Thursday, February 1, 2007

Design Way Out of Reach?

Design Within Reach is a company that sells classic mid-century and contemporary design. It supposedly brings design "within" reach because everything is in stock and ready to ship, but its prices keep its products way out of reach for us mere financial mortals. In a world where cheap modern design is readily available at Ikea, West Elm, or even Target, it may be ridiculous of DWR to imply that it's bringing design to the masses. Yet what DWR does bring to the masses is a design education. Reading its catalog (and you can read it, cover to cover) is like reading the catalog of an important auction sale: bios of designers share space with information on materials and exhibition histories. For my first 21 years (before I went to Europe and really got an education), anything I learned about modern design I learned from DWR. Here are some of the treasures it introduced me to:

Arco floor lamp: This iconic lamp was designed in 1962 by Achille Castiglioni to provide overhead lighting without suspension from the ceiling. This lamp has recently had a resurgence in decorating magazines and is part of MoMA's permanent collection. Sells at DWR for $2,448.

Artichoke lamp: This "modernist chandelier" was designed in 1958 by the Danish Poul Henningsen. It is practically the state lamp of Denmark. It is also designed to produce glare-free light evenly around 360 degrees. A small sells at DWR for a cool $6,500. Don't even ask about the large.

The Barcelona Collection: So called because they were first shown in 1929 at the International Exhibition in Barcelona, these pieces are also sometimes named after their designer, the renowned architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Another famous architect, Philip Johnson, used these pieces in his New York apartment, and they have been produced by Knoll Studio, which manufactured some of America's most important modern furniture, to van der Rohe's exacting specifications since 1953. The table, a 3/4" plate of glass atop a seamless, single-piece base, was originally created in 1927 for the Tugendhat House in Brno, Czechoslovakia, but it is often paired with the Barcelona chairs because they just look so good together. The table retails at DWR for $1,064, the stool for $1,654, chair for $3,499, and the couch for $9,017.

Cherner armchair: This is one of the most famous examples of molded plywood furniture from the mid-century modern period. The laminated plywood is thicker at the slender waist and thins out around the edges of the seat. The chair was designed by Norman Cherner in 1958 and is one of the most collected pieces of mid-century design. Get your very own from DWR for just $999.

Eames lounge chair: This is one of the most iconic creations designed by the famous husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames. The Eameses designed this chair as the 20th-century American equivalent of the English gentlemen's club chair, with all the comfort of a well-broken-in baseball mitt. Having sat it one I can confirm that it is incredibly comfortable and even rocks. You can buy the set for $3,245 at DWR.

Eames plywood lounge chair: The other most well-recognized piece by Charles and Ray Eames, this chair was designed in 1946 and hailed by Time Magazine as the Best Design of the 20th Century. It's low slung and comfortable, made with the same molded plywood technique as the Cherner chair. Sells at DWR for $629.

Eileen Gray side table: This height-adjustable table was designed in 1927 by Eileen Gray for the guest room of her famous E. 1027 house in Cap Martin. It fits easily beside a chair or bed (where her sister was fond of eating breakfast), and easily moves outside thanks to its durable materials. Its purist functional aesthetic is a hallmark of interwar modern design.

Malena Chair: I'm not sure why I'm so fond of this armchair, but I love it from the ladder back to the little casters in front. It was designed by Jon Gasca for the Stua Collection, a company founded by his father and based in San Sebastian, Spain. Like another one of my favorites from Stua, the Globus Chair, the Malena Chair is reminiscent of mid-century modernism but has a contemporary spin. With its curvier lines and almost industrial functionality, it exudes seductive comfort while looking good from any angle. $1,398.

Noguchi coffee table: This was designed in 1948 by Isamu Noguchi, who apprenticed with the sculptor Constantin Brancusi before going on to design theatrical sets, furniture, and lighting. In this iconic table, two smooth supports interlock to form a tripod base for the triangular glass top. It is truly sculptural. DWR sells it (with wood bases, which are hard to find elsewhere) for $1,245.

The Tulip Collection: Eero Saarinen designed this award-winning collection in 1956, having observed that the "underside of typical chairs and tables makes a confusing, unrestful world." These unififed sculptural pieces are made with cast-aluminum bases. The fiberglass-shell seats of the chairs swivel, so you can have a very Austin Powers moment. The armchair sells for $1,109 and the table for $2,835.

Yanagi Butterfly Stool: This was designed by Sori Yanagi in 1954 and is supposedly influenced by ancient Japanese forms. It is also an example of molded plywood construction, and truly shows what sculptural forms the technique can produce. It's in the permanent collections of the MoMA and the Met, and for good reason. It turns the pedestal into the work of art. This version retails for $560 at DWR.

No comments: