more than function," Kazanjian said. "The Wild Rose chair offers both whimsy and a sense of folly. I make furniture for people who want to be challenged, as well as delighted."

Wide-ranging Windsors

From the fanciful eclecticism of Chippendale in rainbow colors to a pair of totally unlike versions of the Windsor chair -- chairmakers and designers love to turn the tables (so to speak) on convention. Last year, Pennsylvania House introduced Grove's Mill Oak, a collection which included a fine replication of a New England comb-back Windsor armchair with every desirable feature including: scroll-ear top rail, fine knuckle arms, well-shaped saddle seat and well-defined turnings. A traditional chair up to this point, but a white linen finish adds an unexpected, contemporary flourish.

In 1992, KnollStudio reintroduced a line of beech side chairs designed by Davis Allen. The simple, straight-spindled, upright look of the Exeter chair prompted the designer to compare it with other Windsor chairs. "It has a kind of Windsor reminiscence," Allen said.

With or without arms, the chair comes in American cherry, medium red mahogany, deep red mahogany, matte black and high-gloss black finishes. Scroll ears, knuckle arms and turned legs are not options.

Inspiration from corrugation

In the early 1970s, celebrated architect Frank Gehry was looking for a way to produce inexpensive furniture and began to improvise with cardboard. He glued multiple layers together like plywood, contoured the pieces. then cut them with a jigsaw. The epoxied material shaped up beautifully and Gehry created 17 different chair styles. When introduced commercially, Easy Edges furniture was a critical and popular success. In 1979, Gehry produced Experimental Edges using the same materials, but with loose, shaggy forms.

As a first-year design student at the University of Texas, Charlie Kane was assigned a similar problem of building a chair of corrugated cardboard, but without glue, tape or fastening devices. He was limited by weight to the quantity of cardboard he could use, which amounted to about four sheets, or less than 20 pounds. Kane's chair slides together like the inserts in a shipping carton for bottles. It's stable and can support a heavy person, he said. The corrugated cardboard chair has far surpassed any expectations he had for it, Kane added, because "it was conceived as inexpensive and temporary furniture, but is still holding up."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:new chair designs
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1995
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