Space Age Electronics

Although the first man-made rocket to breach the boundaries of space was the German made V-2 rocket in 1942 Space Age is considered to have begun with the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite in 1957. The fear of the Cold War (1946-1991) and the imaginations of the Western world at the time surrounding the race into space dramatically influenced popular culture. From fashion, product, graphic and interior design to music and technological advances – the world from the mid 50s to the late 70s was fixated on Space Age. Tie in the psychedelic qualities of the 60s and you easily have a revolutionary departure from the calm pastels and utilitarian designs that accompanied the “white flight” of the growing suburban 50s.

Many describe the bright colors, bold and transformative designs of this era commonly as mod, retro, or vintage. Perhaps those descriptions are misnomers as they never quite define Space Age. Astronaut helmets, flying saucers, planetary-referencing orbs, spaceships and satellites all became part of the pop culture landscape of the time. It could be said that few designs since have reflected a more futuristic optimism than these electronic gizmos of the past.

Here we take a look at how the Space Age influenced electronics. A common similarity is the absence of or high saturation of color. Until this point in design history, electronic devices – be that of the radio, telephone, record player, television and later the 8 track and reel-to-reel players etc. – were commonly pretty bland. Occasionally you’d have rouge aluminum-encased Victrolas designed by some early out-of-the-box thinker and great Bakelite radios from the art deco period, but all-in-all your options came in wood grain and black. The 50’s introduced a number of brighter plastic models but the standard corals and avocados were about as daring as the American consumer would or could buy. Space Age electronics were a departure.

It was no mistake that at this time the technological switch was being made from massive, heavy tube and circuit boards to Solid State. Designs from Europe, the Americas and all over Asia trickled into the magazine pages and then onto the department store shelves. That trickle soon turned into a flood as Asian manufacturers worked with willing superpowers to produce the fun objects that were not only design icons but also much more portable. Portability was key in the development and popularity of these items and consumers flocked to these new designs.

Considering collecting Space Age Electronics?

If ever on the hunt for Space Age electronics be sure to look for the following popular brands; Weltron, Aquatron, Philco, Grundig, Panasonic, Magnavox, Brother, Prominent and Wyndford Hall. Many more fantastic designs exist that were specifically sold to the European market. You may find that very similar designs have different brand names on them. This is because patents for the internal works were often sold or copied. Weltron could have produced the iconic 2001 model and then sold the patent to a Korean company who manufactured the same radio system but housed it in a different case.

A few details to keep in mind: The quality and condition of the case, missing knobs, tested working or not working units and most importantly – the condition of the battery compartment (you don’t want corroded and acid-filled units). If the seller of the unit notes that the sound is “scratchy” when adjusting the knobs – don’t worry! These sets are anywhere from 30-50 years old. Dust is normal and a quick trip to the electronics store can solve this problem. On the other hand, you could just enjoy the “sweet spots” on the dial where the sound comes in perfectly. Happy hunting!

The Wire Chair

The birth of the wire chair’s popularity can easily be traced back to Charles and Ray Eames’s wire side chair released in 1951. This iconic object for everyday use fit right along with their fundamental principle for its use of new material. Wire rods were by no means new material in that era although their use as a structure for seating certainly was. As is the case when it comes to iconic forerunners, this simple side chair was not the only one of its kind. Beyond this side chair by the dynamic Eames duo, Harry Bertoia’s 420 side chair is just about the only iconic wire chair recognizable by name to the modern enthusiast.

A designer, engineer or architect has much to think about when concocting a chair from this rigid, yet flexible material. The chair needs to hold up to the weight of the average human body, needs to to be functional as a chair (subsequently, a chair’s many uses), all the while maintaining its shape – must we add it should be comfortable? Designer’s like Russel Woodard, Verner Panton and Harry Bertoia have produced real-life visions that embody all of these aspects and often is the case a cushion is needed to address the matter of comfort.

