Marcel Breuer

Cut-Out Plywood Forms

Image courtesy of the Marcel Breuer Papers, Syracuse University Library

The following six chairs were acquired in 1965 by Christine Benglia-Bevington, a draftsman in the architectural office of Marcel Breuer (1960-1962/1964-1966). The history of this chair design is a significant one as it marks a point of departure from Marcel Breuer’s early material experiments of tubular steel and molded plywood in furniture design.

In 1945, Marcel Breuer was commissioned to design a house for the Geller family on Long Island.  This house was the first independent commission Breuer built during the war. Under material rationing constraints for non-military uses, Breuer developed a new type of construction process.  Molded plywood had been a time tested and versatile solution for furniture production, but costs remained high as new tools and molds were needed for each design or alteration of an existing design.  The new solution involved laminated plywood that was simply cut out and assembled to form the chair frames.

The initial experiments for the Geller family led to a submission of laminated and cut plywood chairs which were submitted to the Museum of Modern Art’s Low Cost Furniture competition of 1948. Working in partnership with the United States Forest Products Laboratory, Breuer developed a product and construction system that incorporated the strength of cross-laminated plywood adhered with Bakelite glue.  The components of the chairs were systematically and economically cut from large sheets of plywood and waste was kept to an absolute minimum.  The individual elements were assembled using high-frequency gluing of rubber inserts creating a permanent and durable connection.  The Low Cost Furniture chair design was included in the interior furnishings of the House In the Garden, a full-scale exhibition house installed in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art.

Of the six chairs in this lot, one armchair is understood to be the submission to the Low Cost Furniture Competition documented in period photos found in the Marcel Breuer Archives at Syracuse University. This armchair and two side chairs are protoypes with feet cut flat at the floor.  An additional two chairs have early Knoll labels and are presumed to be from a very small trial run developed as prototypes for mass production which never materialized.  

Marcel Breuer 1902–1981

Marcel Breuer’s parents encouraged their children to take interest in culture and the arts from an early age, and when the Hungarian born designer turned eighteen he secured a scholarship to the prestigious Fine Arts Academy in Vienna. Uninterested in the lengthy discussions about aesthetic tradition and eager for a more practical education, he took a job in an architectural firm. When a friend told him about a new art school in Weimar Germany called the Bauhaus, Breuer promptly enrolled. Under the guidance of director Walter Gropius, Breuer became one of six apprentices to join the furniture workshop, producing his earliest known design in 1921, the African Chair. Breuer graduated in 1924 and after a brief time in Paris, returned to the school as the head of the of the carpentry worship in 1925. Inspired by his first bicycle, Breuer began working on designs for a chair made of tubular steel. The revolutionary steel club armchair, known as the Wassily, remains one of his most well-known designs to date.

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Auction Results Marcel Breuer

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