Harry Bertoia was a fantastically refreshing designer, whilst his designs are as contemporary today as they were forty years ago. Bertoia’s wonderful metal-wire basketwork can very much be said to be as much imaginative art as they are pieces of furniture, both tastefully imaginative and functional – the balance is pretty much ‘perfetto’ (Italian). Compared to the relatively mundane commercial furniture of his time, Bertoia’s ideas were totally innovative.
Discovered in the 1930s by Eero Saarinen’s father, Bertoia was a metalworking craftsman in Michigan, USA. Upon being scouted, Bertoia went on to to collaborate with Charles and Ray Eames (contributing generously and without credit towards the well-known Eames chair, amongst others), working within their California studio. Bertoia’s lack of recognition by Eames frustrated him and was gladly summoned to join the Point Loma Naval Electronics Laboratory such was his design potential; it was at this lab that set him forth. As part of the job, Bertoia scrutinised the human body ergonomically (the study of body dynamics and actions) and in anthropological ways, and learnt so much about the human form.
Recently recognised as one of the best modern American inventors of form for producing a huge variety of dynamic and organic shapes, it Bertoia’s unique style of jazz-like lines, forms and colours that he fashioned in the 1940s after leaving Eames’ studio that became signature. Bertoia went on to join Knoll in 1950, and this company provided the opposite treatment to Eames. Offering full credit of his works and handsome pay in exchange for exclusive rights to his designs, Knoll provided the benchmark to inspire Bertoia to create the furniture he did…
Bertoia was perhaps best known for a design concept that he has never been properly credited for; across the world we commercially see skeleton-like tubular steel frame chairs and tables, each having a separation in connection and materiality of the frame structure and the seat’s boards and fabrics (if any), and each with a springy motion and comfort. Metal being his material of choice, Bertoia found the wire grid to be most ergonomical, and manufactured himself all production moulds used for mass manufacture, such was his determination for sole-credit.
Bertoia’s principles on a wire mesh frame were as follows: “I appreciate a slight yield, lightness of weight, some motion if possible, because in moving about, the human body determines… the comfort and the measurements of its environment… the human measure is still the strongest factor. But coming back to the chair, there are certain motions we go through – we like to lean back, like to toss things – and if the chair’s adaptable it responds and it’s almost like wearing a comfortable coat; you really don’t know you have it on.” (Harry Bertoia)
This skeleton of a kind of structural wire mesh should be Bertoia’s enduring legacy of creations, however this has never been realised.
All Bertoia seating designs are available at selected stores and online at Knoll.com.