Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Praise of Three

In a recent interview, popular novelist Carl Hiaasen described our culture's current fascination in watching celebrities "run off the rails." The descriptive word he used was delamination, like layers coming apart. In interior design, Clarke & Reilly use this concept to great effect in the way they allow layers to show through (see previous post).

In the case of three-legged furniture, could it be there's something pleasantly delaminating about seeing three when you'd expect to find four? Maybe it's a combination of tension and instability with the whiff of danger it implies that's so intriguing. See this point used well in the sculpture "Broken Chair" by Swiss artist Daniel Berset, seen here standing outside the United Nations office at Geneva. Wiki explains that the chair's design was intended to "symbolize [an] opposition to land mines and cluster bombs and act as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva."

Below, bringing that same delamination to two three-legged versions of the classic Eames chair: c. 1944.

The idea slightly more refined in the Hans Wenger Shell chair.

Whatever the three-legged design gives up in stability it gains in giving the sitter more leg placement options, at least in the single front leg version. (Careless toes wandering under the weight of that single leg beware; there's likely enough psi there to crush a bone.) The three-legged version has a much more avante and outré quality than do its four-legged cousins.

Taking the three-legged chair to its most practical extension, Danish designer Hans Olsen created the Roundette set in 1962. Here, the three leg posture allows the chairs to be tucked flush under the table and out of the way.

The legacy of three legs is a long one; The Elizabethan era turned chair, below left, is c. 1580 though it's said similar designs date back to the middle ages. The chair on right is a 19th century reproduction of the Glastonbury chair. Both serve as jumped up variations of the three-legged stool was more often the favored contemporary seating for both bewigged prince and benighted peasant.

As for stools: These are from another Danish designer, Morgan Lessor, from 1942.

Frank Lloyd weighed in with his own version with this reproduction from his 1937 design (see it here).

These two takes are from from Italian designer Carlo Molino, c. 1950.

While this Molino chair may not have three-legs, its anatomical inspirations make up for it.

The shadow cast from this chair is not the least of its charms.

From the era of kidney-shaped pools, MirĂ³ covered jazz albums, and vacuum cleaners shaped like rockets comes the Boomerang table from British designer A.M. Lewis, c. 1950.

And finally, this: A stunning "Victorian Tri-leg Tavern Table", c. 1900. Traditionally, tavern tables had four legs and a single drawer. Stretchers were also a common component (wood cross-pieces securing the table's legs together near the bottom). This table, of course, has none of that. The single leg does however force the table to be displayed in exactly the way the designer intended which only adds to the brilliance of it.

An example of traditional delamination at its finest. See the table at Blackman Cruz here.

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