Launched at a packed event at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne last week, Featherston 2016 is reintroduction of a range of chairs from the Grant Featherston archive. Sold exclusively through Australian furniture brand Grazia & Co, and manufactured by long-term Featherstone maker Gordon Mather Industries, the range represents a variety of Featherston's seating concepts designed over a twenty five year period from the late 40's to mid 70's.
Grant Featherston was one of Australia's pre-eminent furniture designers for over three decades from the late 1940's. Featherston died in 1995 at the age of 73 but is survived by his wife Mary who as a designer herself has carefully controlled the Featherston back catalogue, licensing a small selection of the designs to Gordon Mather Industries. Originals have always been popular among vintage enthusiasts, but in recent years Featherston's iconic pieces have become highly collectible fetching extremely high prices at auction. While Gordon Mather has been making the 'Scape' armchair and the 'Contour' chaise since 1989, he has never been able to promote the pieces to their full potential. Grazia Materia, founder of Grazia & Co has changed all this. Through her enthusiasm for Featherston's body of work she has convinced Mary Featherston to allow a large number of pieces to be re-released - many of which have been out of production for several decades. The newly reissued models include: 'B230 Contour' armchair, 'B210 TV' chair, 'E2 Elastic Suspension' Chair, 'Scape' dining chair, 'A310 Space' armchair, 'A305 Space' armless chair, 'B150 Obo' chair, two variants of the 'Relaxation' chair and the BS211 TV settee.
Pieces that have been in production with Gordon Mather Industries since 1989 are being released in new fabrics. These include the 'R160 Contour' armchair and matching 'S200 Contour' ottoman, the 'D350 Contour' dining chair, 'Scape' armchair, 'TC67 Expo' or 'Talking chair' and 'Z300' chaise lounge.
“The task of updating Grant’s original furniture whilst maintaining the integrity of his vision has required great sensitivity and style. It has been wonderful to work with Gordon and Grazia who have demonstrated these characteristics in every aspect of this collection”.
Not only has the iconic 'Contour B230' armchair been reissued but also some of Featherston's very early designs, including the 'Relaxation' chair from 1947 and the Contour 'B210 TV' chair shown below. Designs such as 'Scape' (shown above) have been updated with new fabric options and radical concepts such as the 'Obo' chair from 1974 are back in production for the first time in over 30 years.
The large variety of shapes in the 'Contour' series all use upholstered moulded plywood shells and utilise the same splayed turned leg base. Made from American ash, this base is offered in a clear lacquered natural finish, or a more vintage looking golden ash finish and for a more contemporary look, what is referred to as Featherston black.
While most of the chairs in the 'Contour' series featured an overtly fifties modern wing chair look, the 'Z300' chaise lounge took on an almost Roman appearance with it's delicately pleated bolster cushion and gentle undulating form. It may have used the same splayed turned timber leg for its base but as a whole the chaise stood apart, a beautiful anomaly. Not surprisingly this less overtly 50's look means the chaise is easy to place in more classic interiors.
One of Featherston's most radical achievements came in 1966 when he and his wife Mary were invited by the renown Melbourne architect Robin Boyd, to design a chair for the Australian Pavilion at Montreal Expo 67. The resulting 'Expo' chair not only reinvented the chair shape but also pioneered new ways to deliver sound to a listener. The tall upholstered chair had an amplifier and cassette player in the base and speakers built into the headrest - initially during Expo to convey the history and sounds of Australia but subsequently when the chair was put into production by Aristoc Industries, to appeal to the headphone listening generation. Released in late 1967 the 'Expo MkII Sound chair' was sold across the Australian, Asian and North American markets.
The 'Obo' chair from 1974 was another leap forward in experimental materials and forms. A massive contrast to the quintessentially 50's look of the 'Contour' series, the 'Obo' chair required no base and was as pure a geometric form as you could get. Originally made by Uniroyal (who later become Bridgestone) from moulded resilient polyurethane foam with polystyrene beads covered in a cotton fabric, the soft ball shape was something of a cousin to the bean bag - a phenomenon of the 70's. Even now, more than 40 years later the 'Obo' is a radical way of sitting. The ball caves in under body weight to create a casual cupped shape, then pops back to a perfect sphere after use.
While the 'R160 Contour' chair has been in production with Gordon Mather Industries for some time, the most generous of the 'Contour' series, the 230H, shown below, is one of the newly reissued designs. The chair is available with or with out the hole where the seat meets the back.
The 'Relaxation' chair, shown below, has been out of production for decades. Its use of webbing was a common feature in the post-war period as materials were in short supply. Surplus parachute webbing was used as a seating material on chairs by emigre designers Jens Risom, Abel Sorenson and Ralph Rapson for Knoll in the US and by Douglas Snelling in Australia. The webbing of the 'Relaxation' chair is woven in a unique way however, that moves away from the standard criss-cross pattern and is now offered in specially dyed webbing. A fully upholstered version is also available as part of the 2016 collection.
For enthusiasts of Featherston designs, the 2016 collection offers a chance to buy the genuine article at prices far below those for vintage pieces sold at auction and with updated fabric choices. For Australian design generally these reissues are an important step to preserving the Featherston legacy and celebrating our design heritage.
For more on the Featherston 2016 range contact Grazia & Co here.
You learn more about the history of Featherston designs and the lives of Grant and Mary Featherston here.