Distinctive Excellence: The making of an icon

My first love. Mies van der Rohe . Barcelona Chair . 1948.

Iconic pieces hold value. Trends do not. I was attempting to explain this to my Brother-in-Law who is embarking on a fairly significant renovation, along with my sister, of their LES apartment. A lifelong resident of Manhattan, Andy has an appreciation for art – fine, film, not food per se, but most definitely the musical arts, and culture. His interest in pop, international, historic/ancient, make him a fairly typical New Yorker, which is to say, very well versed in a whole lot of things, that most people know nothing about. If I am being nice about it I’d say it is likely due to the fact that it doesn’t sit on their doorstep waiting to be consumed as it does in NYC.

Marcel Breuer . Cesca Chair . 1928 tubular steel frame provides flex and comfort.

With all this intellectual sophistication it’s not that he doesn’t know logically that if you purchase a Renoir it is not going to depreciate the moment you walk it out of the Christie’s Auction House – at least I hope that’s the way in which you’d find yourself acquiring it. Of course there are other ways. I prefer to inherit my art, but if I do, I want it to be any one of the most famous impressionists. They knew how to turn a swirl of paint into a pot of gold. I would happily inherit a Mies Van der Rohe, a Saarinen, an Eames, or a Platner right along with that piece of art, but here is where we two differ. I can tell that Andy is skeptical of my assertion that these iconic designer’s furnishings are of real value. “Why not simply get a knock off”? he asks.

Charles Eames . Lounge Chair . 1956. This is the definition of fitting like a glove.

All this got me thinking about what makes something move from a trend, to a classic, to iconic. What made this fashion of a time, fifties design move beyond the three year mark, into classic territory? Design excellence, detailing, simplicity and ingenuity combined. How did they turn a formed piece of fiberglass known for its toughness into a sensuous slide that you could sleep on for hours? The angular tilt of the Barcelona Chair is a piece of sculpture in its own right, its design – like that of a master artist, a showcase of understanding of the human form. The materials, the detailing, assembly and execution are why these pieces are revered, and why they hold their value.

Give me a bouquet of Tulips any day. Eero Saarinen . Tulip Chairs and Iconic Saarinen table. 1957.

I’m all about the high and low, but if you can afford one iconic piece instead of ten from Room & Board, I’d remind myself that I can only sit in one chair at a time, and if I had to choose one, I want it to be the very best.