Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Adulterated Icon

Our Journey to Make the Bertoia Chair Comfy

Jeremy and I live in an apartment. We also live with furniture that has historical design significance. We have three Bertoia chairs around our dining table. These chairs are the real deal. These are not high quality knock offs from IKEA.

We are regular, middle class people. You may wonder how we came to own these three extremely expensive furnishings. If I were you, I would wonder about this. I'd be scratching my head about it now.

About 25 years ago, plus or minus, Jeremy and I were working as freelance still life photographers. One day, someone from Knoll contacted Jeremy to see if he was available to do a photo shoot for them. They did not have much of a photography budget to offer, but the client was able to sweeten the deal. If Jeremy would do the job for a relatively low fee, he'd throw in a couple thousands dollars of wholesale shopping money from Knoll.

Furniture from Knoll won't pay the rent. Furniture from Knoll won't pay the electric bill. Furniture from Knoll will not be accepted at the Health Food store In Park Slope. It could be a challenge at times to pay for these things.

Jeremy accepted the job anyway. He wasn’t turning away a more lucrative job to do it because no one else was inquiring at the time. It was also an artistic project. In the professional photography parlance of the 1990s, it would be good for his portfolio.

A beautiful portfolio that includes photographs of Knoll items could open a lot of doors. The implication was that this could elevate one's cache. That would hopefully translate to money that would later be used to pay the rent and the electric bill, along with food and an occasional dinner out thrown into the mix.

Jeremy shot the job. We selected the three Bertoia chairs. We did not select four chairs because that would have exceeded our Knoll shopping budget. Besides, at the time we had a table that was pushed right up against a wall in our kitchen. Three chairs looked perfect.

We selected some gorgeous, muted green seat covers from swatches provided by Knoll. All in all, we were happy with this infusion of high design.

Fast forward to last week. The mid-century modern table, circa 1961 that my mother gave me after she re-did her kitchen has been returned from the re-finishers. It has been beautifully transformed. The Bertoia chairs look very apropos. Unlike the table pre-refinishing, the chairs look as new as the day we got them.

The same could not be said for the seat cushions. Three children, hundreds of meals, approximately 50 birthday parties, crumbs and spillage happened. Next to the table and the freshly painted walls, the seat covers looked depressing.

I set out to research my online options. I could buy authentic seat cushions in red from Hive for $175.00 each. I could buy authentic seat cushions on EBay or Etsy. I could buy brand new made to order seat cushions in an array of color options from a guy who makes them but has no affiliation with Knoll for $99.00 each. I started to lean toward this option.

Then my smart brain reminded me of something. The Bertoia chairs are exquisite. The Bertoia chairs are valuable. The Bertoia chairs are historic. The Bertoia chairs are extremely uncomfortable.

The chairs are made of metal. On top of the metal seat is an incredibly designed, perfectly aesthetic seat cushion. It is artful. But it is very flimsy. Not in a falling apart kind of way. Lord, knows, it lasted all this time. It is so beautiful that you almost don't notice that there's almost nothing between your ass and all that metal.

For the longest time, I thought it was just me. Unfortunately, I have a bony ass.

But after having a little bit of a family meeting about the Bertoia seat covers I learned that Jeremy and Hannah also found the chairs uncomfortable. Noah has always refused to sit in the chairs. However, I didn't think much about it because for the longest time he didn’t want to sit down in any chair.

Our consensus was this. We all wanted to be comfortable sitting at the table. No one wanted to admit we were uncomfortable previously. But now we were working hard to make our apartment a comfortable place for everyone. I was not willing to spend $99 dollars or more to preserve the integrity of the Bertoia chairs. It was time to acknowledge that Harry Bertoia designed uncomfortable chairs. It was time to acknowledge that we are not living in a museum.

The next day, Jeremy went with Hannah to IKEA to purchase some inexpensive knock off mid-century furnishing to match our authentic mid-century furnishings and other IKEA mid -century knock offs. He took one of the Bertoia chair set covers with him as a reference in case he found something good.

As it turns out, he found something very good. The seat cushion is named Malinda. This seat cushion is the opposite of the one designed to fit the chair.

The Malinda is cushy. It is cozy. It is several inches thick. That's a lot of cushion between you and the metal. The Malinda is not just thicker. It's also bigger around. A normally sized individual can sit in our Bertoia chairs without encountering any sharp, metallic sensations.

There would have been another way to go with seat cushions that would be comfier while respecting the lines of the chair. I could have hired someone to custom make us cushions according to both aesthetic and ass loving specifications. However, for me, this would be less fun than simply going to IKEA and purchasing the Malinda. And much more expensive. Which brings us to the next subject.

The Malinda is economical. The price used to be $4.99. Recently, it dropped to $4.49. By openly admitting that Harry Bertoia designed a terribly uncomfortable chair, we saved approximately 93.00 per seat cushion. By admitting that I did not want to hire someone to make us seat cushions, we saved some unknown but not insignificant amount of money.

The Malinda is machine washable. I washed our Bertoia seat cushions in the sink. Machine washable is always better. This is a household on a first name basis with OxyClean. OxyClean is a verb in this household.

Finally, the Malinda is colonial. Not literally colonial. But it has colonial references. Colonial is the opposite of modernist. I enjoyed putting a colonial inspired cushion on the modernist furniture. I even like the way the cushion does not follow the lines of the chair. In a way, it disrespects the lines of the chair. If it followed the lines of the chair, it would be much less comfortable.

