How History’s Most Hated Chairs Became Today’s Most Iconic Pieces

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What is good design? These are questions vanguard interior designer Jim Walrod poses with his new show, “Difficult,” at Tribeca’s R & Company gallery, opening tonight. Here, you will walks through of today’s most sought-after chairs and the film clips that will make you think twice before snickering at where design might be headed next.

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“Cone” chair designed by Verner Panton for Plus Linje, Denmark, 1958.

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“In the movie Diamonds Are Forever, there’s an amazing scene from the John Lautner house. There are two female villains who are sitting in chairs —a Pierre Paulin Ribbon chair and a Gaetano Pesce Up 5, which is the form and shape of a woman. One of the women rolls out of it and says to Sean Connery, ‘Hi, I’m Bambi’ before kicking his ass.”

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“Nobody’s Perfect” Chair. Designed by Gaetano Pesce, circa 2002.

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“Gaetano Pesce—our living genius as far as I’m concerned. He is a designer who worked within a realm of very controlled, very designed furniture. He designed furniture for Knoll, Cassina, and at one point he decided that he didn’t want to deal with anyone anymore, and he learned how to pour this furniture on his own. This was limited edition—I think there were 100 made—with Etro fabrics in it. It’s free-form Expressionist furniture. The first time I saw [his work], I was in Moss and there were three heads of museums standing next to me and saying, ‘He’s lost his mind.’ ‘What is he doing?’ And I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life. I was thinking, ‘Give me more of that.’ ”

Lounge chair in black woven steel mesh. Designed by Sol Bloom, 1950

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“I’ve actually seen this chair do damage. Women will never sit in it if they have a dress on. When they stand up, it looks like they have cellulite all over the back of their legs. I’ve had old men ask, ‘What are you going to use this thing for, a barbecue grill?’ It’s seen as something really beautiful and iconic now—sculptural; light passes through it.”

J.A. Motte table and chairs with Chambost vase – Villa Arpel

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“Furniture like this is constantly mocked in Mon Oncle, the Jacques Tati film. It’s very still, there are women sitting on these things and they can’t get comfortable. It’s a complete indictment of this type of furniture, that is very pulled back and directly to the line of more is less.”

“Tawaraya” boxing ring sculpture seating unit. Designed by Masanori Umeda for Memphis, circa 1981

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“The boxing ring is hysterical—it’s a living room. There were probably only four or five of them made. Anyone who saw it mocked it hard. It’s seen as such an iconic thing now, such a pure moment of Memphis and Postmodernism. You can lean against the ropes, you can do the same things as you can do as far as chairs.

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