When is a Grasshopper not a grasshopper?
When it’s a can of worms!
Recently a client brought me a fantastic mid century modern arm chair. It was angular and unapologetic and unexpectedly comfy in all the right places. It looked like a strong enough statement to be a ‘something’, so I did a little digging. The results of my explorations are this months ‘SPOT’ feature on The Grasshopper Chair by Eero Saarinen.
The hunt for Grasshoppers and their variations (if any) raised a lot of discussion points for me. The big one right now in the design community is about the value in ‘originals’ versus ‘knock offs’. It’s a discussion closely linked to the idea of authenticity, and a topic that is both straight forwardly obvious and yet fraught with questions, clarifications and caveats. So I’m taking my time to formulate and rationalise my thoughts on the matter.
For now, I want to look at the second and more immediate discussion point for me, which is about adaptation. Transformation. Renovation.
There is a tendency for people to think about refurbishing in terms of ‘Just Upholstery’, as though the padding and fabric are an afterthought, when in reality upholstery is an integral part of any given chair’s design – functionally and aesthetically. Whether it’s the overstuffed opulence of a Louis chair or the ‘pretend I’m not here’ slim line upholstery of the Mid Century Modernists, upholstery is at least half of what holds you up.
The thing about an upholstered arm chair is it’s much like a human. We’ve all got bones, but the padding, colour and form we take on results in many different shapes, styles and even statements. That the skeleton holding up a body (chair or human) is only part of the story. Once we’ve stripped down to bare bones with furniture, we have an opportunity to replicate what was there, to add a fabric twist, or build something entirely new.
Sure, there are limitations in the way a skeleton is built – Upholsterers can’t staple and tack into pure foam, and similarly we can’t stitch and sew into something that isn’t there. But there’s a wealth of opportunity to get creative in that middle ground between exact restoration and our wildest dreams!
Love your chair but need a firmer seat? Let’s up the density of your foam or use traditional coconut fibre upholstery. Find the right bar stool but need it higher to suit your bar? Let’s build a deeper seat and/or add more foam. Want to change the back? We can make that happen!
Case in point;
(top left) We have a classic 90’s ‘gaming’ stool found in pokie rooms all over Australia.
(Top Right) The same stool, made taller with a deeper box seat and upholstered all over in olive green velvet. Now it looks like it came from a 50’s cocktail bar.
(Lower Left) Swap the curved back out for something more minimal, and we have an art deco stool from the 20s.
(lower right) Drop the seat back to sit lower on the bracket, compacting the form while maintaining comfort and minimal interruption to sight lines in your favourite local bar.
Am I suggesting we can improve on an original Eero Saarinen? Nope. Am I saying we can do something pretty awesome with a no-name grandpa chair you found in the op shop? Sure am.
A few months back I picked up a 70’s ish retro swivel chair (below, left). It’s not a designer name anything, and its cushions were simultaneously overstuffed and under defined. I’m calling him bucket.
With Bucket’s figure and low lying pedestal base, he’s got the potential to be all the things I love about G-Plan, Arne Jacobson or Namco chair from the 60s and 70s.
To reach that potential, he needs to look less ‘straight up and down’ and a little more hour glass. At the very least, pear shaped. His hips need to look wider than his shoulders, and those foofy 80’s cushions have got to go.
I could carve into his skeleton to further narrow the shoulders, or add on to it to create wings, but for this round I’m going to explore this idea of padding and clothes on a stock standard skeleton. I’m going to make Bucket a new contemporary wardrobe that riffs on mid-century modern, oozes comfort and style. Oh, and he’s going to be a RED bucket.