The contemporary wire chair of today knows only the limit of a designers computer software and the available funds to produce the project. Take Verner Panton’s iconic plastic cantilever chair – a first in its field for being molded from a single mold of plastic, virtually indestructible for daily use and naturally produced in its bold colors. Now, from a CAD computer program’s wireframe rendering those curvaceous lines and shapes of this plastic chair can be produced through the process of meticulously bending each rod of chrome-laden wire to intersect just right – mirroring the chair itself. It is any wonder how the Bertoia and Eames chairs of their day were executed without the aid of a computer. Contemporary masterminds such as Brodie Neill blew the minds of furniture and design lovers in 2011 with the release of his Reverb chair. This spherical vortex of wire mesh reminds one of  a theoretical wormhole – have a seat in the center and take a load off!

For collectors

Reproduction of a Harry Bertoia Side Chair – click to view detail

Wire chairs are hard to make. Production costs can easily outweigh the benefits of selling at an affordable price. Therefore it is usual that the best of the best (and easiest to produce) designs are sent to the open market. Chairs by Warren Planter, Verner Panton and most contemporary designs are a safe bet as far as authenticity are concerned. Chairs by Charles and Ray Eames and by Harry Bertoia don’t have that luxury. To some imitation is the best form of flattery, so it is left to the consumer to decide whether or not to buy authentic or to buy a reproduction. For the most popular Harry Bertoia side and diamond chairs, take a look at their main outermost structural elements. You’ll notice that on the originals there is one wire holding together the structure with the mesh of structural wired welded to this one. Now, take a look at an inexpensive knock-off. The eye instantly sees the two wires holding the structure together around the entire chair and back of the seat. These pieces of lesser quality are designed in this fashion to allow a manufacturer to use a thin gauge of wire – not as Harry Bertoia had originally planned.

The Pantanova and Planter chairs – as with the more complex designs – are usually out of reach for the beginning consumer. A Pantanova Chaise can run between 4000-7500USD with the wormhole-like Reverb chair (created in a very limited production) costing 25,000USD. Our best bets are to find the chair (or chairs) you love and research! Then, stalk! Original Bertoia and Eames wire side chairs can be found at your local mid-century dealer in the 175-400USD range. As always, check the web and eBay. If you miss out on a bargain, never fear, there will always be another chance as millions were produced for the global market. On the higher end if you find what suits you best, never be afraid to ask a dealer if they can come down on the price. Even the most high end of dealers will consider a slight discount if they know they will receive a certain sale. Whatever your choice you’ll find that a wire chair will bring a unique linear openness to your space – making these useful structural objects a great addition.

Memphis Milano: The Dennis Zanone Collection

Dennis Zanone’s Malabar Room with Various Memphis Collections

The Memphis group comprised of designers and architects (mainly Italians) who created a series of influential products in the 1980’s. They challenged the idea that products had to follow conventional shapes, colors, textures and patterns. Expensive elements such as granite and marble were paired with materials such as plastics, plywood, laminates and Formica. Often was the case that color and pattern were saturated beyond many observer’s level of comfort. Form followed function – or did it?

The Memphis group was founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass who called Memphis design the ‘New International Style’. Among its members were Alessandro Mendini, Martine Bedin, Andrea Branzi, Aldo Cibic, Michele de Lucchi, Nathalie du Pasquier, Michael Graves, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Shiro Kuramata, Matteo Thun, Javier Mariscal, George Sowden, and Marco Zanini

Certainly ground breaking at the time, the creations – which ranged from small housewares to entire buildings – were a stark contrast to the chrome-laden black and brown leather creations stemming from the much earlier Bauhaus School and mid 20th century modernism. They took this approach to the “redefinition of design” and soon began exhibiting clocks, lighting, furniture and ceramics created by internationally famous architects and designers.

The work of the Memphis Group has been described as vibrant, eccentric and ornamental. Art Deco, Pop Art, and Futurism were some design inspirations although the work coming out of their group were certainly unique creations.

Sottsass dismantled the group in 1988 and although Memphis may no longer exist it has certainly influenced many and designers in all fields to this day.

