String Theory: A Mid-Century Modern Chair Mystery.

As you probably know by now, gathering information about our design history often involves hours, and sometimes years, of meticulous research in order to make a positive identification of a design. In the case of the string chair pictured below (left), I have spent the past 5 years searching for the maker without a single clue, but a few days ago my research partner came across an advertisement (see below) in a 1950’s issue of Home Beautiful that might help narrow down the search for this unusual chair design.

Australian corded armchair, c.1950’s (left) and Anthony Hordens advertisement in Australian Home Beautiful, 1954 (right).

As you can see, the corded chair in the advertisement is very similar in style. Sure, it’s not an exact match, but the construction of the seat looks to be the same. Both chairs appear to have been inspired by American designer Alan Gould’s 1950’s corded dining chair (see below). But why would someone copy Gould’s design?

Alan Gould corded dining chair (left) and Contempora corded dining chair c. 1955 (right).

A combination of restrictions on imported goods during the early 1950’s and often expensive licensing agreements with overseas furniture companies (Knoll, Herman Miller, Race Furniture, etc) arguably made access to furniture by international designers difficult and prohibitively expensive. For some local manufacturers, the solution was to copy and/or appropriate designs
by leading international furniture designers. I suspect that the corded chair sold by the Anthony Hordern’s, part of their own in-house range, was most likely inspired by Gould’s design, but was perhaps different enough to avoid any  unwanted and/or protracted legal dispute over a perceived copyright infringement. On the other hand, local furniture company Contempora, who produced a wide range of steel rod furniture, manufactured a corded chair that is so similar to Gould’s now famous design (see above) that it could only be described as a copy.

So who made the yellow corded armchair? Was it originally available for sale at Anthony Hordern’s department store or was it made by a backyard enthusiast?  I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s a Gould design, and fortunately we are well beyond the days of attributing every corded chair to Clement Meadmore. Until I am able to find more information, the designer of this chair will remain a mystery. What are your thoughts?

Identifying Australian mid-century furniture designs can be time consuming, so to make this task a little easier I have put together an online archive of Australian and International mid/century design on Pinterest. The Australian Modern Pinterest site is a great tool for identifying your mid-century treasures and includes photos of iconic mid-century furniture sourced from post-war magazines and online resources. You can also share your passion for #AustralianModern design on Twitter. Our Twitter feed is a great place to share stories, pics or ask questions about mid-century design.

UPDATE: The mystery has been solved.
The corded chair above was designed by Carl Nielsen, c.1955. And available at Marion Best, Sydney. It would appear that Neilsen may have designed the corded chair sold at Anthony Hordens and the corded armchair sold at Marion Hall Best in Sydney. Based on these advertisements I would say that my yellow corded chairs can be attributed to Carl Nielsen. Many thanks to Chris at Australian Modern Design for his help with the identification.


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