In my last post I introduced the narrative capacity of signature material details we see at The Drake Commissary. Another aspect of narrative potential is the eclectic mix of lounge furniture that invites spatial movement.
Recently, I listened again to an old 99 Percent Invisible podcast: Episode #139 entitled “On the Edge of Your Seat”. A feature of the show is an interview with Galen Cranz, author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design, who argues against the culture of prolonged, undifferentiated sitting that plagues our designed environment. In contrast, Cranz’s house is filled with an unconventional collection of mismatched chairs. Guests are encouraged to change seats, get up frequently, move around, and try them all. “It’s fun that things don’t match,” claims Cranz, adding that “the best posture is the next posture.”
At The Drake Commissary, I don’t think that the design team had beneficial sitting postures in mind when they made the Living Room installation into an unconventional collection of mismatched lounge chairs and sofas – but the results are similarly stimulating. “It looks like a chair museum,” I heard a guest remark. I agreed (as a lover of chair museums!) and I decided this was a good thing. The eye-catching diversity of these groups of furniture creates a compelling zone of spatial occupation.
There are two lounge groupings – the minor one seats 4 or 5, and the major one seats 8 or 9 – each anchored by a generous sofa pushed against a wall. The interior space is further defined by a change in flooring material, but it is the furniture – or figures in space – that gives it character. Drake General Store buyer Carlo Colacci picked up mismatched furniture from the Brimfield (Massachusetts) Antique Market, and then +tongtong had the pieces restored and reupholstered in an array of fabrics. These vintage finds represent different eras in furniture history that face each other in close conversation.
In the small group, a common use of wood as base construction material unifies disparate soft seating profiles. A blocky wood sofa covered in deep cushions of green leather and multi-colour blanket stripe is flanked by two armchairs. The earnest-looking low-back armchair combines an upright sculptural seat shape with blocky wooden legs. In contrast, the rounded and smooth wood arms of the relaxed, vintage, high-back recliner suggest more refined craftsmanship. The combined effect is dormitory sprawl meets tavern languor and rec room repose.
In the larger group, pairs of chairs from different eras face off around a low square table. The bulky loungers with curved tubular chrome arms are reminiscent of Kem Weber’s work in the 1930s. Weber was an early example of an emigre European furniture and product designer who, stranded in California during the First World War, went on to serve an expanding American taste for streamline moderne furniture in response to Art Deco exhibits abroad. Facing them are two upholstered armchairs of the type that, in the 1950s, show the influence of a Scandinavian approach to the modern lounger. In between are two tufted vinyl armless chairs with tubular chrome legs and backrests that look very much like the dining sets that Daystrom Furniture Inc. was producing in the mid-1970s. In that era’s context of expanded manufacturing capability, they take the glamour of Milo Baughman and mix it with made-for-TV consumerism. Each seat embodies difference in more ways than one.
Like different points of view in an empathic social debate, it seems appealing to try out all of these seats in a single session. More than placeholders for absent sitters at the perfect party, however, each seat offers the sitter a different profile and perspective, plus a shifting view of the surrounding interior. The juxtaposition of these possibilities activates the space.
Join me again as I continue this discussion of The Drake Commissary’s remaining key spatial zones and the design strategies that activate them. As I engage in a critical reading of the interior via its furniture, fixtures and materials, please let me know if I can expand on or correct any details of identification or interpretation.