Pretzel Armchairs by Norman Cherner for Plycraft
A rare set of four Rockwell II armchairs by Plycraft in the original ebonized finish. Norman Cherner design, but attributed to "Lou App" on the label.
Please see our other listing for a matching pair of rare barstools by Plycraft.
Abstracted from the article by Anna Hoffman, Apartment Therapy, September 19, 2012:
Norman Cherner is an unsung hero of mid-century design, an innovator in plywood and in affordable design. And the story of his most famous design is a dramatic tale of innovation, betrayal and, ultimately, of justice.
Norman Cherner was an American architect and designer. He studied and taught at Columbia University, and was an instructor at MoMA in the late 1940s. There, he became steeped in the MoMA-favored Bauhaus approach.
Cherner was determined to make affordable design a reality. He created a prototype for prefabricated housing. He published books on the subject of affordable design throughout the 1950s.
But it was the plywood chair that Cherner is best known for, and the story of its creation is fascinating.
In the 1950s, the Herman Miller company, led by George Nelson, was working on creating lightweight chairs out of plywood. Their Pretzel chair was designed by Nelson's office in 1952 and produced by a Massachusetts-based company called Plycraft. The Pretzel chair proved too fragile and costly, so Herman Miller stopped production in 1957.
But because of the Pretzel chair, Plycraft had the materials and techniques for constructing plywood furniture, and they didn't want them to go to waste. George Nelson recommended that Norman Cherner design a sturdier and more affordable Pretzel-type chair that could be more easily produced on Plycraft's equipment, so Paul Goldman, the owner of Plycraft, hired Cherner. After Cherner turned in his design to Plycraft, though, he was told the project had been scrapped.
Not long after, Cherner was in a furniture showroom in New York and saw his design for sale! Examining the label, he saw it was from Plycraft and was attributed to "Bernardo." He sued Plycraft in 1961 and won; Goldman admitted that Bernardo was a fabricated name. Plycraft continued to produce Cherner's chair, but Cherner received royalties and proper credit. The chair was produced until the 1970s.
The story continues:
Some years later, Goldman tweaked the design to make the chair even sturdier and began to produce it again. He called it the Rockwell chair, because Norman Rockwell had featured it on a 1961 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The label indicated the chair was designed by "Lou App," which was simply Goldman's first name spelled backwards. Plycraft, the company he founded in Lawrence, MA in 1953, produced furniture until 1993 when Goldman was sued by the EPA for environmental negligence. He paid a $15,000 fine and took out a full page apology in local papers. A year later, the Plycraft building at 139 Canal Street was consumed in a fire. Goldman died in 2003 at the age of 91.
The chair designed by Norman Cherner for Plycraft in 1958 is found in design collections throughout the world, including the Vitra Design Museum. Today, it is manufactured from the original drawings, molds and specifications by Cherner Chair, a Cherner family company headed by the designer's sons. "The Cherner Chair is still regarded as one of the most dramatic designs utilizing the technology of molding plywood. Like the 1958 original, the Cherner armchair utilizes a molded plywood beech core seat with a unique construction of laminated plywood in graduated thickness with face veneers in beech or walnut. The graceful and sweeping arms are made of solid beech which gives the chair additional strength and beauty."
Additional Condition Notes:
Good. Unless otherwise noted, wear consistent with age and use.
21" (53.34cm) D x 26" (66.04cm) W x 30.5" (77.47cm) H; Seat 18" (45.72cm) H