Monday, May 22, 2006

Lost City Arts and Unattainable Design

Lost City Arts, the big and amazing mid-century modern furniture store at 18 Cooper Square in Greenwich Village has been around since 1982. It's fun too look around if you treat it like a museum, but their prices are ghastly. I don't doubt that the Bombardment Chandelier (designed by Poul Henningsen in 1933 and pictured below) is valuable. But the price tag dangling from it said $24,000. I think that's my take-home pay for a year. Think about that -- a year's worth of my work is worth the same as this lamp:

Even the smallest thing I saw there -- a cast iron coin bank the size of a pack of cigarettes, in the shape of the Flatiron Building -- was $550. The price scales here are geared for the rich. I saw a sofa version of Arne Jacobsen's famous egg chair in a Copenhagen department store for $40,000 a few years ago. That's absurd.

This is truly one of the biggest failures of modern design: it's unattainable. I noticed that a chair I grew to loathe growing up is back --
Thanks, Design Within Reach. They offer this blurb:
"Robin Day embarked on a design career after World War II in a spirit of optimism, and that elan is blazingly apparent in his pathbreaking Polyside Chair (1962). When Day discovered the economic, structural and aesthetic virtues of injection-molded polypropylene, he began to design furnishings that made it possible for ordinary Britons at work, school and home to have comfortable, affordable, colorful and enduring chairs that were lightweight as well as stackable. One of the best-selling chairs of all time and winner of numerous awards, the Polyside remains a model of industrial ingenuity. The chair is a single piece of injection-molded plastic on a tubular metal frame finished in black epoxy. The body has a fully rolled-over edge, an engineering detail that protects against over-flexing. Prefiguring ergonomic design, the seat back of the Polyside is gently cupped to hold the back comfortably, while the seat pan widens toward the front to provide ample space for the lower body. More than 40 years later, the Polyside, which has passed the highest standard of commercial testing, still looks fresh. Made in England."
Yeah, but can ordinary Britons afford it now at $98 each? I mean, wasn't the brilliance of these materials -- tubular metal and injection-molded polyproylene -- their affordability? These chairs were everywhere when I was growing up; these or variations on these. And now they're back as hipster design fetish items.

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