Ac­ci­den­tal Archivist

A Mod­ernist house starts man­i­fest­ing at the seat of power. Lit­er­ally.

Atomic Ranch - - Contents - By Ge­orge Smart

THE JOUR­NEY TO A MOD­ERNIST HOUSE BE­GINS … with a chair. Maybe it be­longed to your mother. Or maybe it was left be­hind from the pre­vi­ous owner when you moved in (lucky you). It could be from an ev­ery­thing-is-con­nected-to-the-uni­verse mag­i­cal mo­ment at a yard sale. You bought it cheap, for a song, as the ex­pres­sion goes. A lilt­ing, beau­ti­ful song full of emo­tion, like Jen­nifer Warnes singing Leonard Co­hen.

What is this myth­i­cally pow­er­ful chair? Per­haps it is a Barcelona chair de­signed by Mies van der Rohe and the usu­ally un­cred­ited Lilly Re­ich. It could be the 670 Lounge chair by Charles and Ray Eames or the But­ter­fly chair by An­to­nio Bonet, Juan Kur­chan and Jorge Fer­rari-hardoy.

The chair is no sim­ple sit­ting de­vice. It has sta­tus. You re­fer to it as a proper noun. It is The Chair. And not just any­one’s Chair. It’s yours, and it is your fa­vorite. Did you, a mere mor­tal, chose this Chair? No, grasshop­per, The Chair chose you. It is des­tiny. You may share The Chair with oth­ers, but make no mis­take, this is a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship. The Chair re­minds you ev­ery time you sit in it or even walk by that one day you and the Chair will be liv­ing else­where—in a Mid­cen­tury Mod­ernist house with hard­wood floors, ge­om­e­try ef­fi­ciently us­ing ev­ery square foot, light stream­ing in from ev­ery­where, rooms that flow one into the other, and more Chairs to keep this one com­pany.

The au­thor Tom Wolfe died this year. He was in­ter­na­tion­ally known for his wildly pop­u­lar nov­els such as Theright Stuff and Bon­fire of the van­i­ties and for his sig­na­ture style of dress, usu­ally a spot­less white three-piece cus­tom­made suit and two-tone shoes. He called it “Neo-pre­ten­tious.”

Wolfe was less known, how­ever, for a short book called From­bauhausto Our­house, pub­lished in 1981. Wolfe was a hard­core hater of Mod­ernist de­sign but un­like to­day’s In­ter­net trolls, he wrote about it bril­liantly, ex­co­ri­at­ing Mod­ernism and Mod­ernist ar­chi­tects, ar­chi­tec­ture, and es­pe­cially, The Chair, with wit and an in­ex­haustible flair. He par­tic­u­larly viewed the Barcelona chair as pre­ten­tious idol wor­ship: “When you saw the holy ob­ject on the sisal rug, you knew you were in a house­hold where a fledg­ling ar­chi­tect and his young wife had sac­ri­ficed ev­ery­thing to bring the sym­bol of the godly mis­sion into their home.” The Barcelona Chair was the avo­cado toast of fur­ni­ture, surely for­got­ten af­ter be­ing outed as a fad. Tom Wolfe just didn’t get it. The Barcelona Chair is now al­most 90 years old and one of the most en­dur­ing iconic chair de­signs in the world.

The Chair is a safe space for hold­ing your Mod­ernist dreams. One day, you will have more money, that next great job in a new city, or per­haps your next re­la­tion­ship (sigh). You and The Chair will be to­gether stand­ing proudly—i mean sit­ting proudly—in that dream house, lis­ten­ing to “Fa­mous Blue Rain­coat” with Jen­nifer Warnes singing Leonard Co­hen.

Did you, a mere mor­tal, chose this Chair? No, grasshop­per, The Chair chose you.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.