Preparing an unbuilt chair design for construction

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SDR
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Preparing an unbuilt chair design for construction

Post by SDR »

Frank Lloyd Wright® Wisconsin (The Frank Lloyd Wright® Wisconsin Heritage Tourism Program) is the entity which purchased and
restored the Model B1 American System-Built residence at 2714 West Burnham Street in Milwaukee. In furnishing the house, the board
found no design for a living-room armchair; they decided to make use of the design found on the interior renderings of the similar (and
neighboring) Model C3 house. These designs date from 1915-1917.

As this furniture piece was apparently never constructed, and an extensive search for documentation at Taliesin uncovered no working
drawings, the chair would have to be built using only the two views which appear in the literature: an interior perspective of the C3
library/living room, and an isometric-perspective plan view of the house.

The board of Frank Lloyd Wright® Wisconsin engaged Stafford Norris III (well-known by now to the Wright community) to recreate that
chair -- in walnut -- and he in turn presented me with the challenge (and delightful opportunity) of making shop drawings for his use.


Image

Image


Thus, it was necessary to look closely at the two views of the chair. Two facts soon became clear: The plan view does not agree with the larger side view,
and this larger drawing lacks internal consistency. Indeed, there is evidence that the chair may have been hastily drawn; there are several instances of faulty
perspective. Nevertheless, there is enough information with which to concoct a reasonable facsimile of the architect's intention -- with some educated guess-
work and a few assumptions !

Image

Image

In the above detail of the isometric drawing we see that this version of the armchair (a sort of cube
chair, a form which Wright had previously explored) has four stout legs and what appear to be panels
of spindles on three sides. An earlier design, built for the Francis W Little residence, in 1903, has
somewhat similar details -- with the addition of a semi-octagonal rear "bay" not unlike the one seen
in the larger view of our C3 chair:

Image

We'll come back to this chair later. In the meantime, two other commissions, from the same period as our ASBH house(s), show furniture details related to those
of the tables (and kitchen benches) found in the drawings above and at the B1 house, which retains its built-ins and some furniture. The same panel of square
spindles resting on a "sill" stretcher, which we see in the dining/library table and in our subject chair, are found in these pieces:

Image

Image


One more drawing comes into play, here -- a view (identical in perspective to the C3 chair) with remarkable similarities to its front
quarters but with a different back and projecting arms. This isn't a cube chair at all, yet it clearly belongs with the other design,
with its panel, banks of spindles, and six slab legs. This drawing has been given a modern Taliesin catalog number in black ink --
0519.001, dating to 1905 -- fully a decade earlier than the ASBH work. Can this be right ?

Image



Now let's look closely at our main drawing. We see that the chair appears to equal the table in height -- a useful datum. We see that the top panel has a semi-circular
cut-out for the seat back, so we feel comfortable referring to the isometric plan view, which suggests that this is intended to be a true arc, in accordance with Wright's
custom (he never ever designed with ellipses, preferring shapes his compass and other essential tools could produce). The aberrant curved shape shown in the drawing
below should be a first clue that something's not right, here: note that a projection of the rear legs places them in an impossible location at the top of the chair.

(There's nothing wrong with that beautiful foliage, though, is there !)

Image

Further study reveals inconsistencies in perspective; several horizontals in the chair -- and the table -- deviate from true (at B, C, and D, below), leaving us in doubt as to the sincerity of the draftsman, and complicating our job of interpretation. However, this condition has an upside: it gives us the liberty to take the drawing with a "grain of salt," permitting the interpreter (by necessity) to choose among the further conundrums ahead. To wit: How do we reconcile the lack of projection of the arm furthest from the viewer, with the clear projection of the one nearest ? What do we make of the continuous vertical edges of the middle leg, which the front one lacks as it meets the bottom rail ? Could that down-sloping rail have been drawn thus as a last-minute save from an error in placement of the termination of both legs at the floor -- when the drafter intended that front leg to end up inboard of the middle one, and thus shorted (as it is) -- in perspective ?

Image

I chose to read it thus. My take on this chair is that, below the arm plate, the designer looked for ways to incorporate the cylinder implied by the semi-circular seat back into
the assemblage of legs and spindles -- leaving only the framed panels at the front in a forthrightly orthogonal condition. The fact of the three sets of legs spreading in the middle and tucking in, fore and aft, furthers this subtle cylindricality.

