Is the Featherston chair over-rated?

There is a lot of hype surrounding Featherston’s now iconic contour chairs but is the hype deserved? It’s a well known fact that many of these 50’s classics are prone to leg damage in the form of splits and breaks, and when your paying anywhere between $2,000-10,000 for a chair you really do want something you can actually sit on.

The contour range (pictured left) produced by Featherston in the 1950’s is perhaps unique for a number of reasons. His sheer ingenuity in developing a cheap means of moulding plywood to create his organic shapes put Featherston at the forefront of contemporary furniture design and arguably paved the way for other designers. His reinterpretation of the classic wingback chair, saw a transformation of its once bulky frame into a lighter form that hugs the body whilst appearing to float upon its slender splayed legs. The popularity of these chairs continues to grow and it,s difficult to open an Australian interiors magazine without seeing a featherston chair sitting casually amongst the ubiquitous Eames, Saarinen and Hans Wegner chairs. So what’s not to like here?

The allure of the Featherston chair is undeniable but it’s not the only great chair made in Australia during the fifties. For my money, when it comes to post-war furniture design in Australia it’s hard to go past Gordon Andrews, whether it be one of his gazelle’ or ‘rondo’ chairs, both are sure to please. Not only did Andrews design original and innovative furniture, he also designed our first decimal currency.

The first Rondo chair (pictured left) is a thing of beauty and was originally made from sections of marine ply attached to a wooden spine that sat on aluminum legs. It is said that Andrews built all of these early versions of the Rondo before changing the design to something that could be more readily manufactured. The later versions of the Rondo chair saw the removal of the timber spine and the introduction of a star shaped or wine glass base. Interior designer Marion Best was a great supporter of Andrews’ designs and regularly stocked a range of his furniture in her popular interiors shop in Sydney. The Rondo was re-issued under license by Fy2k  in 2001 and is available in a choice of fabrics and bases. Retailing at around $2,000 plus cost of fabric, it’s a much cheaper option than vintage pieces which can sell from anywhere between $3,000-7,000 depending onIf you buy at auction or retail from a dealer. Whatever choice you make, you will be sitting pretty in any one of Andrews’ Rondo chairs.

So if you have a passion for post-war furniture design, don’t just follow the pack. Choose your own adventure and look out for interesting and unique pieces that can take pride of place in your home. You can still pick up bargains by Douglas Snelling, Clement Meadmore and Fred Lowen if you hunt about junk shops or trawl the Internet. A chair is more than just something to sit on, it’s a design for living that rewards the owner with comfort and pleasure.

Remember, life is too short for ugly furniture.


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