Chair, R152 Contour Chair, plywood / fibre horsehair / wadding / rubber / hardwood / calf skin, designed by Grant Featherston, Melbourne, c. 1951
The R.152 was the first of the highly successful Contour range of furniture developed by Grant Featherston in the early 1950s. The range included tables and cabinet furniture as well as a variety of chairs and an elegant chaise longue. All chairs utilised the same construction principle as the R152, though few were upholstered in calfskin.
One of the new wave of Australian designers to emerge in the immediate post-war years, Grant Featherston (1922-1995) designed his first chair in 1947. In the early 1950s he developed the now famous 'Contour' range of chairs. First launched in 1951, the 'Contour' was an immediate success, its innovative plywood shell formed using a process that Featherston developed himself in the absence of suitable plywood bending technology locally. In 1957 Featherston was appointed consultant designer to Aristoc Industries, a Melbourne manufacturer of metal furniture. This highly fruitful collaboration resulted in the production of a variety of chairs including the 'Mitzi' (1957), 'Scape' (1960), the 'Expo 67 talking chair' and the 'Stem' chair of 1969.
In 1966 Featherston formed a partnership with his wife Mary Featherston (nee Curry, born England 1943), an interior designer who had studied at RMIT. Their 'Expo 67' chair, with its polystyrene shell, was only the beginning of a run of chairs that, in the spirit of the times, explored the limitless possibilities of plastics in the creation of innovative seating forms:
' ... the integrated one-piece plastic chair [represented] ... the pinnacle of the furniture designer's aspirations. Plastics and moulding technology expresses the synergetic challenge most eloquently. No other material so inherently speaks of body and process, offering a 'negative' of the human body.'
(Grant Featherston, 'Design reflections', In Future, no 4, Feb-March 1987. Quoted in Terence Lane, Featherston Chairs, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1988, p12)
The rotation-moulded, polyethylene 'Stem' chair took 18 months to reach production stage and was one of the most technologically sophisticated chairs ever made in Australia. It, and other innovative designs by the Featherstons helped expand the technological capabilities of local furniture manufacturers at a time when there viability was constantly under threat from foreign imports.
The Featherstons' efforts to keep the local industry competitive while supplying the market with chairs that were technologically and stylistically equal to overseas examples resulted in an important body of work that has significantly enriched Australia's design history.
Designed by Grant Featherston [1922-1995], as part of the Contour series, 1951-1955. Patent application for the R.152 lodged in May 1951.
Marks on underside state that the chair was manufactured by Grant Featherston, 1 Alfred Plaza, South Melbourne.
Grant Featherston explained that he had wanted to make a chair that would be a 'negative' of the human body. Overseas moulded plywood was used but the cost of importing the large presses required for the process was prohibitive. Featherston sought another method and spent a good deal of time and materials seeking a solution. One morning when communting to Melbourne he absent-mindedly twisted and folded his tram ticket and the resulting shape led him the solution! Featherston found that by sawing pieces of plywood to the right size and shape from a flat piece of plywood, the sheet could be bent into a form fitting shape, and that by curving and joining with other pieces of shaped ply the desired chair shell could be shaped and made incredibly strong.