The last question, following from the above, is whether the bottom of the semi-octagonal spindled bay is intended to slope
upward, as it appears to do in the perspective. In the annotated drawing above I completed the construction of this part of
the chair, proving (to myself) that this was the intention. Only one straw remained to save me (and the constructor) from this
very inconvenient reading: a single vertical line (at A) which, I believe, is intended to be the upper edge of the right-hand angled
return of that bottom plate. I clutched at that straw -- with the result you see in my measured drawings below.



Image 1

In the plan, the lower portion is a section taken below the arm plate while the other represents a section through the chair
below the seat. Plywood is 1/2" while most solid stock is 7/8".


Image 2


Image 3

The bottom plate is two 1/2" walnut panels laminated; the bottom rail of the panel section is a matching 1" piece. The
1/2" kerf-bent plywood seat-back shell engages a 3/4" seat panel.


Image 4



This full-size detail shows that the design arranged itself simply on a grid of 1/2" by 7/8":

Image 5



The plan drawing shows two different configurations to the rear-most spindles; in one version there is no spindle at the 45º return, while the other is provided
with one. The Little chair (detail below) gives us a precedent, supporting the second version. Below is the full-size detail sheet which provides both alternatives.
The spindles and their spaces are 7/8" throughout in the first (darker) option, while in the second (lighter) the spindles remain at 7/8" square while the spaces
shrink to 5/8" and 9/16" respectively (to maintain the same chair width). Alternate centerlines provide for increasing the chair width if desired.


Image 6


Image



This sheet shows three options for the configuration of the arm plate, each one made from planks of 7" width. The plywood shells have different grain
orientation relating to their construction. The loose upholstery shell could be installed with Velcro tabs or strips, as shown in the full-size detail (sheet 5).

Image 7


SDR
Last edited by SDR on Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:02 pm, edited 4 times in total.

pharding
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Post by pharding »

Very cool SDR. My suggestion is to align the top of the chair arms with the table top. Also I suggest not using plywood.

What book has the Bogk and Allen furniture drawings?

Off topic. The Little House chair chair looks to have been refinished. If so it is a shame.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

egads
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Post by egads »

Once again I am gobsmacked at your talents.

My only comment is the front projection of the arm. I would include it. It allows one a grab spot when getting in and out. Not that anyone will actually be able to sit in this one....

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Heh-heh. Well, there is doubt that Mr Wright would have proceeded with this chair as initially drawn (drawn by whom ?). It is certainly a tentative first try at the design. I'd be much happier with the 0519.001 chair for this commission, as I believe would Mr Norris. That said, this is without doubt a Wright piece -- and I submit that, if plywood had been commercially available in 1915 (do we know that it was not ?) Mr Wright would have employed it as I have in this version, as it is ideal for the seat shell in a way unmatched by other material (in terms of efficiency and performance). As such, I see no reason not to employ it, as the logical and forward-looking material of choice.

Those rising from this chair will easily grasp the outside of the arm, where it overhangs the panel frame by an inch (see sheet 4). That is, if anyone is permitted to sit ! The intention of the client, I'm sure, is to replicate the drawn design as closely as possible. One overt digression is included, however (because the design made it almost impossible to comply); anybody catch it ?

I admire the Wisconsin board's decision to proceed with this project. It can't be cheap. The chair will weigh less than an Origami chair, I suppose -- though not by much !

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

The photo of the Little chair comes from the Domino's collection. The Bogk and Allen drawings are included in The Prairie School Tradition (Whitney; 1979).


SDR

Jeff Myers
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Post by Jeff Myers »

very interesting design, even the perforated detail, or is that nailhead trim?
I am very interested at the chair that looks like the Mossberg and ASB Chair fused design. These designs are just pure beauty and detail.
One more drawing comes into play, here -- a view (identical in perspective to the C3 chair) with remarkable similarities to its front
quarters but with a different back and projecting arms. This isn't a cube chair at all, yet it clearly belongs with the other design,
with its panel, banks of spindles, and six slab legs. This drawing has been given a modern Taliesin catalog number in black ink --
0519.001, dating to 1905 -- fully a decade earlier than the ASBH work. Can this be right ?
Image
Last edited by Jeff Myers on Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
JAT
Jeff T

SDR
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Location: San Francisco

Post by SDR »

Perhaps you're seeing the interior upholstery ? The pattern comes closer to orthodox Arts and Crafts fabric work than anything Wright ever drew, I think. I'll be interested to see how that part of the project is handled. Will table and chair scarfs be made ?

