Firefly House


Things that inspire us from the world of Modernist furniture, design and architecture.

Eames living room moves to LACMA for design exhibition

A new exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is exploring California’s role in shaping the material culture of the United States. Over 300 objects will be on display from the worlds of furniture, ceramics, metalwork, fashion and textiles, and industrial and graphic design.

What I find most intriguing about the exhibition is its replica of the Eames House, aka Case Study House no. 8, which will house the 1,869 items that usually reside in the living room of the Eames’ Pacific Palisades home, now cared for by the Eames Foundation.

The Eames house
The Eames house by JForth

Eames Demetrios (Charles and Ray’s Grandson) said of the move:

“Besides being emotional, it was an incredible logistical challenge. There were two teams, including conservators, working simultaneously with a representative from the foundation. The process took a week, just to pack up the living room. Then, about 1,500 items had to go into a freezer for five days to kill any possible insect infestations.”
Source: The New York Times

The exhibition has a free iPhone / iPad app (no Android version I’m afraid), which isn’t packed with interesting stuff you can’t see anywhere else, but definitely gives you a feel for the exhibition. It features video interviews with designers, an interactive map with notable locations, a decent selection of hi res images with accompanying object info, and essays about the making of the exhibition. I’ll be having a play with that later.

There’s also a book which accompanies the exhibition, available in print and as a digital version.

California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” will be on display until 25th March 2012, so if you’re over on the GMT side of the pond like me, start saving your pennies.

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Yukari Sweeney Design’s Eames-inspired Cushion #9

So we’ve been giving Yukari Sweeney Design a lot of attention lately, but I hope you’ll agree, it’s well deserved. They’ve just released a new product influenced by the Eames Case Study House #9 which I just had to tell you about because I absolutely love it.

Yukari Sweeney bought this Eames RAR from us earlier in the year, and it was such a delight to read about how pleased they were with the chair. Well, it seems that the rocker and the design ethos behind the Entenza House by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen has inspired the latest cushion design from Yukari Sweeney.

Yukari wanted to design a product for the home which can help you relax, or aid concentration when it’s time to be productive, so they created a cushion which is made to support your lower back in your favourite chair, while its firm feather pad makes it soft and snug.

The colour scheme of the cushion is informed by the soothing palette of the RAR line and the Entenza House.

Yukari Sweeney Design have created a family of characters which grace the covers of Cushion #9: Henry in the Rain, Wolfgang in the Woods and Baby Bird.

The rain design also features on their new ceramics range, which will appear on the Yukari Sweeney Design website soon, so keep an eye out for that.

Other design in the forthcoming ceramics range complement Yukari Sweeney’s Wish You Were Here in London wallpaper design.

Read more about Cushion #9 on the Yukari Sweeney Design blog.

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J is for… Arne Jacobsen (1902 – 1971)

Arne Jacobsen is one of Russell’s favourite designers, and this post follows on nicely from Alvar Aalto in our designers series, because Jacobsen, like Aalto, advocated design as a total work of art – Gesamtkunstwerk, or to quote Ernesto Rogers, one of Jacobsen’s influences, design “from spoon to city”.

Arne Jacobsen was an architect and designer of furniture, textiles, lighting, wallpaper and silverware. Before graduating he won a silver medal for a chair design at the Paris Art Deco fair, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (1925).

Despite his early success (and later triumphs) with product design, Jacobsen felt that he was an architect above all things. Thus, I find it interesting that Jacobsen is most famous for the products he designed for the buildings, rather than the buildings themselves.

After winning the Danish Architect’s Association prize for the House of the Future in collaboration with Flemming Lassen, Jacobsen stamped his modernist architectural sensibilities on the design world. He set up office in Copenhagen, where he remained until World War 2, a leading proponent of modernist architecture.

Jacobsen’s Jewish background would have resulted in his forced deportation from Denmark in 1943, but he rowed across to Sweden and went into exile. He and his wife, textile designer Jonna Jacobsen, lived there for two years before returning to a Denmark in need of housing and public buildings.

Jacobsen’s career was back on track by the early 1950s, and he became increasingly interested in product design, inspired by that ‘spoon to city’ philosophy and the moulded plywood designs of Charles and Ray Eames.

