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Great Design Made to Measure: Please Be Seated

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Sketches by Barbara Barry, photographed by David Meredith



From morning to night the design of our chairs, tables, beds, sofas and desks provide comfort, reflect personal style, and enhance our quality of life. A bed completes the cycle of a day. Chairs foster productivity at work. A table serves as a center for socializing. These designed objects inform our interior spaces, they shape how we experience our days.

For the fifth article in my series, I invited three celebrated furniture designers to define great design. Despite their diverse body of work and approaches, they're unified by their commitment to exquisite craft which demonstrates their definition of design.

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Image courtesy of Blake Tovin, photographed by Chris Caroll



In the mid 1980's, Blake Tovin honed his impressive skillset under the helm of legendary home furnishing innovator Jack Lenor Larsen. Today, his specialized skill is creating collections of high design at an affordable price for big retail brands like Bloomingdale's and Crate & Barrel.

Given his customer focus, balancing aesthetics with functionality and sustainability directly depends on the product's end use and cost. For Tovin, "Great design will always embody a few basic qualities: integrity, authenticity, refined execution and a unique point of view."

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Image courtesy of Fritz Hansen



For inspiration he cites Danish designer Poul Kjaerholm's work for its materiality, formal reduction and timeless elegance. "One of my favorite pieces is Kjaerholm's PK25 Lounge Chair, an amazingly imaginative and sculptural design. The structure of the chair is created by slicing and bending a single stainless steel bar along its length to form the front and rear legs, seat frame, arm and back." Tovin also notes that a single length of hemp cord forms the seat and back. This elegant solution and the "original thinking" expressed in the chair embody his design criteria.

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Image courtesy of Fritz Hansen



In addition to his work for major retailers, Blake Tovin founded Symbol Audio to produce furniture, which integrates sound. "I wanted the Modern Record Console to be both sculptural and aspirational so these pieces are handcrafted to a very high standard using natural materials and custom made components." With its exposed functional electronics and a stripped down turntable this product is aimed at the "audiophile" looking for an experience of music beyond a pocket-sized MP3 player. Tovin's design celebrates the authenticity of a classic audio console in a contemporary and balanced visual form.

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Image courtesy of Blake Tovin, photographed by Chris Caroll


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Image courtesy of Blake Tovin, photographed by Chris Caroll


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Image courtesy of Barbara Barry



Barbara Barry's career began in residential interior design, later expanding to encompass commercial design. Her remarkable portfolio boasts home furnishing products for a discerning clientele. A singular blend of elegance and livability graces her work; from furniture, fabrics, floor covering, bedding, lighting to tableware. Internationally renowned companies such as Baccarat Crystal, Baker Furniture, Boyd Lighting, Kravet Fabrics and Wedgwood have all successfully partnered with Barry on various projects.

Given Barry's ever expanding creative output, she maintains a sharp focus about what matters in design. "A measure of a great design for me is when a piece has 'structural harmony' meaning that what the object is made of and what it is are germane to each other." This belief is reflected in her own work, which is light, lyrical and "stripped away of superfluous layers."

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Image photographed by Forbes Conrad



Echoing the quiet elegance of her aesthetic, she cites a Matcha whisk used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies as an example of her principles. "I chose the Japanese whisk because it is brilliantly designed and perfectly does the job for which it is intended in the simplest, most integrated way." The whisk is created from the same piece of bamboo that comprises the handle. The solid bamboo shaft is then split into hairs that whisk the tea into frothy green foam.

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Image courtesy of Barbara Barry


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Image courtesy of Barbara Barry



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Image courtesy of Barbara Barry



From Barbara Barry's diverse body of work she offers her Oval X Back Chair as a piece that exemplifies her philosophy. Elegant, sweeping lines complement the strength and stability of the chair. Barry adds, "The chair has a wide stance, a gravitas, that sends a message to the body 'I can support you.' The "small waist, big hips" profile of the Oval X Back exhibits her devotion to "structural harmony."

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Image courtesy of Philippe Nigro, photographed by Mercedes Jaen Rui



Just launching in his career, Philippe Nigro finds himself a rising design star in France and Italy. Last month, he received "Designer of the Year" by the Maison & Objet Design Fair, which honored his budding design practice.

For over a decade he collaborated with Michele De Lucchi, on furniture, lighting, and interior design. His design experimentation now expands under his own name as one of the lead designers for the prestigious manufacturer Ligne Roset.

His thoughts on exceptional design are almost poetic. In addition to responding to functional, aesthetic and material requirements, he believes an object should be "capable of time travel," and retain its transcendent power while remaining "familiar to users" upon their initial encounter.

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Image courtesy of Flos



Nigro finds such qualities in Achille Castiglioni's Parentesi Lamp for Flos. This classic example of Italian design is a masterpiece of restraint and material simplicity. Commenting beyond the functionality and aesthetics of the lamp, Nigro adds that the lamp's design "makes us smile" at Castiglioni.

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Image courtesy of Ligne Roset



While resisting to label his own work as "timeless" Nigro offers a modular sofa for Ligne Roset as a design he's proud of. "Five years after its creation, the Confluences sofa still feels very modern in form. The possibilities it offers, not only in composition and color, but its adaptability to several morphologies, brings this object of industry closer to nature."

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Image courtesy of Ligne Roset



What also seems natural to these three experts is the application of their skills to the many facets of home and office design.

Memories are absorbed in our furniture and frame our patterns through them, effectively humanizing architectural spaces. As Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe once shared when reflecting on the challenges of designing furniture, "A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier."

Well, not many of us own a skyscraper but we all have a favorite chair.