A note on the 0519.001 drawing (in Wright's hand, I'd say) reads "Same stuff as cushions" -- meaning fabric. There may be indication of fabric on the C3 drawing as well, so I've included an option for a removable fabric-wrapped panel in place of the fixed walnut one. Another option (admittedly quite minor) is shown on sheet 2, the side elevation: mitered or butted corners to the panel frame. Anyone ?

The second (dashed) crossbeam indicated on sheet 3 (the side section) is there if Stafford chooses 1/2" instead of 3/4" ply for the seat panel. Of course I will provide him with sheets titled and dimensioned; I've omitted numbers here at the behest of the copyright holder . . .

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I have no information yet on where 0519.001 comes from. Stafford provided it to me. It seems hard to believe that it's as early as 1905 -- and the coincidence of perspective viewpoint (compare it to C3 -- I've placed them near each other, above) is surely not accidental. Yes, the Mossberg chair is there, in prototype. There may be other "siblings" as well . . . ?

SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

It is certainly not an enviable task, attempting to make sense of so many conflicting inaccuracies in the drawings. But you have done a fine job of interpretation! Anyway, the chair will be a sight to behold if and when it is realized...

One thing doesn't add up for me (maybe you have addressed this in your text, which I have not yet fully digested): I don't understand the asymmetrical placement of the rear spindles, resulting in the need for one on the right side being cut at an angle while the left rear is treated differently. (See plan #1) Is there a precedent for something like this?

Am I misreading the drawing?

The slight upward sloping of the bottom rail which you questioned surely is another example of mistaken perspective. Your conclusion seems correct there.
Last edited by peterm on Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Sorry -- that's a drafting shortcut, where I show two options on the same sheet. The dashed centerline and the other asymmetrical features of the drawing would encourage the viewer to reach that conclusion -- but it should be indicated in a note.

SDR
Last edited by SDR on Wed Feb 20, 2013 12:47 am, edited 2 times in total.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

I see; and now I notice the different possibilities for the construction of the sides...

Am I correct in reading the dimensions 4" in two spots in your enlargement of the original plan?

SDR
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Post by SDR »

As an off-the-board pin, or an arc attached to the edge of the board, no doubt enabled the drafter to easily maintain the left-hand vanishing point while making the drawing -- so it's hard to explain the wandering of three left-VP elements (the table stretcher, and the seat lip and the bottom rail of the chair). In addition, the bottom of the row of table spindles -- vanishing to the right -- is also an errant line.

I expect this is an inked drawing. It would have been laid out in pencil, then inked as a second step. It may be that the drafter (or the designer, if not the same person) made a last-minute adjustment to those elements, or forgot to ink them, when the drawing was already removed from the perspective board. In that case, the remaining lines were drawn with a small straight-edge, freehand.

The bottoms of the two left-hand table legs have lines which are overdrawn. This is never seen in finished ink-work -- unless the drafter is in a terrific rush. Thats's my guesstimate for the errors in this work.

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Do you mean in this image ? I don't see the fours . . .

Image

SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Yes... maybe the resolution on my iPad is poor... but I see something (written?) near the right rear corner on the top of the arm, and something else on the left rear of the chair, but that is possibly just an indication of the fabric piece...

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Well, there are two objects that could be read as 4s -- but they're not really located in places where they would make sense as dimension indications, I think, so I would say it's coincidental. On the other hand, 4" did turn out to be the number for the width of the arm.

Arriving at the overall dimensions began with the height -- we know the height of the accompanying table -- and then determining the proportion of the side elevation from the perspective view. The width was then determined by the overhead view. The dimension of spindles shown in the drawing was compared to existing spindles elsewhere in the house. It also helped to know that Wright seems not to have preferred to see spaces between spindles exceed the dimension of the spindles themselves.

Then there was the troubling placement of the rear leg -- too far inboard from the rear to suggest "lean-back" stability. I feel fortunate to have been able to "drag this one out of the fire" ! Some nice things happened, numerically, as the work progressed. I really did only one version of the plan, once I had the overall numbers -- well, one-and-a-half . . .

SDR

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