While Jeremy was doing complex IKEA assembly, I busied myself with the easier IKEA related tasks. I took duvets from space bag type wrappings and installed duvet covers. I installed the new chair pads. I sat down in a Bertoia chair, declared it extremely comfortable, and watched my day-to-day life improve.

We selected a 4th dining chair from IKEA. It doesn't match the Bertoia chairs, but it works nicely as a grouping. Jeremy did not buy a seat cover for it. IKEA does not have anything available that would fit.

I thought about the idea of getting an authentic modernist seat cushion to fit the new chair. The new chair is made of smooth wood and is not nearly as uncomfortable as the Bertoia chair with the modernist seat cushion. In the end, $99.00 is too big a chunk of change to spend on a $39.00 chair, even if it is called Vilmar.

Back to the drawing board for me. I'll find something. I always do.

Our newly comfortable Bertoia chair.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wading In

I've said this before. I'm a very consistent and disciplined person. I wrote a blog post about it called I'm Consistent. I also wrote another blog post related to consistency and sameness called Every Day, No Matter What.

This quality is a good thing when you want to accomplish things, establish a routine and get stuff done. There is a flip side to it. Sometimes all of this discipline can start to weigh on you. It can feel more rigid than what is called for. I've noticed this and I am working on it.

Recently, my family and I embarked on a major renovation of our apartment. It isn’t completely finished. It's a process.

That said, the major elements are behind us. The paint job is done. Most of the furniture is in place. Everyone has their own bedroom.

An apartment renovation takes a lot of planning. During the research, design and early packing phases, I kept on blogging. I kept on blogging while collecting estimates, getting people's insurance certificates in order, talking to re-finishers, taking trips to the Salvation Army and going to our new storage unit facility. I kept on blogging when our apartment got emptier and emptier as we packed, gave away, threw away or re-purposed most of our belongings. Sometimes I blogged about these activities.

There is a time to push through and stay the course. There is a time to change course. I recognized when it was time to change course with my blogging. When things shifted from spending some time most days packing to almost all time every day packing, I started to post my blog once a week rather than the usual twice.  When it was time for our family to vacate our apartment and the paint job to start I began blogging zero times a week.

Initially, I thought I'd start blogging again once our family got settled in at my sister in law's house. But once that happened, I realized that all of my mental energy was taken up. This is understandable. I was unusually tired. I would check in with the painters while they were working. Watching them scrape, prime, plaster and paint brought on a fatigue that was hard to negotiate with. You would think I was doing the work myself.

There were other things going on too numerous to mention now. There was a lot of adjusting. There was unprecedented novelty and surprise. Most of it was good novelty and surprise. But I still needed to process it. This turned out to be quite the big job.

I put my blog on hiatus.

For a while, things were so busy, variable and utterly out of the ordinary that blogging did not come up as an option. Whenever I thought about it, it would sound like this. I'll start writing when I feel more settled. I'll start writing after I feel more like myself. I'll start writing after the furniture comes back from the re-finishers. I'll start writing once I know what my bed will look like.

On Tuesday, the newly beautified and restored dining table and desk came back to a radically different home than they left from. On Wednesday, I established a reasonable prediction of what my bed will look like after ordering linens, shams and throw pillows online and on sale.

I wrote this on Thursday. The re-finishers have indeed finished. The bed is planned. I feel nominally more settled, but still feel like I'm getting used to things in a basic way. I feel like myself, but somehow altered. My life has changed more than I anticipated.

Having met half of my criteria for blogging again, I am blogging again. Two of the four criteria are rather concrete. Two of the four are not. This unsettled and altered feeling is something without a clear ending and may in fact be something I learn to live with. I decided it was not something to be checked off as much as it is something to be accommodated.

I planned to blog. That is what I am doing.

I’m not doing a cannonball and jumping into the lake. I'm putting in one toe.

I am tentative. I did not expect to feel tentative about working on my blog. I didn't feel tentative about it before the renovation. Now that the renovation has happened everything is both more orderly and also more askew. Instead of waiting until I felt less tentative and on firmer ground, I just went ahead.

So what if I'm tentative? It's not the end of the world. Just like there are much bigger stressors than home renovation, there are much bigger challenges to writing and being creative than feeling a bit tentative. Home renovation is a bigger challenge to writing and being creative than feeling tentative.

My apartment and neighborhood are the same. My family and children are the same. When I wake up in the morning I'm in a different room than I used to be with different things to look at. My life hasn't really changed but the landscape of it has. Things that used to be lying around on tables and desks have designated spots. Suddenly there's room for music and books.

Today, I make my collage at my daughter's desk while she is in school. Last time I did this it was at the dining room table. I put a large book under my work to protect the desk from glue and marks. The scotch tape is still packed so I use tiny pieces of masking tape to gently flatten my finished collage. Previously, I photographed my finished pieces on top of the base of our treadmill. There's no room in our current layout for it, so we reluctantly got rid of it. It was the right choice.

I bring this new collage to my bed, which is next to a bank of windows. I move it this way and that to take advantage of the ample natural light while eliminating unsightly shadows. Satisfied, I take the picture. It really is a lovely spot.