19 JAN 2017

The Best NZ Designed Mid-Century Armchairs

After months of grueling work we have finally shortlisted our favourite New Zealand designed Mid-Century Armchairs.


Words by Dan Eagle

It's hard work choosing favourites and then mercilessly ranking them against each other, but someone has to do it. Here's our shortlist along with a small explanation of why each entry deserves it's place at the top.

1 / Garth Chester / Curvesse Chair / 1944

A groundbreaking cantilevered design, crafted from a single sheet of curved plywood. This bold, pioneering design pushed the limits of plywood construction and the tastes of a conservative New Zealand public.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy

2 / Unknown / Boomerang Chairs / 1948

With this innovative postwar design the traditional armchair is re-interpreted in a thoroughly modern form. This visionary armchair pre-dates similar work from celebrated modernist designers such as the 1955 Pierre Jeanneret Kangaroo Chair.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here

3 / Bob Roukema for Jon Jansen / Contour Chair / 1955

While the cruciform base heavily references the work of Australian designer Grant Featherston, the aerodynamic seat transcends the original design with it's sharp, exuberant silhouette.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here

4 / Tibor Donner / Donner House Armchair / Late 1940s

As Chief Architect to the Auckland City Council, Tibor Donner's work has left a legacy of inspired modernist buildings across the city. Donner also designed a range of cutting edge furniture, including this armchair.

Photo Ref: 'Modern' book by Jeremy Hansen – www.homestolove.co.nz

5 / Ernst Plischke / Zealandia Chair Co / Late 1940s

World renowned Austrian architect Ernst Plishke emigrated to New Zealand in the 1930s. He played a pivotal role in introducing the emerging International Modernist style of his homeland to a New Zealand public who were largely intent on maintaining the status quo.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here

6 / Garth Chester / Nicholson Chapel Chair / 1940s

This elegant design references the earlier 'Curvesse' and once again embraces Chester's love of steam pressed plywood. It was a custom design for the Nicholson Chapel in Napier and another excellent example of Chester's progressive designs.

Photo Ref: Dowse Art Museum - http://www.nzmuseums.co.nz/account/3025/object/694

7 / Bob Roukema for Jon Jansen / Rocket Chair / 1955

During the 50's legendary furniture store Jon Jansen was at the cutting edge of progressive design. This stylish armchair by talented in-house designer Bob Roukema helped win converts to the new, modern direction in interiors championed by Jon Jansen.

Photo Ref: Arm chair, circa 1955, New Zealand, by Jon Jansen Ltd. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH021012/1)

8 / Tibor Donner / Auckland City Council Chairs / 1949

In 1949 the Mayor of Auckland, John Allum, asked Donner to remodel the furniture for the Mayor, Mayoress' and town clerk's rooms. In response, Donner produced some of the most sophisticated modernist furniture in New Zealand.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here

9 / Michael Payne / Expo 70 Chair / 1970

Wanganui architect Michael Payne was offered the chance to design the New Zealand Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka Expo. What resulted was a dynamic and engaging space called ‘The Geyser Room’ and this is the now iconic chair which was designed for the exhibition.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here

10 / John Crichton / Java Chair / 1950s

Crichton helped define what is now known as Pan Pacific modernism, a locally inspired fusion of Japanese, American and Pacific references combined with modernist ideals. The Java chair perfectly captures the Pan Pacific approach and was showcased in the International design periodical 'Decorative Art, the Studio Yearbook'.

Photo Ref: Decorative Art, the Studio Yearbook

11 / Peder Hansen for Taraire Crafts / Model 304 Safari Chair / 1967

The leather and Tawa constructed 'Safari Chair' was one of the darlings of the first Rothman's Industrial Design Awards in 1968. It was one of the few furniture entries to tour New Zealand promoting good design to the masses. The chair was then sold in a small selection of high end design stores throughout the country.

Photo Ref: Te Papa / Safari Easy Chair, 1967, Auckland, by Taraire Crafts, Peder Hansen. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. CC BY-NC-ND licence (GH009169)

12 / Garth Chester / Astoria Chair / 1954

The 'Astoria' is a classic Garth Chester offering. Again Chester works with his favourite material, a single sheet of curved plywood, which forms the base of this design. It was initially designed with commercial environments in mind, like the waiting rooms of forward focused beauty salons. Later it became coveted in trend setting homes throughout the country.

Photo Ref: Te Papa / "Astoria" chair, circa 1954, New Zealand, by Garth Chester. Purchased 2011. CC BY-NC-ND licence (GH021014)

13 / John Crichton / Reception Chair / 1950s

With this rare design, Crichton branches out from his wrought iron furniture and proves he is just as comfortable designing with timber. The chairs feature crisp angles and a surprising level of comfort, a bold offering from the master of Pan Pacific modernism.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here

14 / Michael Smythe for Furnware / Bentube Chair / 1975

The 1970s saw a revival in both Art Deco and Colonial influences. Smythe's technically advanced Bentube series of furniture perfectly combined both references to create an elegant and highly functional offering. The design was chosen for the fashionable Michael Hill Jeweller store fitout in 1979.

Photo Ref: MTG Hawkes Bay - http://www.mtghawkesbay.com/

15 / Garth Chester / Winter's Salon Chair / 1950s

During the 1950s Chester produced a number of innovative and contemporary designs for high-end hair salons and cafes. This particular chair was part of a custom commission by Monte Winter of Winter's Hairdressing for his salon situated in the Smith & Caughey Building in Queen Street.

Photo Ref: Mr Bigglesworthy - more photos here


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