No. 422. Diamond Chair

Harry Bertoia

Design: 1952 - 1953
Production: 1953 to the present
Manufacturer: Knoll Associates, Inc., New York
Size: 71 x 110.5 x 81; seat height 36.5 cms
Material: varnished steel wire, round iron, rubber

Harry Bertoia, who came from Italy, originally dedicated himself to sculpting. While heading the metal workshop of the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan from 1939 - 43, he began to experiment with flowing, three-dimensional shapes. At Cranbrook he became acquainted with Eliel and Eero Saarinen, with Charles Eames and his later wife, Ray Kaiser, as well as Florence Schuster, later wife of the furniture producer Knoll. In 1943 Charles and Ray Eames persuaded Bertoia to move to California, where he cooperated on the development of their first pieces of furniture. Disappointed that his contribution to these joint designs was not recognized, he left the studio in 1946. Hans Knoll, director of the company, whose program already included the designs of wellknown architects and designers, equipped him with a studio of his own in 1950 as well as a monthly allowance and the possibility of freely developing his creativity without any special constraints. Bertoia thereupon created a series of chairs and seats using techniques he was familiar with from gold work and sculpting with iron wire. Until 1953 he developed these ideas together with specialists from the Knoll company until they were ready for mass production. At the same time, the first wire chairs were created by Charles and Ray Eames but were presented nearly a year earlier. Bertoia’s series consists of a small and large version of the “Diamond Chair,” a “Diamond Chair” with an extended back, a foot stool, a children’s chair, two other chairs, and a bar stool. Knoll marketed these pieces, which were suited for indoor and outdoor use, first in painted black metal and later with a black or white plastic coating, as well as in chrome and with removable pads. The structure of the “Diamond Chair” clearly separates the different functions of the chair: the transparent wire shell is bent out of a quadratic lattice into an organically shaped diamond like a net frozen in space, and the base of round iron embraces it like a polished diamond. Bertoia considered his furniture to resemble his sculptures and explained: “In sculpture I am primarily interested in the relationship between form and space and the characteristics of the metal. In chairs many functional problems have to be solved first... but basically chairs are also studies in space, form and metal. On close inspection it becomes clear that they are mostly made up of air…. Space flows right through them.”1 The generous dimensions of the “Diamond Chair,” with its projecting armrests and hard rubber connections that noticeably give way with pressure, definitely lent an element of comfort to the mathematical coolness of the construction. But the cushioning still does not make any formal sense despite the comfort it affords, since it interferes with the transparency of the chair and gives it the look of a common shell. The “Diamond Chair” was designed to be viewed from all sides like a sculpture and thus fits perfectly into the elegant, sparsely furnished interiors of the fifties. The chair was, however, quite expensive even though Bertoia had developed a machine for bending the wires three-dimensionally; production was difficult because the preshaped wires had to be individually welded together. The susceptible rubber pieces were later replaced by screwed metal tracks. Bertoia wrote: “I was never satisfied with my own designs, no matter whether they were flops or masterpieces,”2 and, after completing his line of furniture for Knoll, dedicated himself exclusively to art, including numerous large-scale sculptures which graced the buildings of famous architects. MSC

[1] Harry Bertoia, quoted in Karl Mang, Geschichte des Modernen Möbels, (Stuttgart: Hatje, 1978), 143.
[2] Harry Bertoia, Interview by Richard S. Wurman, 1977, Vitra Design Museum Archive.

Harry Bertoia

Herry Bertoia, No. 422 Diamond Chair