Beyond the saga of the Cheap Coffee Table, I do wonder about my green velvet 1960s Parker chairs that smugly flank its weak form. Why have they stood the test of time? I imagine they were out of fashion by the ’80s and certainly through the ’90s, when beige took no prisoners on the colour scheme front. Now though they seem timeless. So if something is well-made can we assume its style will always survive its era of manufacture? Perhaps the integrity of manufacturing gone by means we’re now at ease with how vintage (and of course antique) furniture sits within our concept of taste.
Contrived durability of contemporary furniture is one thing, but the ‘on-trend’ obsession of a post-Pinterest era adds to an otherwise aesthetic planned obsolescence. I have seen my Cheap Coffee Table in too many self-consciously styled rooms on my Pinterest feed and it’s not pinteresting anymore.
The queen of trend forecasters Li Edelkoort had predicted a brass trend for 2017 but ‘experts’ online are already warning customers of brass overkill, telling consumers to throw their brass bits out to make way for rubbed bronze. Former director of brands at trend forecaster WGSN Lauretta Roberts explains to me that retailers need to inject newness to “keep the consumer excited”. She believes we’ve seen an end to the overarching trend type of the late ’90s and talks of “hundreds of niche trends” in their place.
But most don’t feel niche for long. There’s the tale of the ancient motif that was almost stripped of its timelessness on the bottle of a mouthwash. The chevron had been around for centuries yet its repeated online and shop-floor exposure meant that by last year the flame stitch pattern of ancient Hindu temples was decorating a bottle of Listerine.
Vogue Living’s former editor David Clark has ironically spent most of his working life avoiding the word ‘trends’. He prefers ‘directions’. I was telling him how I was inspired to choose subway tiles for my kitchen back in 2010 because of a Vogue Living story about Londoners who used real salvaged Underground tiles. “Do you still like them?” David asks me.
I have a thing for vintage decorating books. I love the retro styling and twee suggestions, but mostly I’m nostalgic for a time when a hardback book could confidently suggest interior design specifics that might see the reader through at least a decade. The Age of Disposable Decor, which began in the mid-90s, is as much about the marketing machine of fashion as it is about the machines that pump out those brittle plastic screws that pop out of your cheap shelving units. Consumers have themselves become giant cogs in the marketing machine and 'consumption trends' are so fast-moving they disappear in a swoosh of smoke before the packaging is even removed.
Everyone is jumping on the trends bandwagon; discount retailers use multi-platform digital marketing that has made online stores and online magazines hard to tell apart for many consumers. ‘Listicles’ are everywhere: ‘FOUR NURSERY TREND PIECES YOU NEED IN 2017’ was a notable recent addition to K-Mart’s ‘inspirational’ posts. Those with real estate or interiors-related social media feeds are used to being told what to do with their homes every time they dip into Facebook. Trends to buy now. Ex-trends to throw out. We may as well be talking about toothbrushes.
The savvy British high street has almost single-handedly changed the clothes industry with its fast-fashion model and its happening in interiors, albeit less dramatically. Major Australian retailers have adopted the cunning of quick copycatting and replica manufacturers are ten to the dozen. While I hope Australia follows Europe’s lead in terms of replica laws, Phillippe Starck’s ‘Louis Ghost’ chair on Target shop floors meanwhile recalls how even the genuine LV-monogram handbags started to look cheap in the noughties.
It’s great that ideas are shared and it’s fair that looks once reserved for the rich are now accessible to anyone with an interest in design. And while DIY ‘hacks’ involve mass-market products, they are at least being customised by hand. Yet the same outcome persists; sub-standard manufacturing plus fast-moving trends equals more stuff relegated to landfill, and The Future Laboratory predicts a consumer-driven backlash via the rise of ‘seasonless style’, which will open more doors to customisation.
It seems to me that homes everywhere are begging to be ‘customised’. That is, to be allowed to express only their owner’s taste, style, moods and fancies. Perhaps it’s as simple as looking away from the virtual interiors on our screens and looking back into our actual living rooms, slowing to the home’s own pace and finding its real beating heart.
