By Tiffany Lambert
Furniture designed by architects takes center stage in two separate but intertwined exhibitions currently on view at the design gallery Friedman Benda in Chelsea. On the main floor is Inside the Walls: Architects Design, curated by Mark McDonald, the prominent dealer who has purchased and sold exalted pieces of mid-century modern design for almost 40 years. (Having opened the storied Fifty/50 in New York in 1983, he is said to be largely responsible for igniting interest in the period.) For Friedman Benda, McDonald puts his thorough historical expertise on full display, selecting over 40 pre- and post-war examples — from Alvar Aalto and Frank Lloyd Wright to Kenzo Tange and Lina Bo Bardi — that demonstrate the rich and long history of architects creating furniture. Material and technological experiments were often crucial to postwar architects and designers, whose contributions to the canon of design often coincided with major shifts in manufacturing methods and new materials, commonly as results from military or industrial research. Take, for example, Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s triangular shaped coffee table (1940) of three-dimensionally bent plywood made possible by innovations in wood veneer and new adhesives. Another example is Rudolph Schindler’s Van Patten Unit chair and ottoman (1936), designed for a Los Angeles residence — an exploration into the efficiencies of modular furniture production before they were fully feasible. Other works speak to the cohesion sought between architecture and design, between exterior and interior. For example, the rectilinear cantilevered lighting fixtures Frank Lloyd Wright designed in 1914 for his Francis W. Little House in Minnesota epitomize the architect’s “organic” approach to designing at all scales, considering all aspects from a building down to its furnishings.