B.K.F Chair by Austral Group, Buenos Aires c.1938
I don’t know what it is about steel rod furniture that I find so pleasing,
but it seems that during the 1950’s there was a global design trend that
involved the use of steel to produce countless homewares, lamps and furniture.
Overseas designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Alan Gould,
Harry Bertoia, Ernest Race, Robin Day and the Austral Group had
already made a splash on the design scene and it’s likely that some
Australian designers and members of the public were familiar with
these contemporary designs via the lifestyle/trade magazines of the period
such as Home Beautiful and Architecture and Arts.
Steel furniture was modern, and really fit the design ethos of post-war design
whereby furniture was produced to have a light appearance which gave interior
space a less cluttered look and feel. In Australia, there are some great examples
of furniture made using steel rod, and it is perhaps the furniture of Clement Meadmore which is best known amongst collectors and post-war design enthusiasts. But Meadmore was not the only designer in Australia engaged in working with steel to produce design objects.
Roger Mc Lay’s Kone chair (1948) is an undisputed design icon. A cone of carefully pressed laminated plywood floating on slender steel rod legs.
A marriage of steel and timber resulting in a visually light and elegant design.
Also worth noting are the charming simplicity of some of the steel chairs produced
by Fler during the 1950’s, such as the TVS chair (1957) or the unique construction
material and form of the incredibly rare Aluminium Shell chair (1954).
One of my favourite chairs is a rare example of the innovative industrial
design practice of Australian painter Raymond Wallis who produced a
small collection of furniture during the 1950’s. The chair’s oversized
blondewood paddle arms, teamed with its sculptural tubular steel
construction strike the perfect balance, the result is a finely crafted
sitting machine that would be perfectly at home on a beachside verandah.
Other Australian designers and companies offering interesting designs
in this modern medium include Ramler, Pandar and Contempora. Some
of the Ramler designs, such as the ‘corded magazine holder’ and the
‘standard lamp’, along with the corded chair and metal picture frame by
Contempora, are often mistaken for designs by Clement Meadmore.
Steel rod furniture enjoyed a great deal of popularity in the 1950’s.
Companies keen to jump onto the design trend took inspiration from
overseas and each other. The ‘Calypso’ suite (1956) by Pandar (see above)
shares similarities with the ‘Peoples Chair’ (1956) designed and manufactured
by Fler, Melbourne. It was not uncommon for the home enthusiast to purchase
steel rod and weld his own D.I.Y modernist furniture in the back shed.
The award for the most unusual design would have to go to Gerard Doube for
his incredibly modern ‘Airframe’ lounge chair with air cushion. The strength of steel
juxtaposed with a whimsical lightweight cushion, what more could you want
in a chair.
The beauty of steel rod is that it can be bent to create a wide range
of interesting shapes, thus freeing designers to experiment with
new productions processes and the creation of new design forms.
The B.K.F Chair (1938), otherwise known as the ‘butterfly’ or
‘Hardoy’ chair is a perfect example of how steel can be used to create
fluid lines and a contemporary twist on the hammock. Metal can take
on a soft appearance, it can be visually light and durable, and most
importantly it can look beautiful too.