The Memphis Milano collection of Dennis Zanone

Dennis Zanone is a photographer and avid Memphis Milano collector living in Memphis, Tennessee. With over 20 years of investment it would be harder to believe that any individual (or museum) has a larger and more comprehensive Memphis Milano collection – even though the likes of MOMA and even Karl Lagerfield  have/had also caught the Memphis bug. We are very fortunate that Zanone meticulously documents and shares the pieces on his Memphis Milano Flickr stream and shares the love and knowledge via his Memphis Milano Facebook Page.

Exploring The Bentwood Chair

Typically, when one thinks of wood, the mind does not wander into the realm of sensual, curvaceous lines – certainly not an element for bending and molding. This is not the case when exploring the world of the bentwood chair.

Until the mid 19th century the bentwood chair was held to the rustic constructions that were just as likely to be uncomfortable for seating as much as they were to give you a splinter. Thanks to the trials and tribulations of German-Austrian Michael Thonet (1796-1871) we now have several additions who have made their impact on the modern household, as well, some have become design icons.

Michael Thonet was an independent cabinet maker who tried for several years to concoct a way to produce chairs and other furnishings out of glued and bent wooden slats. Displaying some of these new designs at the Koblenz trade fair in 1841 he caught the attention of Vienna’s Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich who invited him to join the Viennese court where he had the resources to improve and produce his many designs. A succession of world trade fair medals and successes allowed him to open his own factory Gebrüder Thonet. It was here that he (and later his sons) were able not only to improve the quality of the bentwood chair but also to innovate upon its design.

Throughout all of this, perhaps the most important innovations were the use of laminated pieces of birch plywood and the improvements made in bending pieces of wood with steam. His iconic and simple Chair Number 14 had production numbers of over 50 million making Thonet one of the largest furniture manufacturers in the world. Soon, the company began producing pieces for designers and architects in both bentwood and tubular steel – always keeping up with the design aesthetic of the time. Thonet produced everything from bentwood and cane settees for the Victorian age to the chrome and black leather productions coming from the Bauhaus School. The company is still around today producing mostly contract an commercial pieces for business and public interiors.

20th Century Bentwood Chair Innovators

Charles and Ray Eames picked up on the work in bent plywood products where Thonet started to loose market power. Many people don’t realize that the Eames duo got their start as furniture innovators with their DCM lounges from a government commission to make bentwood leg splints and gurneys for soldiers in the war. It was this understanding of steamed and multilayered plywood veneers that lead to the evolution of this once seemingly rigid material into a strong, yet sensual and warm material with which to work. And that was just in the United States. European (specifically Scandinavian designers) were producing mind-boggling pieces that the markets snapped up as quickly as they could be manufactured.

Other famous architects and designers making masterful chairs out of bentwood: Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Joe Colombo, Bruno Matthson, Eero Saarinen and Hans Pieck (to name a few). Today’s designers know only the limits of their imaginations. They do need to keep in mind structural integrity and how the material will withstand use over time. Keep your eyes peeled for contemporary editions to the bentwood chair by such names as Grete Jalk, Ron Arad and Frank Gehry.

Invisible Designers in Contemporary Art Glass

 By Matthew Cummings

Sam Stang, Greg Fidler, Michael Schunke, Katherine Grey, Boyd Seguki and Lisa Zerkowitz….If you are a fan of design – especially of contemporary art glass – you probably haven’t heard of these names. If these names are indeed foreign to you then I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised with the quality and originality of these contemporary American Glass Designers/Craftsmen. The Studio Glass Movement began in 1962 at the Toledo Musuem of Glass in Ohio. It was a workshop thrown together by Harvey Littleton and Dominic Labino that changed the face of glass production. As Americans have no true lineage in glass, we had to learn first through trial and error. Then we pushed forward by absorbing the techniques and approaches from other countries long-standing glass traditions, such as the Czech Republic, Italy, German, and England.

This set the tone for globalization in the Studio Glass Movement (a predominantly American movement) long before the world became flat again through the digital mediums. In contemporary glass design, we can still see the aftereffects of this journey towards material forefathers in the aesthetics and decorative techniques. The selection of work that I have chosen includes pieces influenced by Northern European Ceramics, and Italian Glass, both specifically from mid century designers.