It was during this era that Jacobsen dominated production at Fritz Hansen, a Danish furniture company, beginning in 1952 with the Ant, which was Denmark’s first industrially manufactured chair. This was followed by the Series 7 in 1955, whose ongoing success firmly established the two names as key chapters in the history of furniture production.

In 1956 the build of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen began. Jacobsen was commissioned to design every element of the hotel building including the furniture, right down to the silverware and door handles. Though the building design did not please everyone (it has been called “the punch card” and “the glass cigar box”), it is know as the world’s first designer hotel, and was Jacobsen’s opportunity to put his theories of integrated design into practice.

For the SAS Royal Hotel, Jacobsen designed the Swan, the Egg and the Series 3300. Today, the hotel has preserved only one room to be completely original – Room 606.

room 606 #2
room 606 #2 by Peter Guthrie

Although Jacobsen’s designs are of the Danish modern style which combines industrial technology with simplicity and functionality, he successfully united this approach with the human need for organic natural forms. A wonderful example of this is the Egg chair in the Royal SAS Hotel lobby. Koen De Winter notes:

“The Egg chair is not just a comfortable chair reduced to a very simple and architectural shape suitable for a large hotel lobby, it is not just a friendly yet readable shape, it also provides the user with a level of visual isolation that witnesses a keen understanding of the need for privacy and warmth in a large semi-public space.”

The second of Jacobsen’s most famous architectural designs is St Catherine’s College at Oxford Univeristy. Oxford Dons appointed Jacobsen after visiting the SAS hotel in search of an architect, and despite one notorious letter to the Times complaining that appointing Jacobsen was an insult to British architecture, he began work, designing absolutely everything right down to the species of fish for the ponds in the Jacobsen-designed garden.

St Catherine's College
St Catherine’s College by Steve Cadman

What I like most about Jacobsen is that he had little faith in theories of design:

“You can always see a thing from two sides, if only one has a little imagination”

He spent all his energy in the creative process. After sketches came the prototypes, which were modeled and remodeled until they reached perfection. Jacobsen’s goal was the total quality of the man-made environment, and the independent success of his product designs is a testament to this ideal.

The Furniture Designs of Arne Jacobsen

Here are Jacobsen’s key furniture designs, illustrated by some of your photographs on Flickr.

Ant chair (3100) 1952
This stackable wooden chair was originally designed for the canteen at the Novo Nordic healthcare company. It is available with three or four legs.

Three Ants
Three Ants by Jorunn D. Newth

Series 7 1955
The Series 7 was a spin off of the Ant, and a result of Jacobsen manipulating the lamination technique to perfection.

Ubiquitous Chair
Ubiquitous Chair by Tony Hall

3300 Series 1956
This formal sofa design, a contrast to the organic shape of Jacobsen’s chair designs, was created for the SAS Terminal at the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen.

arne jacobsen, rødovre library, 1961-1969
arne jacobsen, rødovre library, 1961-1969 by seier+seier

Grand Prix (3130) 1957
So-called because it received the Grand Prix at the Triennale in Milan.

Arne Jacobsen 3130 aka Grand Prix
Arne Jacobsen 3130 aka Grand Prix by Artur Félix da Cru

Egg chair 1958
Designed for the lobby and reception of the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, the Egg chair was an elegant contrast to the straight lines of the building. It has a foam inner shell beneath the upholstery – Jacobsen was the first to use this technique.

0765 by magnus*

Swan chair (3320) 1958
Also designed for the Royal Hotel, the Swan has no straight lines, making it technologically innovative in 1958. The Swan was also designed as a sofa.

Swan chairs at Firefly House
Our Swan chairs, currently looking for a new home

Oxford chair 1965
Jacobsen designed a professor’s chair for St. Catherine’s College, and this evolved into the Oxford chair, with its tall back symbolizing prestige. Also note the Jacobsen-designed silverware in this photograph from St Catherine’s College.

Dining by Andy Matthews

Did you know?

  • The Ant nearly ended up on the scrap heap because Fritz Hansen wasn’t convinced of its potential. The chair survived the initial scepticism, when Arne Jacobsen guaranteed to buy all chairs produced if noone else would.
  • Jacobsen’s flatware was used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey because of it’s futuristic look.
  • The Series 7 chair shot to fame when a copy of the chair was used in a photoshoot with Christine Keeler of the Profumo affair. You can read more about this iconic image on the V&A website.

