The ‘Kone’ Chair by Roger McLay is undoubtedly one of the classic designs from the Australian post-war period. And what’s not to love about a single pre-cut sheet of plywood lovingly bent into a cone shape and delicately balanced on 4 japan-finished (black) steel rod legs.
The ‘Kone’ is in a class of its own, and not only is its design elegant and simple, it is also a wonderful example of how industrial designers made good use of the technical innovations brought about by the Second World War (1939-45). Advancements in glues and the laminating and/or bending of timber were fundamental in the production of war aircraft, but after the war industrial designers across the globe also saw the potential to exploit these advancements for the production of new and often radical furniture designs.
Charles and Ray Eames (U.S.) and Robin Day (U.K.) were quick to experiment with the new glues and processes, which enabled the mass production of chair designs which exploited such innovations. Take for example the floating wings of Robin Day’s 658 chair designed for the Festival of Britain in 1951 or the flowing curves of the Eames’ LCW chair.
658 Lounge Chair, 1951Walnut plywood, leather, brass
Design: Robin DayManufacturer: Hille
LCW (Lounge Chair Wood), 1945
Moulded and bent birch-faced plywood,
rubber Design: Charles and Ray Eames Manufacturer: Herman Miller, US
It was also bent ply which gave Grant Featherston’s contour chairs their unique organic shape.
But I digress here and should get back to talking about the ‘Kone’ chair which has long been a favourite of mine. And as much as I love the simplicity of McLay’s design, it’s the story behind it’s early production and repurposing of surplus war materials that makes this chair so special.
According to the website ‘Designmatcher':
“The final shape of Kone relies on the durable resiliency of an Australian-made coachwood plywood originally produced by the Roseberry Veneer Company, Sydney for the DeHaviland ‘Mosquito’ aircraft during the 1939-45 War. To assemble the chair, the plywood sheet is bent, lapped, then glued. Simple J-clips were first used to hold the cone-shaped seat to the 4-legged base; in 1948, the legs were finished off with a rubber crutch tip”.
The ‘Kone’ chair was available in two shapes, one a circular form and the other a more elongated version with steel or timber legs (see pic above). McLay also designed a ‘Kone’ table which is extremely rare as it is thought to have been produced in small quantities. Its worth noting that although the ‘Kone’ chair was originally made by the Roseberry Veneer Company, it was re-isuued by Descon in the early fifties and appears to have enjoyed a great deal of popularity. Descon issued a number of variations, including colour stains, upholstery, and even a version with a circular fluffy cover which was sold as ‘The Poodle Chair’ (see pic below). The chair was also later produced in the 1990’s by Norman + Quaine (often painted White) and by FY2K in the 2000’s.
What to consider when buying a ‘Kone’ chair
Plywood can become brittle and fragile with age, so when buying a ‘Kone’ chair’ always consider the condition and look for signs of de-lamination (layers of ply separating), splits, cracks and dodgy repairs. If the chair is missing J-clips which hold the seat in place, these can often be easily made by a professional. The most important thing is to know what your buying. If you are wanting an original 1950’s version, look for an original ‘Kone’ sticker on the back of the chair. And remember, provenance is everything, so ask the seller about the history of the piece you are buying so that you can ascertain when it was made.
If you want to know much more about McLay’s ‘Kone’ chair, then check out the fantastic article by Graeme Hindmarsh at the archived Modern/Postmodern website. There are also a few interesting facts about re-issues at the Homelife website.