The craftsmen influenced by ceramics are given the opportunity of translating the stunning work of Carl Harry Stahlhane, Stig Lindberg, and Meindert Zaalberg into glass and utilizing the inherent qualities of the material to find new shapes. The highest gloss possible in ceramics is easily surpassed by the natural finish of glass and bulbous forms are quickly created by the introduction of the craftsman’s breath in the vessel. The designers influenced by the Italian tradition find themselves in a wonderfully interesting dialogue between American and Italian Glass. The tradition that so heavily influenced the development of the Studio Glass Movement now finds itself surpassed by the creativity/ingenuity of the young american movement (within this context).

The Venetian Golden Age is generally considered to have occurred between 1930-1960 with a plethora of quality designers working on the island of Murano. Most importantly, the glass company Venini inviting designers from other backgrounds to work at the factory. Since the Venetian Golden Age, the level of creativity has slightly dwindled with the exception of a few individual maestros… Lino Tagliapietra, Livio Seguso, Davide Salvedore, ect. In the 1990s, Seattle passed Murano as the epicenter of glass design and sculpture. While some of the glass shown here is influenced by the Italian Glass tradition, it could actually be considered the most viable steward of that lineage.

 

Explore further

Two Tone Studio is the production studio of glass craftsmen Boyd Seguki and Lisa Zerkowitz. This husband and wife team blend contemporary design and everyday utility. Their series of cocktail-specific vessel sets are wonderful in their response to the each cocktail in terms of color, functionality, and traditional vessel shape. Two Tone Studio is located outside of Seattle and both Boyd and Liza graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Ipso Facto Studio was founded by Greg Fidler and Brent Cole. The glass is currently produced by Greg at his studio in Bakersville, NC. The Form Studies are beautiful novellas of mid-century Swedish ceramic designs. They come in a variety of colors and each form is unique.

IBEX was founded by Sam Stang, David Levi, and Dimitri Michaelides in St. Louis and operated from 1985-1991. This powerhouse glass company produced designs that have been copied and distributed throughout the country.

You can find a selection of their designs at Vetri Gallery in Seattle.

After IBEX dissolved, Sam Stang began producing his own unique and production glass vessels. His work showcases a mastery of Venetian techniques applied to modernist forms. He now works out of Augusta, MO with his wife Kaeko Maehata.

Michael Schunke’s limited edition designs, marketed under Nine Irons Design, are shown throughout the country and produced in his West Grove, PA studio. He is one of the world’s preeminent goblet makers.

http://www.nineironstudios.com/

Katherine Grey is a contemporary glass artist who also produces some incredible functional designs that often fit neatly inside of each other. Katherine is the only craftsperson on the list that doesn’t run a production studio, but I love the work so much that it demanded to be included.

Adrian Pearsall Ranch of a True Craftsman

House of a Craftsman: the Adrian Pearsall Ranch

by Sarah Disney

This time last year I was e-mailing a complete stranger some suggestions for what he could do with his father’s home. I am not usually so forward. But I care deeply about the future of this particular house. It’s a one-of-a-kind modern ranch and an incredible piece of American design history. The home of an icon:Adrian Pearsall –  Adrian Mount Pearsall (1925-2011).

This story begins in the early 1950’s with a healthy dose of American grit. Like so many millennials today, Pearsall decided to leave a stagnate position in the field of his professional training (architecture) and try his own thing.

When Adrian told his wife Dorie that he wanted to begin making furniture in their basement she responded with an announcement of her own. She was waiting for the doctor to confirm her first pregnancy. After a negative result on the first pregnancy test, Adrian quit his job. Then, in a subsequent test, the rabbit kicked the bucket. Adrian’s new endeavor had to be a success.

And it was! What began as a two-man production team quickly grew into the Atomic-era manufacturing house of Craft Associates. You might recognize the space-age lines of their long, low gondola sofas, the organic look of their walnut and glass tables, or the dramatic silhouette of their high-back chairs.