Words by Joanne Gambale
Photography by Richard Powersabc
I am forever explaining what my job – precisely – is. As an editor and writer working in the publishing and design industries, I’m not surprised that people find it difficult to grasp what my average working day would look like. In fact I, myself, find it difficult to grasp. Normally, it’s a lot of emails and phone calls; it’s a lot of word documents; it’s a lot (and I mean A LOT) of note-taking, notepads and biros behind my ear). On bad days, it’s sweating as I frantically type out a mountain of articles seconds away from a surprise print deadline. On good days, it’s picking the brains of some very inspiring people. On the best days, it’s archival work.
You see, the lion’s share of my job is research. And, while most appear to abhor this aspect of meticulous reconnaissance, I can’t seem to tear myself away. I often find myself in the oddest places: everything from trawling the national architecture library, hob-nobbing at Christies auctions or Skype-ing NASA personnel. Last week, I found myself going through the Playboy archives to come across this line: “you sink into a voluptuous luxury that few mortals since Nero have known” (Playboy, May 1961).
Knowing its provenance, you’d be forgiven thinking the writer referred to any number of the women populating the pages of Playboy. Oddly enough, however, the writer in question was referring to a chair.
When the Eames Lounge and Ottoman were introduced into the world in 1956, they captivated the market quite unlike anything anyone reasonably expected. Having just celebrated their 60th birthday last year, the pieces still remain unquestioned icons of design that grace museums, penthouses and executive offices the world over. In continuous production since its inaugural release, the Eames Lounge and Ottoman are, at once, universally distinguishable and widely renowned for being a hallmark of twentieth-century design. But, thanks to my absurd trawl through the Playboy archives, I discovered a story behind the chair quite unlike any other.
It all started with Billy Wilder – beloved darling for many a cinephile – the Hollywood director of classics such as the award-winning The Apartment (1960), Some Like It Hot (1959) and Sabrina (1954) . After Charles and Ray Eames visited the director on set at Paramount Studios during the filming of Sabrina (starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden), they noticed that Wilder would construct a makeshift lounge-chair out of bits of old clapper board, his director’s chair and cushions for naps in-between takes.
The year before, Wilder himself had given a modernist chair to the couple as a gift – one that they loved so much that Charles Eames was known to be jealous of not having designed it himself. Based on a similar design to that chair (which, unfortunately, has been lost to the annals of history), the first prototype of the Eames Lounge and Ottoman was given to Wilder as a birthday gift and remains in the Wilder Estate to date.
But the Hollywood connection for the Eames Lounge and Ottoman doesn’t stop with Wilder. On the Paramount lot, there are tales of Marilyn Monroe having her photograph taken sitting in one, flicking through her script. Julian Blaustein (big-time Hollywood producer) was invited by Paramount to their offices to review scripts and, while sitting in a test for the lounge, fell asleep. Blaustein was apparently embarrassed, but Ray Eames remembers only Charles’ elation.
The design was ultimately the result of the Eames’ pioneering innovations in the field of moulding plywood and a conjoined desire to improve upon the most cumbersome (and for many, the most unsightly) element in living rooms across the world: the lounge chair. According to Charles Eames, their intention rested on wanting to create “a special refuge from the strains of modern living” – a desire which many in the design industry still strive to achieve and a sure-fire sign that vouches for the piece’s iconic place in industrial design history.
Through super-heating the wood and then bending it into what was then thought to be impossibly symmetrical forms and smooth, sweeping vital lines, the undulating seat and the curvature of the backrest aimed to trounce off the paradox Charles Eames sought for all of the studio’s designs: an unimpeachable balance struck between contemporary technical process and ancient, natural forms.
And yet, for all of the Hollywood associations that pepper this chair’s little history, it probably was accidental. After all, according to Eames it was meant to reflect the “warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt”.
In any case, few would deny that the Eames Lounge and Ottoman are undeniably a box office hit. Or, indeed, a home run.
The Eames Lounge and Ottoman is available in Australia through Living Edge.
Words: David Congram.
This article was originally published in McGrath Magazine: April 15th 2017abc