Dame Vera’s starring partnership with a landmark of design
Robin and Patricia Silver, The Home, Salts Mill, Saltaire
A COUPLE of weeks ago, we all shared in the celebration of Dame Vera Lynn’s 100th birthday. She became a national treasure during the war. Her heartfelt songs brought hope and joy to the military at home and abroad as well as civilians in Britain pondering the fate of their loved ones on stationed overseas.
She retained her enormous popularity with records, on radio and in concerts and she eventually fronted her own television shows, which aired initially in 1969. By that time, she was a true matriarchal English icon, who was loved, respected and admired.
In her programmes, she sang alongside or sat upon a high bar stool. This was also an international icon of modern furniture design, created by Harry Bertoia in 1952 and it is still manufactured today by Knoll International. Bertoia was not really a furniture designer but a sculptor and jewellery artist but had produced a small range of chairs that were controversially and outlandishly modern.
They were made from steel rods curved into surprisingly comfortable shapes with hundreds of welds. The structure is clearly visible: indeed, the structure is the chair. Upholstery and seat pads were added but the mesh-like pattern of the steel rods can always be seen.
While Vera Lynn was seen by millions of viewers on this very contemporary piece of design, we should not be surprised to learn that very few chairs were bought in this country and that most homes even today do not have furniture that is so radical and progressive. Not then, back in 1969 and not today.
Take a walk down many residential streets, stroll through a Yorkshire village or peer into most of the apartments in our city centres and you will be far more likely to see a table lamp with a stretched fabric shade and little tassels or fringes than a slice of a Bertoia classic design, 65 years on. Those lamps (there are floor-standing and ceiling versions too) are far more commonplace in the bay windows of front rooms than just about anything else.
Vera Lynn clearly had a good eye for a little adventurous modernity but most of us feel comfortable and “at home” with a more traditional “cottagey” look. Some young ones today won’t remember Vera Lynn in her heyday and don’t know the tunes or the words to We’ll Meet Again or The White Cliffs of Dover but nonetheless feel inclined to hark back to a Victorian or Edwardian style of home decor with velvet or chintz fabrics, Chesterfield sofas, fireplaces with mantel shelves and of course those (now electric) table lamps. Vera Lynn may be 100 years old but she and her adored songs, just like the very best of contemporary design will live on for generations to come.
Robin and Patricia Silver are owners of The Home store, Salts Mill, Saltaire, www. thehomeonline.co.uk.
Harry Bertoia was born in 1915 in Italy. He moved to America at the age of 15 and won a scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where fellow students included Florence
Knoll, Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. He was a multitalented design luminary. He died in 1978. harrybertoia.org
WORK OF ART: The Bertoia bar stool/chair made from steel rods still looks outlandishly modern.