An advocate for affordable, quality design, Pearsall produced hundreds of unabashedly bold pieces during his half-century-long career. But to this admirer, his artistic values were most fully expressed in the 1962 home of his own design.

The Pearsall home celebrates the collocation of diverse materials and a connectivity to the natural world. The sprawling, 10,000 s.f. Pennsylvania ranch is an eye-pleasing patchwork of concrete, marble, stone and mahogany. Several walls are constructed of local stones, which were field-selected and hand-placed by Pearsall himself. Light-filled atriums, multiple courtyards and floor-to-ceiling glass walls promote a sense of coexistence with the landscape.

Particularly stunning are the water features in the home. Most notably a curvy indoor swimming pool (reminiscent of Pearsall’s kidney-shaped glass table designs) and a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired pond, complete with stepping-stones, to border the dining area. The home originally included a running waterfall, which was removed for making diners feel they constantly needed to use the facilities.

This masterpiece doubled as childhood home to the Pearsall’s three children: Jim, Cindy and Jed. Jim remembers the home as a lively, creative environment where the family gathered – in leather beanbag chairs, no less – to play music and sing together. Jim’s favorite feature? The built-in soda fountain and ice cream bar, of course! Everyone preferred a different flavor and the bar accommodated all…holding up to 15 gallons of sweetness at once.

Members of the family were encouraged to entertain. The children invited friends over for homework sessions and TV time. And the adults hosted galas with up to 500 attendees and live music playing in multiple rooms.

Pearsall’s son, Jim, was also the stranger I e-mailed last year about turning his father’s home into a museum piece of “livable art” – something I’ve had a taste for since a weekend at the Louis Penfield house in Willoughby, Ohio. Jim graciously reminded me that a home of this magnitude requires much maintenance and upkeep. And that my dream of transforming it into a getaway for weary modernist design-lovers was tilting towards the grandiose.

Still, I cannot help but hope that the right buyer will want to both care for this home and share it with others.

See it for yourself! Get a visual below.

Is the Pearsall house out of your price range? Consider collecting an original piece of his furniture. There’s also a partial catalog of his work online at www.adrianpearsall.com.

Philco Predicta – The Original Flat Screen TV

One could argue that throughout modern history no one single product has made a larger impact on culture than the television. Perhaps the automobile, personal computer and the combustion engine are right up there – but pound for pound and hour for hour the television has become a staple for human life and defines aspects such as the people we admire, vote for, like (or dislike), the music we listen to, the products we buy. You get the point. We’re going to talk about one of the most innovative designs of the telivision – The Philco Predicta.

Although commercially available since the mid 1920’s TVs – like most new technologies – were expensive commodities.  It wasn’t until advances were made in their dependability and size that the average consumer could have one of their own. Until the 1940’s the typical method of home media entertainment outside of playing your own records on the Victrola was the radio. Current events, weather, sports, and of course the entertainment of the Lone Ranger and a host other programs for all age groups drew families into the den to tune in. At that time the radio provided you with the story line while leaving the visualizations up to the imaginations of the listener. Often was the case that a movie picture at the theater or a comic book coincided with a radio program and provided some starting point of visual reference. As with radio the main driving force behind TV remains the ability to advertise directly to consumers.

Even though the populous had seen moving pictures in the theater that experience of watching a seemingly endless barrage of programs right in the comfort of their own homes was proven to be one we all became addicted to. Science Fiction and the  display of imaginary time far off in the future opened the doors for product engineers to become front-runners in the development of the flat panel monitors and personal computers we all know and use today. It is well documented that the creators of Microsoft, IBM and Apple were inspired by these visual representation of people using personal desktop displays in everyday life.

The Philco Predicta

Taking a look at the history of flat panel monitors and when they first became available to the average consumer one cannot help but highlight the beloved and highly collectable Predicta by Philco. Until the Predicta, TVs were massive objects viewed more as a piece of furniture. Typical sets were extremely heavy units filled with circuitry and picture tubes – both notorious for malfunctioning. The Predicta was first introduced in two sizes; the 21 and the 17 inch. The 21 inch set failed often. Predicta’s reputation for failure paired with the lack of a color version and its  incredibly outlandish styling eventually lead Philco into bankruptcy in the 1960’s.