Further Links

  • Republic of Fritz Hansen
    Manufacturers of Arne Jacobsen’s furniture designs and useful resource for the history of their collaboration.
    A Fritz Hansen website dedicated to the work of Arne Jacobsen.
  • Louis Poulsen
    Manufacturers of Jacobsen’s lighting designs.
  • Stelton
    Manufacturers of Jacobsen’s tableware.
  • Design Museum
    Arne Jacobsen at the Design Museum, London.
    A community resource site dedicated to this most curvaceous form.
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Yukari Sweeney Design Collaboration

Where can you find print featuring cowboys, manor houses, koi carp, horses, birds and flowers, covering a range of items from walls to people and anything in between? Yukari Sweeney Design, of course!

Yukari Sweeney Design: English Rose Country Blue

Yukari Sweeney are a surface design company based in London, and good friends of ours. They’re exhibiting at 100% Design which opens this week (22 – 25 September) at Earls Court, and they’ll be featured in the 100% Futures strand of the UK’s leading contemporary design event, the aim of which is to introduce tomorrow’s design stars.  (So watch out!)

We recently collaborated with Yukari Sweeney on a pair of Ernest Race rockers, which may look familiar, as I’m a little bit in love with these chairs and I’ve definitely mentioned them once or twice before.

Ernest Race rockers

Yukari created a bespoke design based on her ‘Oh Boy! Central Park’ design, for the seat pads of the rockers. Here’s the original wallpaper design. She’ll be taking them along to the 100% design show to represent her company’s collaborative work.

These chairs were originally designed for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and the cold bent steel frames were shot blasted and powder coated in French grey and cream.

Ernest Race rocking chair in green Ernest Race rocker in green

In our second collaboration, Yukari Sweeney has created another bespoke design for an Ercol day bed based on the significance of London on our respective lives. We’ll be revealing the results of that collaboration at the Midcentury.Modern show in Dulwich in November, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

Of the projects, Yukari Sweeney says:

“By collaborating with the wonderful people at Firefly House we have expanded our knowledge about tastes and trends in surface design and mid-century furniture. Such challenging projects have spurred us on to seek out more ways to create functional and stylish objects for the home through bespoke and collaborative efforts.”

They’re keen to work on more bespoke projects, and with wallpaper, lampshades, cushions, blinds, and a new line of ceramics, there’s plenty to choose from! I hear they even have a qualified seamstress! So if you’re looking for something special for your home, get in touch. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

If you go along to the 100% Design show this week, or if you’re already a Yukari Sweeney convert, tell us about it.

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Knoll Textiles 1945 – 2010

Edited by Earl Martin. Essays by Paul Makovsky, Bobbye Tigerman, Angela Völker and Susan Ward
Yale University Press (2011)

I’ve been thinking a lot about upholstery recently, and how it’s a key consideration for any Mid Century Modern devotee – in fact, anyone interested in vintage furniture. Though upholstery and textiles are particularly key to the modernist aesthetic.

If you want a better understanding of the textile industry from this period, you should pick up this new publication about Knoll, one of the world’s leading modern furniture design companies.

Founded by Hans Knoll in 1938, the company collaborated with many famous furniture designers, including Eero Saarinen, Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia. Architect and furniture designer Florence Schust joined the company, and in 1946 she married Hans. A year later the firm established another division of the company – Knoll Textiles.

Florence Knoll was already a key contributor to their interior design division, Knoll Planning Ltd, and now she brought a modern sensibility to Knoll’s textile production, using colour and texture as principal design elements. Innovative design remains a hallmark of the Knoll brand.

Knoll Textiles, 1945–2010 was produced to accompany the show of the same name which exhibited at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture (BGC) from May to July this year. Both show and book aim to reposition the role of textiles in the furniture industry, giving it full recognition – specifically focusing on the individuals and ideas behind Knoll Textiles.

A case in point is the Eero Saarinen Womb chair. BGC point out that while it is one of the most iconic furniture designs of the 20th century, rarely is the textile identified, though usually a Knoll and certainly a distinctive design feature.

