Arts preview: 20th Century Design Market offered a new challenge to 16 design teams

By  By Jackie Mantey
From the September 26, 2013 edition
  • Photo by Jodi Miller

A bit of art history folklore for you: In 1951, the famous New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg broke all the conventional rules of an office tour and painted on the furniture. Extra gasp-worthy facts: He was touring the office of designers Charles and Ray Eames and painted a woman on one of the couple’s famous fiberglass arm chairs.

Being awesome, the Eameses didn’t care. In fact, they appreciated Steinberg’s ingenuity (and balls, maybe?) and displayed the chair for all in the office to see.

This Steinberg-tours-the-office story inspired the competition at this year’s 20th Century Design Market, an annual weekend-long roundup of mid-century modern shopping and celebrating.

Dubbed the Good Design Challenge, 16 teams of local designers and architects were given one Eames molded plastic armchair by the competition’s sponsors, Continental Office Environments and famed furniture design line Herman Miller.

“The most exciting part of the challenge was the chair itself,” said Laura Meade, a designer on the five-person team representing WSA Studio, an architectural firm in German Village. “It’s a famous, iconic chair. It’s hard to get your hands on it as a designer and we only got one sent to the studio.”

When the chair arrived at the studio, Meade and her teammates/co-workers—Joe Brookover, Geoff Gay, Scott Geither and Brian Simpson—let it sit in the front of the office for a little bit, a sculpture waiting to be updated.

After weeks of modifying its original design, the WSA team’s chair is complete and will be on view during the 20th Century Design Market alongside the other takes on the classic.

“We are trying to add our own identity and our own flare to the form of the chair so that what we’ve done to it can co-exist with the chair,” Meade said.

Past Good Design-style contests sponsored by Herman Miller, such as a similar competition at the Austin Museum of Art, have seen chairs transformed with paint, nails, string and more.

Check out the chairs while shopping (or admiring) the wares of 15 mid-century, art deco and vintage dealers. Weekend passes are $10.