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Alexandra Lange | Essays

Please Stop Coloring

I did some exasperated tweeting last week when I saw the new citrus Hans Wegner wishbone chairs on Design*Sponge.

What would Hans Wegner say? Anyone else hate recolored classics too? They had paint in 1950, he chose not to use it.

Sam Grawe at Dwell then alerted me to a number of other outrages to mid-century classics, including the green stain on the Eames LCW, and the Victorian legs on the Eames fiberglass shell. Turns out D*S should have been the least of my worries, as a blue wishbone is on the cover of this weekend’s T (which has my bete noire Kelly Wearstler too!).

I’ve written before about my dislike of the new versions of Jens Risom’s chairs, made insubstantial in blonde wood, when I think their original purpose was to stand up to the floating volume of the modern interior. I grew up with my grandparent’s set of wishbone chairs, so this is another chair deeply imprinted on my design mind. The beauty of it is its lightweight, sensual shape and unassuming color. The papercord seats blend into the beech or oak frames, which would blend into an ordinary hardwood floor if not for the assertive back curve. Their sculptural quality is stealth. Lacquering them makes them look like plastic, pop, even Starck. They are really a chair associated with the beginnings of modernism, which is why they can skew contemporary or classic.

I know this is a fussy fussy point. There are more important things to think about. And we don’t really need any more chairs. But if contemporary designers and manufacturers are going to keep mining the past critics need to call them on their misunderstanding of its beauties. I am not even sure I wholly approve of House Industries’ Girard and Eames typefaces. I know I should be thankful for the exposure for Girard (the Eameses hardly need a push), but I keep thinking there was a reason he didn’t expand his lettering into a full alphabet himself. Maybe he wanted to keep a few things more folk, less mass-produced. Braniff was one airline, and one that didn’t last that long in its Girard/Pucci incarnation. Does it help our collective memory to mine his whimsy, or Wegner’s grace, for new brands?

UPDATE: And another one from Sam, Le Corbusier’s LC2. Obviously I am in the minority. Or are the modern classics manufacturers just desperate? They are making everything over as Memphis.

Posted in: Product Design

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