Knoll Textiles, 1945–2010 is a comprehensive and indispensable guide to textile design, with an extensively illustrated catalogue, biography of around eighty textile designers and in-depth analysis of Knoll Textiles. The book features essays on:

  • The Knoll firm before the founding of Knoll Textiles (Paul Makovsky)
  • The context for modern textiles in America from the late 1930s to the early 1960s and Knoll’s key contributions during this period (Susan Ward)
  • Florence Knoll and the Knoll Planning Unit (Bobbye Tigerman)
  • Knoll Textiles from 1965 to 2010 (Angela Völker)

Do you have and key textile design favourites from Knoll? What about the importance of textiles? Do you consider the quality and design of the upholstery to be as important as that of the structure of the piece?

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A is for… Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976)

Put an iconic piece of modernist furniture in front of me, and though I’ll admire it, I can’t always identify the designer or tell you its history. I’m still navigating my way through the icons of the Mid Century Modern movement, but that’s what this blog is all about.

To learn my Eames from my Aalto, this new series is a Designer A – Z, beginning with the most important Finnish architect and designer of the 20th century – Alvar Aalto.

There is a vast amount of information out there already, in books and on the web (I know, I’ve just spent a couple of days reading it) so I won’t try and paraphrase it for this blog.

Instead, my Designer A – Z posts will begin with a very brief overview of their life and philosophy, move swiftly on to their key furniture designs, and finish with a few interesting web links, in case you’d like to find out more. I might even throw in a few interesting facts I’ve picked up along the way.

As always, do let me know what you think, or if you’ve got anything to say regarding the Aalto oeuvre.

Auditorium of the Viipuri Municipal Library

Alvar Aalto was an advocate for design as a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), thus he considered interior design to be an integral part of a building’s architecture.

This approach was exemplified in two of Aalto’s key buildings – the Viipuri Library and the Paimio tuberculosis sanatorium, for which Aalto also designed the interior and furnishings.

His early career was defined by classicism, in particular, Nordic Classicism, but his design approach shifted to modernism in the 1920s with the Viiprui Library – his proposal was in the Nordic Classicism style, while the final building was very much a functionalist, modernist piece of architecture.

Despite Aalto’s modernist-functionalist approach, he rejected the tubular steel furniture designs of his peers, preferring organic, natural materials. This idea is fundamental to Aalto’s design philosophy.

From 1925, he began experimenting with bending plywood and laminated wood, and in 1929, established an experimental plywood workshop in Turku.

These experiments inspired Aalto’s architectural designs, and produced many revolutionary furniture designs, all recognizable by their curvilinear forms.

Aalto Crystal Vases

Another Aalto design instantly recognizable by its curves is the Aalto Vase, created by Alvar and his wife Aino for the luxury Savoy restaurant in Helsinki.

It is said to be inspired by Eskimåkvinnans skinnbyxa (“the Eskimo woman’s leather breeches”).

To meet consumer demand for his designs, in 1935 Aalto co-founded Artek with Aino, Harry and Marie Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl.

The Furniture Designs of Alvar Aalto

There are many, many designs – here are but a few, illustrated by some of your photographs on Flickr.

Aalto Stools in an outdoor market
Stool 60 (1933) – This stool is most famous for Aalto’s method of bending solid wood.

Armchair 41 “Paimo chair” (1932), Armchair 406 “Pension” (1939), Armchair 45 (1947)

The Aalto house
X600 stool (1954)

Monkey pants
I think this is an Aalto-inspired chair rather than an Aalto design, but great photo nevertheless.

Chair 611 (1929), H-leg table (1956), Tea trolley 901 (1936) – the sleeve or H-leg method was the last of Aalto’s inventions to be adopted by the furniture industry.

Alvar Aalto model 44 chair
Armchair 44 (1932)

Alvar Aalto
Armchair 41 “Paimo chair” (1932) – named after the Paimio tuberculosis sanatorium in Southwest Finland. The chair was designed to ease the breathing of tuberculosis patients.

The Aalto house
The Aalto House

Aalto stools
Stool E60 (1933)

Did you know?

  • The city of Jyväskylä in Finland has more buildings designed by Alvar than any other city.
  • It is estimated that during his career, Alvar design over 500 buildings, 300 of which were built.
  • The Alvar Aalto medal is considered one of the world’s most prestigious architectural awards.

