Sydney Design 2010 starts on Saturday and runs until August 15. For the next two weeks, we will be blogging exclusively on design, everyday, under this year’s theme ‘Tell us a story’. As a taster, you’ll be able to discover more on Achille Castiglioni and the RR 126 Radiogram, the ‘Creating the Look: Benini and fashion photography’ exhibition, the Australian International Design Awards, the unique jewellery pieces of this year’s design travelling scholarship winner, Liesl Hazelton, designer-makers featured in our ‘Young Blood’ markets, SD10 events, talks and tours as they happen and in this post, the Featherston ‘Stem’ chair.
In fact, we begin with the ‘Stem’ chair because it will be on display in the Museum’s foyer from tomorrow (and, I must say, it’s well worth a look!). The chair belongs to a 5-piece setting designed by influential Australian post-war designer Grant Featherston, and his wife Mary, in Melbourne, 1969.
The chair signifies the innovative use of new plastics technologies in Australian furniture, which Grant and Mary had already started experimenting with in their earlier Expo 67 chair. This chair was commissioned by Robin Boyd for the world exhibition in Montreal, Canada (which ran from April 28 – October 29, 1967) and was formed from a polystyrene shell upholstered in polyurethane foam and wool.
Although plastics were widely used in the 1960s, they were not common to furniture production. The ‘Stem’ chair, made by Aristoc Industries Pty Ltd, was formed from a rotationally-moulded, high density polyethylene shell. Its innovative design and use of new technologies foreshadowed the move to making integrated one-piece plastic chairs (this honour can arguably go to the ‘Selene’ chair by Vico Magistretti, produced in Italy in 1969, and in Australia, the Sebel ‘Integra’ chair of 1973) and helped to revive the local furniture manufacture industry at a time when they were under threat by foreign imports.
The ‘Stem’ chair took 18 months to develop from concept to production. Its design was inspired by the organic forms of flowers, seed pods and shells and references Eero Saarinen’s earlier ‘Tulip’ chair of 1956.
In 2006, the Museum’s former Curator of Architecture and Design, Anne Watson, interviewed Mary Featherston about the highs and lows in the development of the ‘Stem’ chair. You can read this interview and more about the influential work of Grant and Mary Featherston here.
The ‘stem’ chair will be on display in the Museum’s foyer throughout Sydney Design.