BY JANET STEINBERG
My love affair with chairs began back in the 1980s when I spotted a Hanes hosiery ad with a gorgeous ballerina, hose-clad leg extended, and seated on a black leather chair with a single aluminum leg. I later learned that the ballerina’s J. Serie Lang lounge chair was designed by a Frenchman named Philippe Starck, one of the most famous architect/designers in the world. Next thing I knew, I was sipping coffee at the Café Costes in Paris, seated on a perfectly balanced and beautiful 3-legged chair. Much to my surprise, I learned that the aforementioned Philippe Starck had also designed the cafe’s chairs.
Starck captured my interest me from that point on. I no longer had to search for unusual tchotchkes in my travels. I had a new mission…the search for unusual chairs. As I began pursuing the world for more of Starck’s designs, I developed an obsession for all kinds of seats from chairs, settees, and chaise lounges, to pews, benches, and booths, It no longer mattered who designed them, as long as they were interesting or fun. Wherever, and whenever, I spotted a neat seat, I would not only learn about it and photograph it. I would also plop down in it.
Allow me to share some results of my global chair-affair that has been going on for decades. And, what better place for me to begin than with the chair responsible for my fascinating search for neat seats?
PARIS, FRANCE/CAFÉ COSTES: Philippe Starck’s famous Café Costes chair, with its curved beech lacquered back and black leather cushion, was originally designed for the Café Costes in Paris. It was designed with three legs so that waiters at the cafe would not have as many legs to trip over. This hip café is known for its traditional French cuisine and celebrity patrons.
|THE 3-LEGGED PHILLIPPE STARCK CAFE COSTES CHAIRS HAVE FOUND THEIR WAY INTO AMERICAN HOMES|
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA/CLIFT HOTEL: I hit the jackpot in the lobby of the Clift Hotel with a potpouri of neat seats. The hotel, a few steps from Union Square, exudes old-world hotel elegance with distinctly contemporary energy and glamour. Once again Philippe Starck was the “star-chitect” responsible for design that included three seats: a sexy silk chaise lounge, an oversized silk and wooden armchair, and a unique settee with horns and ostrich upholstery. I sat in all of them, but the latter was the one I wanted to take home with me.
|THIS OSTRICH DOES NOT BURY ITS BEAUTY IN THE SAND (and take a peek at the table leg)|
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND/ TOURO SYNAGOGUE: in 1790, George Washington visited Newport to promote passage of the Bill of Rights. Washington sat in Pew #4 in the Touro Synagogue where there is an annual reading of his historic letter “To the Hebrew Congregation at Newport”. The letter, which honors our precious freedoms, continues to be lauded and commemorated as possibly having the greatest impact on America and American Jewry.
|#4 PEW OF HONOR WHERE GEORGE WASHINGTON SAT|
AMANA, IOWA/AMANA COLONIES: Willkommen to the seven villages of the Amana Colonies that have been a treasure on the Iowa prairie for over 150 years. This step back in time, through artsy-crafty villages led me to the discovery of a humongous rocking chair that made me feel like Lily Tomlin in the 1981 movie ”The Incredible Shrinking Woman”.
|THE AUTHOR’S VERSION OF THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN|
LONDON, ENGLAND/ BOND STREET: On a bench in Mayfair (where Old Bond Street meets New Bond Street), a passerby stops to ask a question of two iconic gentlemen as they are engaged in conversation. The bronze sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill ‘talking’ together on the bench was unveiled on May 2, 1995 by Princess Margaret.
|TWO OLD BUDDIES…FDR AND WINSTON CHURCHILL….IN LONDON|
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS/ UNION OYSTER HOUSE: President John F. Kennedy’s booth #18 on the second floor of Boston’s historic seafood haven, is discreetly marked with a small plaque that states: “This was the favorite booth of John F. Kennedy when he dined at The Union Oyster House.” J.F.K.’s favorite booth, where he loved to feast in privacy, has since been dedicated “The Kennedy Booth” in his memory.
|HISTORY AND OYSTERS IN “THE KENNEDY BOOTH”|
LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA/ART-A-FAIR: Laguna Beach is a magical seaside village whose reputation as an artist’ colony began with the arrival of Norman St. Claire in 1903. After St. Claire captured Laguna’s dramatic surf, sand, and picturesque hillsides, many of his artist friends made an exodus to Laguna Beach and it has been an artistic haven ever since. A colorful artsy bench welcomes you to Art-A-Fair.
|IS IT A SCULPTURE OR IS IT A CHAIR?|
RIO DE JANEIRO BRAZIL/ FASANO HOTEL: Located in the heart of Ipanema Beach, the Fasano Hotel melds sophistication with modernity, and minimalism with warmth. Like Café Costes, the hotel was designed by Philippe Starck who carried out every detail to the nth degree. The pair of leather twins in the lobby can’t make up their minds as to whether they are lounge chairs or hammocks. No matter the decision, they are comfy cozy. The rooftop swimming pool is a Starck masterpiece. Combine that with a drop-dead view that overlooks the beach and you have reason enough to visit the Fasano.
|PHILLIPPE STARCK DOES IT AGAIN|
GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE/LODGE AT BUCKBERRY CREEK: A rustic driftwood bench personifies Gatlinburg’s “Great Camp of the Smokies”. More than a century ago, the Adirondacks lured the elite to escape to the mountains and enjoy the great outdoors. Thus was born a unique, upscale style of architecture that employed Mother Nature as the lead architect. The natural grandeur of The Lodge at Buckberry Creek recaptures that rustic elegance of upstate New York’s famous Adirondack lodges and combines it with the unspoiled beauty of the Smoky Mountains.
|BEAUTIFUL BRANCHES MAKE BEAUTIFUL BENCHES|
DENVER, COLORADO: CIVIC CENTER PARK OUTSIDE PUBLIC LIBRARY: “The Yearling” is a whimsical 21-foot tall, 10-foot wide, red painted steel chair with a 6-foot tall. fiberglass, painted pinto pony standing atop it. It has been said that the size of this work is said to recall that time in life when even everyday objects seemed monumental. Its creator, artist Donald Lipski, commented: “If it makes people stop and feel something they haven’t felt before, I’m happy.”
|PINTO PONY STANDS ATOP A 21-FOOT TALL CHAIR|
Janet Steinberg, winner of 47-travel writing awards, resides in Cincinnati but calls the world her home.