To continue this serialized essay about how furniture functions as a key design element in DesignAgency’s interiors for The Broadveiw Hotel Café, let’s consider the balance of functional and symbolic design objectives that is achieved in the room’s main dining areas: the café chair dining range and the harvest table multi-use space.
The dining areas of The Broadview Hotel Café are dominated by large windows that fill the tall interior with light and views of the surrounding street life. The furniture groupings that support the room’s main function are deliberately understated. A long cream banquette offers seating along the room’s sunny, windowed eastern perimeter. Detailed as leggy furniture interrupted at regular intervals by stove-pipe black columns, this built-in seating does not immediately read as a static feature. A series of marble-topped café tables with black iron pedestal bases are pulled up alongside it. Bentwood café chairs complete the informal dining group. Just beyond, as floor space opens up behind the landmark bar, the dining furniture is released from the perimeter walls. Symptomatic of an open public room, the large plain rectangular harvest tables and farmhouse-style chairs invite reconfiguration as the occasion allows. This is lightweight, unceremonious furniture that tends to fill the background rather than become the main event.
Despite this supporting backdrop role, well-considered furniture can become expressive and support rich interior experience. All of these furniture pieces, for instance, are examples of recognizable design types that signal a shared pre-modern built heritage. Harvest tables with their turned legs and undecorated tops were familiar in rural Southwestern Ontario as affordable, durable pieces that could be made by local carpenters using local hardwood. The farmhouse-style chair is a similarly democratic, anonymous design that existed in large numbers. The bentwood café chairs used here are stamped with the brand name “TON” that provides a virtually unbroken link with Michel Thonet and his classic Café Chair No. 14. Thonet founded his bentwood furniture company as early as 1849 in Vienna. By 1867 he debuted the famous Chair No. 14 at the Paris World’s Fair and won a gold medal that ensured publicity. Thonet went on to improve and standardize his steam bending process. He expanded distribution by using a flat-pack method for shipping partially-assembled chairs to customers far away. Although he had patented these design innovations, the great success of Chair No. 14 attracted many competitors and in no time bentwood chairs were being used in countless dining spaces around the western world. This type became synonymous with late 19th century urban café culture. Contemporary patrons – cued to an historical awareness by the renovated building – are sure to recognize and bring meaning to these types.
During the early years in Toronto’s history that saw the building of Dingman’s Hall – later the Broadview Hotel – furniture pieces such as the harvest table, the farmhouse chair, and bentwood café chair marked a time of increasing industrialization. It was also a time when the urban public house started to become what Ray Oldenburg has called a ‘third’ place that is neither fully public (the office) nor fully private (the home). The characteristics of a third place include an accessible welcoming and comfortable place where people congregate at will and have no obligation to stay. With lightweight chairs and moveable tables, it is easy to welcome an unexpected guest to your party – and perhaps even an unforeseen idea to your party line.
Interiors by DesignAgency.
Images: Photos are by Karen R. White.