The idea to have this floating screen not surrounded by a thick bulky box was revolutionary. The Predicta’s screen itself worked like most common TVs of its age with the main picture tube translating and deciphering high frequency radio signals into moving imagery on the screen – But there was a major difference. Instead of building a boxy set around this general function the box at the base did all of the work, held all of the circuitry and controlled the picture and sound quality.  The screen of the Predicta is attached by a tether or umbilical cord. The monitors could actually be lifted off the stand while still functioning. This umbilical cord held the mass of wires – mostly attached to the main picture tube at the back of the screen – and connected it to all of the controls like the vertical and horizontal hold, the brightness and contrast. It was a marvel of engineering for its day.

Telstar now produces new versions of the Predicta after purchasing the rights to the Predicta brand. Take a look at their fun gallery of models. If you love these old sets we recommend contacting Telstar or saving an old one off eBay and taking a shot at restoration. If anything, just for looks!

Telstar was kind enough to send us these images of a few of their fully restored and functional beauties!

Russel Wright - American Modern

Modern American Ceramics

Editor’s Note: Modern American Ceramics and modernism are two of our favorite subjects. Here are a few of our choice lines from the mid 20th century. We will revisit this subject often.

The term American Modern is a distinct American design aesthetic formed in the period between 1925 and World War II. American Modern was created by a pioneering group of designers, architects and artists, among them were Norman Bel Geddes, Donald Deskey, Henry Dreyfuss, Paul Frankl, William Lescaze, Raymond Loewy, Gilbert Rohde, Eliel Saarinen, Walter Dorwin Teague, Kem Weber and Russel. Their impact on the daily lives of ordinary Americans is exemplified through a wide array of objects including furniture, glassware, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, household appliances, automobiles, airplanes and graphic arts. American Modern is distinguished by the absence of traditional ornament, the use of new technologies and materials, and the adoption of mass-production techniques to create affordable objects for the expanding population.

American Modern dinnerware by Russel Wright 1939 – 1959

American Modern Dinnerware. Colorful and curvaceous dinnerware designed by Russel Wright originally manufactured by Steubenville Pottery in Steubenville, Ohio and currently manufactured by Bauer Pottery Company of Los Angeles. Its unique and immediately recognizable colors of coral, chartreuse, granite grey and seafoam, as well as its distinctive curvilinear decorative shapes, went on to make American Modern dinnerware the most popular and identifiable china pattern/china colors ever sold, with over 250 million pieces sold between 1939 – 1959 alone.

Russel Wright also produced several other lines of pottery for the growing needs of the American middle-class including Iroquois Casual (1946), and Residential Melamine (1953). For all of these series and sets one can easily grasp the idealistic notions Wright was separating himself from and at the same time gain an understanding for those notions of Modernism he was moving towards.

Hall Pottery for Westinghouse and Hotpoint – Universal and Oxfordware Pottery

Hall, Universal and Oxfordware Pottery refridgerator dishes

Hall, Universal and Oxfordware Pottery

Around the same time frame one of the nation’s largest ceramics manufacturers expanded its reach by giving away its wares. Refrigerators — must-haves for homes in the modern age — were being sold almost faster than they could be produced. Companies like General Electric, Hotpoint and Westinghouse kept up with America’s demand while retail outlets made deals with companies like Pyrex, Universal, Hall Pottery and others to make their sales more enticing to consumers.

Hall for Westinghouse Label

Hall for Westinghouse Label

Enter the mass produced refrigerator dishes. With the convenience of preserved food and beverages in the home came the need to stylishly store them. Hall Pottery went one step further by making different lines and sets of refrigerator dishware for different retailers. The more curvaceous and slightly more stately designs were fit for customers buying their appliances at Montgomery Ward & Co. The more utilitarian and boxier of the designs were for those buying their iceboxes through Hotpoint and Westinghouse. Of course, one could purchase pieces separately but the larger retailers would give make deals with ceramics manufacturers to offer them free with their products.