Auckland born Garth Chester (1916-1968) is a pioneer of New Zealand design and, just looking at the Curvesse chair, it isn’t hard to see why.
Following in the footsteps of Gerrit Rietveld and Marcel Breuer whilst borrowing from Japanese minimalism Chester created something that is uniquely Kiwi, using a ‘No 8 wire’ response with materials he had easy access to (ply) and his own mechanised presses.
Author Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins in his book At Home: A Century of New Zealand Design notes that the Curvesse was “the first cantilevered plywood chair to appear anywhere in the world …a progressive high point in local design.”
Defying gravity the chair is made from several thin sheets of water-glue softened plywood, with two lengthwise cuts forming the arms, laminated together in a mould and pressed until set. Two solid runners provide a stable base. The pivotal moment in their manufacture was when the press was closed – if there were no loud cracking noises the makers knew they had succeeded. The failure rate was about one in five, there are no definitive numbers on how many were manufactured, some estimates are as low as 80 with others reaching towards 500.
Initially the New Zealand public were apparently a little sceptical about the seemingly precarious design. So Garth hired Olympic wrestler, Lofty Blomfield, to jump up and down on the chair to showcase its strength (not recommended!).
Having influenced generations of designers and looking as amazing today as it did 70 years ago, the Curvesse is now a bona fide New Zealand design icon.
William Cottrell, ‘Furniture – Changing styles’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/object/41071/curvesse-chair/
Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins At Home: A Century of New Zealand Design, Godwit, 2004