Further Links

  • Alvar Aalto Foundation
    Looks after the Alvar Aalto archive, incorporating the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Alvar Aalto Academy.
  • MOMA
    Alvar Aalto Collection at the Museum of Modern Art.
  • Design Museum
    Alvar Aalto at the Design Museum in London.
  • Iitalla
    Produces the Aalto Vase.
  • Artek
    The company founded by Aalto, which still produces his designs.
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Come and say “Hello” on Flickr…

We’ve had a Flickr profile for a few months now, so I ought to tell you what we’re doing on there. Our modest aims:

  • To share photographs of Mid Century and Modernist-inspired design.
  • To find inspiration amongst the photographs posted by like-minded Modern-a-holics, and maybe make some new friends along the way.
  • Build the best darn Mid Century Modern furniture group Flickr has ever seen!

Now, aim number 1 is well on its way, although our photostream currently consists of furniture awaiting a new home, or photographs from our archive. Soon I’ll be posting some before and after shots of refurb work, shows we’ve been to, and some of the other delightful homewares we sell which are not strictly kosher*.

Aim number 2 is a favourite past time of mine – oh what it is to get lost in the world of Flickr. You should try exploring. I’ve had some serious home envy lately – check out the far from humble abode of this pair of dedicated collectors (and very lovely they are too!)

Every time I find someone who loves what we do, I make them a contact. If you’re on Flickr, let’s be friends. I do need to start adding to our favourites and leaving more comments – most of my Flickr time is occupied by asking people to join our group. Which leads me nicely on to aim number 3…

As you might imagine, there are quite few Mid Century design groups on Flickr, but there were none dedicated to MCM furniture – until now.

This Mid Century Modern Furniture group is still a tot by Flickr standards, but it’s growing nicely with regular additions to the group pool and new members. If you’re on Flickr, we’d love to see your Mid Century Modern furniture pictures in the group.

If you’ve never used Flickr before, create a profile and have a play. You don’t have to upload any photographs if you’d rather not; you can simply use the site to browse others’, pick your favourites and meet some really interesting people – who know where to get a bargain or two!

*Not necessarily MCM – but hey, not all the most beautiful things are, right?

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Vintage Marketplace at Vintage by Hemingway at Southbank

It’s only four days to go until the event of 2011. It has to be Vintage by Hemingway at Southbank. We’ll be watching the festivities from our stand at the Vintage Marketplace, and as it’s the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain, we’ll be bringing some of our best furniture by British designers including Ernest Race and John & Sylvia Reid.

Get your pennies at the ready, because you’re sure to find something to fall in love with – we’ll be trading alongside these fine folk:

  • Anouska Hunter Antiques
    Antiques, mid-century design, curios and decorative items.
  • Black & Perry
    Wonderfully unique supercycled Mid Century objects – be sure to go and see them.
  • Bleu
    20th century design, modern movement, vintage industrial furniture & storage, retro interior and decorative art.
  • Bruce Upholstery
    Traditional and modern upholstery and soft furnishings.
  • Fragile Design
    We’ll be sharing a stand with these guys. They’ll be bringing their Carl Jacobs designed Kandya collection. Lovely stuff.
  • Haji & White
    Mid to post modern. Bold graphics and eclectic folk. Ceramics, glass, textiles, artist’s books, posters and prints.
  • In My Room
    Mid Century design classics, industrial, Art Deco, space technology, retro toys and original film posters.
  • Kicsi Haz
    Blending vintage and contemporary, lovingly restored and reinvented chairs from the 50s onwards.
  • Le Style 25
    Original art deco furniture and decorative items.
  • Midcentury Magazine
    Don’t leave the festival without signing up for a subscription to this wonderful MCM publication.
  • Midmode
    Finely crafted furniture from the 1940s to the 1970s, professionally and lovingly restored.
  • Modern Shows
    Lucy and Petra of Modern.Shows are curators of Furniture and Design at the festival. Look, here they are.
  • Mid-Century Online
    Mid-Century Modern, vintage and retro futniture – you can’t say fairer than that!
  • Objectify
    Vintage, bespoke and industrial pieces – reused, recycled, upcycled and reinterpreted.
  • Post-war Design and Before
  • Pure Imagination
    Vintage Scandinavian and English furniture, design, decorative objects, lighting and accessories for the home.
  • Sarah Potter
    Mid-Century and modern furniture, lighting and textiles.
  • 20th Century Marks
    20th Century design, and client consultation.

I’ve only listed the furniture dealers, but there’ll be over 200 vendors selling clothes, accessories, records, memorabilia and upcycled ephemera. See the full list of traders at Vintage at Southbank, and we’ll see you at the weekend!

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