Wednesday, 24 February 2021

In search of early plastic chairs

I am looking for help in finding examples of early plastic chairs from the UK and for information on a New York-based company active in the 1930s-1950s.

 

The earliest plastic chairs that I have come across were designed for New York-based Grosfeld House in the late 1930s. They appear to have been quite a significant furniture retailer, with a large showroom at 320 East, 47th Street and moved into manufacturing (or at least branding) their own products. They appear to have been quite prolific - an internet search usually shows several items still changing hands on the secondary market. Lorin Jackson was one of the designers working with Grosfeld House in the early days and among his work was the chair shown in Fig. 1 made from acrylic glass in 1939. Some other examples of the company’s early experiments with plastics are shown in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3. In the mid-1950s, the company launched a fifty piece collection of wooden furniture designed by Vladamir Kagan. 

 

Fig. 1 Chair by Grosfeld House

Fig. 2 Chair by Grosfeld House

Fig. 3 Chair by Grosfeld House

Despite this impressive pedigree I have been unsuccessful in finding much information on the company, apart from the adverts shown in Fig. 4 and Fig. 5. New York museums have nothing at all on the company (Winterthur Museum, Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt, MoMA and New York Historical Society).

 

Fig. 4 Grosfeld House advert

Fig. 5 Grosfeld House advert

 
The Hollywood Regency inspired chairs produced by Grosfeld House are the earliest attempts at using plastics to make chairs. Significantly, they pre-date the more famous chairs designed by Ladislas Medgyes for Helena Rubenstein’s New York apartment in 1941 (often attributed as the first). I would like to find out more about the company and their early interest in plastic for furniture and the materials they worked with. If anyone has any information about the company or any of the designers that worked with them it would be great to hear from you.

 

From the UK the earliest plastic chair I have found is Robin Day’s Polyside from 1963. I think there are probably earlier examples and would be very interested in any tips or information about the early plastic furniture market in the UK.

 

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Technology Sydney. I am tracing the history of the plastic chair and focusing on how product designers are responding to the environmental emergency by experimenting with renewable carbon-based plastics (recycled plastics and bioplastics). Please do get in touch if you can help!

 

Thanks

 

Geoff Isaac

Geoffrey.Isaac@student.uts.edu.au

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