It's time for NZ Design Classics again. Got your exercise book with the holographic Duraseal? Good, then let's begin.
Garth Chester's Curvesse chair.
Earlier versions of the design were even more simple, with no feet attached.
In the late 1930's, New Zealand started ramping up its manufacture of plywood, right around the same time that it became a popular material in modernist furniture. In 1944, Garth created his most famous design, his Curvesse chair. It's certain that he was inspired by the plywood furniture of international modernist designers such as Charles Eames and Alvar Aalto.
But what makes Garth's design so special, so pioneering, is that the Curvesse chair was the world's first cantilevered plywood chair. And it was made in true-blue #8 wire style, too. Garth took several thin sheets of water softened plywood, sandwiched them together with glue, made two length-wise cuts from which the chair arms are created, and then pressed the form together in a mould until it set. Garth actually created his own mechanised presses, and at one time he advertised that he could produce one Curvesse every three minutes.
A Curvesse at home in a NZ ad agency.
Close to 70 years old and she's definitely still got it! via
The New Zealand public apparently were a little skeptical about the seemingly precarious design. So Garth hired Olympic wrestler, Lofty Blomfield, to jump up and down on the chair to showcase its strength!
To find a Curvesse chair today is like finding a golden ticket in a Wonka bar. Not all that many made it to market - some say the number sold was around 500. Manufacturing technology made construction much more difficult than it would be today, and apparently Garth chucked out 17 of every 20 chairs he made!
Exhibition featuring two variants of the Curvesse chair with matching table,
and another Garth Chester curved plywood chair (in foreground).
Astoria chair by Garth Chester
Garth Chester magazine rack, from Mr Bigglesworthy
From the Curvesse came a whole range of Garth Chester bent ply furniture. Garth started his own design practice, called Riginals (Cute name, Garth!) and began working on fit-outs for some of NZ's most exciting commercial spaces of the day.
In the early 50's, cheaper imitations of his more famous designs starting popping up around New Zealand. And 1954, Garth lost close to everything when a suspicious fire burnt down his small factory. He dusted himself off and continued on, embracing a new medium - bent steel rod.
His famous three-legged Bikini Chair was created in the late 50's. Inspired by its namesake, the Bikini chair proved a perfect perch for the cool little espresso bars that were opening all around Auckland city. The chairs could be matched with Garth's triangular Bikini table or more traditional rectangular dining table.
Bikini Chair with Bikini Table (thanks for the image, Mr Bigglesworthy)
Garth Chester side chairs.
These ones are personally owned by Emma & Dan of Mr Bigglesworthy
Garth Chester bar stools, also from Mr Bigglesworthy
Over his life, Garth experimented with many different materials and different products beyond just furniture, and in his spare time even constructed sets for the local theatre's productions.
Relatively unsung in his day, Garth Chester works are today considered incredible icons of New Zealand design.
NZ Design Classics posts are made possible by Mr Bigglesworthy, who source and sell original design classics.
Some tid-bits sourced from this excellent book: 40 Legends of New Zealand Design by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins.