Take A Seat For Legacy - reworking a bentwood chair for charity.

It's often really rewarding to do something well outside of your normal area of expertise. Working on a creative interpretation of a classic bentwood chair for the Take a seat for Legacy campaign has been one such experience. It has been exciting to turn the raw bentwood into something special, but while I had plenty of ideas it quickly became evident that I didn't have the necessary skills to properly implement them (I'm a stylist not a furniture maker after all). That's when it pays to ensure part of your team is a professional - in my case, friend and furniture designer Gary Galego. Together we created 'Warm', a leather clad bentwood with a bit of Hermes flair. This post is therefore partly to draw attention to the Take a seat for Legacy charity auction starting on the 22nd October and partly to show the type of process that might be undertaken just to creatively re-interpret an existing design. Please take a seat.

 Some of the  Take a Seat for Legacy  offering from 2013 by the likes of Vanessa Colyer Tay, Stephen Ormondy and Romy Alwill.

Some of the Take a Seat for Legacy offering from 2013 by the likes of Vanessa Colyer Tay, Stephen Ormondy and Romy Alwill.

Online homewares retailer, Temple & Webster are raising money for the defence force charity Legacy again this year through their Take a Seat for Legacy campaign. Now in its second year, the concept involves personalities from the world of interiors, art, product design, television and sport, customizing a classic bentwood chair that is then sold at auction to raise money for the charity. The initiative aims to provide funds to support the families of Australian Defence Force personnel who have been killed or incapacitated during their service. 

 Czech furniture company TON have been making bentwood chairs for 150 years. Here the beech is placed in the steamer. 

Czech furniture company TON have been making bentwood chairs for 150 years. Here the beech is placed in the steamer. 

Past names who created pieces for the campaign have included artist Stephen Ormondy, stylists Vanessa Colyer Tay and Jason Grant, architecture firm, Acme&Co and former Chief of the Defence Force himself, General David Hurley (AC, DSC), now the Governor of NSW.

 The TON  Vienna 14 chair is the perfect starting point for a creative intervention. Elegant and simple, it is held together by just a dozen screws.

The TON  Vienna 14 chair is the perfect starting point for a creative intervention. Elegant and simple, it is held together by just a dozen screws.

Central to the whole concept is an archetypal chair that is easy to disassemble, modify and put back together and what better chair than a classic bentwood? These chairs democratised furniture back in the 1850's and continue to be as much loved today as they were in the late 19th century. Sydney contract furniture supplier, James Richardson supplied Temple & Webster with 40 of their TON Vienna 14 chairs to send onto those who had accepted the challenge of re-imagining the chair for the Take a Seat for Legacy campaign.

The designers, artists, television personalities, architects, chefs and sports personalities were encouraged to reinterpret the chair in any way they felt appropriate. This year the eclectic list includes South Sydney rugby league star John Sutton, graphic designer Vince Frost and stylist and author, Amanda Talbot along with 37 others.

 

 

Talbot’s chair raises the bar from last year's offering somewhat, with specially commissioned porcelain pieces created to replace some of the chair's original wooden components. Other examples such as that by interior designer and interiors writer, Jacinta Preston, saw the bentwood chair turned into a rocker with the entire piece bound in cream wool. Celebrity chef, Donna Hay has also contributed this year, painting the chair in her signature duck egg blue colour and adding feathery angel wings. Coming back for a second crack at the Take a Seat for Legacy challenge, Sydney interior designer Romy Alwill has draped her chair in fine metal mesh, giving it the fluid look of medieval chainmail.

 TON craftsmen creating a bentwood chair. The bending process requires human strength and a lot of amazing cast metal 'jigs'.

TON craftsmen creating a bentwood chair. The bending process requires human strength and a lot of amazing cast metal 'jigs'.

The auction starts on the 22nd of October 2014, with all the funds go to the families of personnel who have been killed or incapacitated while serving in any of Australia's defence forces.

The chairs will be on show at The Atrium – part of the Grounds in Sydney’s Alexandria from Friday the 24th to Sunday the 26th of October 2014.

The making of the 'Warm' chair by Gary Galego and David Harrison.

 The starting point was to pull the chair apart and decide what to cover and what to reveal.

The starting point was to pull the chair apart and decide what to cover and what to reveal.

Gary Galego is a Sydney based designer of Portuguese origin. He is a very detail orientated designer who studied industrial design at UNSW, then furniture making at Canberra's School of Art. He came to particular attention with his beautiful 'Leve' chair in spotted gum back in 2003 that went on to be sold through established Australian furniture retailer, Anibou. 

 NSW Leathers  Marrakesh  in 'Saddle' colour was chosen for its warm tones that complimented the beech in the chair's frame.

NSW Leathers Marrakesh in 'Saddle' colour was chosen for its warm tones that complimented the beech in the chair's frame.

Once it was decided that leather was going to be the main feature of our re-interpretation of the chair, it was decided that we wanted to press and hand stitched leather to emphasise the chair's beautiful shape. Having access to an amazing Portuguese upholsterer (now retired) like Amaro Mendes was extremely useful and he was able to teach Galego how to stitch around the chair's evocative shape.

 Amaro Mendes running some tests on scrap leather to show how the stitching would look on the finished chair.

Amaro Mendes running some tests on scrap leather to show how the stitching would look on the finished chair.

Galego has worked on a number of designs in the past that combined pressed leather and moulded plywood seats so he was confident that he could do something interesting applying similar techniques to the bentwood chair. Using design classics like Mario Bellini's 'Cab' chair for Cassina as a reference, Gary and I decided on a tight fitting glove that would cover the entire back and partly down the rear legs. It was also decided that the seat would be inlayed with leather and that we would add some form of leather belts or laces to visually connect the front legs to the leather on the seat and back. Now we just had to do it.

 Chiselling a groove  into the seat rim  so as to enable the leather to fit neatly without any chance of lifting.

Chiselling a groove into the seat rim so as to enable the leather to fit neatly without any chance of lifting.

We hit plenty of hurdles along the way including leather shrinkage when we attempted to remove a water stain by using a heat gun and further unexpected shrinkage of the back leather that made the rear legs move closer together. This made it impossible to put the chair back to gather with out drilling new holes. 

 Galego masking the rim with tape to prevent overspray before glueing in the leather seat.

Galego masking the rim with tape to prevent overspray before glueing in the leather seat.

Even with Galego's past experience with pressed leather we managed to make a few major mistakes that required us to rip it off and start again. Trial and error was definitely part of the process.

 The tools of the trade including an improvised circle cutter.  

The tools of the trade including an improvised circle cutter.  

 Stitching along the rear leg before trimming off the excess material.

Stitching along the rear leg before trimming off the excess material.

Once Galego had spent many hours laboriously stitching around the back of the chair it only required some trimming (and more stitching) before we could wax the timber frame and join it all together.

 A close up of the stitching in progress. This requires enormous patience and accuracy.

A close up of the stitching in progress. This requires enormous patience and accuracy.

The result, while not perfect, is extremely satisfying and we are already coming up with new ideas on how to create a suite of leather-clad chairs with each one sporting an individual but related look. Customising an existing design like this is really very satisfying. Rather than having to solve all the construction details (like how to bend solid pieces of wood for instance) it is largely about making aesthetic judgments (a stylist's natural habitat). Making these aesthetic decisions look precise and beautiful requires expertise however and for that I can take little credit. I did a lot of standing around and 'holding things' while others did the work but as an exercise in how designs develop (even at a largely decorative level like this one), it was a totally rewarding experience.

 The partially completed chair before trimming the back and binding the front legs with thin strips of leather.

The partially completed chair before trimming the back and binding the front legs with thin strips of leather.

The finished item is not quite there but I will update the blog within the next few days to show how it  turned out. If your interested in seeing all the other chairs offered as part of the Take A Seat For Legacy project, please go to Temple & Webster's blog where there will be a direct link to the auction website from Wednesday the 22nd of October.