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R.I.P. bent plywood

blame it on aalto, or even charles and ray, but bent plywood is everywhere and it has to be stopped.

admittedly, i'm the world's biggest hypocrite because, for the last year and a half, i've been walking around drooling over the same stuff i'm about to demand be banned from the marketplace but i promise this is all for your own good and it won't hurt a bit.

everyone from offi to ikea has picked up on the trend that designers like the eameses started long ago and because of it we're now awash in a sea of bent plywood. the appeal was (and still is) rather obvious: clean lines, organic curves, minimal joinery and above all- minimal cost. the beauty of the movement was the way that a simple, commonplace material like plywood could be turned into spectacular furniture for a relatively inexpensive price. when aalto, the eameses and thonet first set out to explore this medium, i doubt they could have imagined the way it would eventually dominate and control the mass market like it does now. bent plywood seems to have become the default material and style that any designer can use to appeal to the current market (both high and low end).

the origins of the bent plywood movement belie what it has become- an aesthetic juggernaut that allows bent plywood sculptures from the eameses studio to sell for $130,000 at auctions. so, all good things must come to an end so, bent plywood, despite your pleasing minimalist curves and sturdy, simplistic construction, i must say goodbye to you and make way for new trends, new ideas and new creativity.

it's hard to say where exactly this new inspiration will come from or in what direction it will move, but you can always be sure the end of one movement sparks the beginning of another- so this time, i'm hedging my bets on felt. i know, sounds crazy (and so do these people), but the emergence of heavy-duty, high quality felt in the design world makes me smile, for it too is based on the same values the disciples of bent plywood held so dear- inexpensive, familiar materials used in uncomlicated ways to create beautiful designs.

IN THE BEGINNING [no. 41 chair*aalto] along with the eames, aalto flipped the switch... and there was bent plywood.

BENT SWEDES [lagfors*ikea] i'm sure it means something in swedish, but really, could they try a little bit harder to pick names that rolled off the tongue more easily?

THE EX [mag table*offi design] i used to want one of these for every corner of my house. sadly, i've given up the dream in hopes that a new design trend will occupy my obsessive mind

THE FUTURE OF FELT [the felt up chair*blu dot] it may not be comfortable looking, or comfortable at all, but neither was bent plywood. besides, felt is just so cool. but don't get me started on the orange and grey thing....eesh



Blogger {m} said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:45 PM  
Blogger {m} said...

(gee, can't even press the right key!) so I was saying--- that's a very interesting observation! the IKEA POANG bentwood chair is very comfy though ...

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, so pervasiveness correlates to failure, barring, you know, examples? Does that mean we can look forward to the winnowing of williamsburg hipsters from our midst soon? (I don't want a blogger account, but I also didn't mean to be anonymous -- Miss R)

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do u clean it?

5:31 AM  
Blogger design*sponge said...

miss r-

thanks for your comment, i understand and agree that perhaps my argument was a bit weaker than i had realized. i received an email from bryan after i posted this also wondering whether or not pervasiveness meant death. my clarifications are as such: my "death" of plywood meant this (which i agree, could have been elaborated on in my article...): when designers fail to push a medium further, expand it's creative possibilities and make real innovations with it- it's dead. the pervasiveness of bent ply IN ITS CURRENT FORM is key- you aren't seeing bent ply everwhere that is making any creative or technological breakthroughs- it's the same damn style no matter what form its in. my examples were pieces from ikea, offi and i can even now add target. these pieces aren't doing anything to push the bent ply medium forward, therefore, i think it's dead. as bryan pointed out (thanks again to bryan for his wonderful informative email and insight from a design school perspective), design schools have given up on bent ply (but not ply) as a medium and felt seems to be the way of the future. because of this, and the fact that all the bent ply on the horizon (about which i have a better than average knowledge, as i work in the furniture industry) is the same. so yes, to some degree, pervasiveness PLUS lack of ingenuity EQUALS death. and yes, i think the hipster is nearing death. it's not reached its saturation point, but is near. there are still strains that represent real creative culture, but for the most part no, when that dies out, so will the hipster.

again, thanks for your comments miss r. much appreciated.


9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, Grace, you I'm still not clear on why pervasiveness of items that were initially innovative is a bad thing. I think it's appropriate that Crate and Barrel still carries the Aalto vase. The cycle from innovation to production to commidity isn't inherently bad, provided the commodity item reflects the spirit of the design and is well made. DWR is founded on the principal that we are not bound by faddish declarations of 'in' and 'out', but should embrace design quality mostly in absence of such considerations. Unless of course you do believe Bedford Avenue is the center of the world, and then you can tie yourself up in knots about what sneakers to wear. Me, I want to wear well designed sneakers, regardless of fashionability. If 'in' and 'out' is more important than a sense of critical rigor regarding when a particular piece fails and when one succeeds, then your opinion should only be taken in the context of concern about what a narrow subset of consumers (who likely don't even consume all that much) thinks is 'cool' at a very precise, and ultimately useless, point in time. Do you mean to say that if you came into my apartment and saw the Eames plywood lounge chair, you would sniff 'Oh, so over'. And then if I told you if came from a friend who had been given it by Phillip Johnson, and yes, it spent years in his New Canaan house, and may be one of the original prototypes, would you have a different opinion than if I had purchased it from DWR last week? And if so, why? How would you differentiate between the two without my claim? -- Miss R

3:25 PM  
Blogger design*sponge said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:14 PM  
Blogger design*sponge said...

miss r- i fear we've come to an impass. perhaps my article was vague on the issues that seem to concern you. my only addendum is this: i have no problem with the origins of bent ply. i think it was a wonderful movement and i even devoted a section of the article to it. i only have a problem with the proliferation of bent ply designs that lack creativity or innovation, which is what i feel the market is full of. i have no problems with repos or knock offs of classic designs- those designs were beautiful and i would never walk around proclaming such classic pieces "in" or "out". oh, and congratulations on your eames chair, it's quite a lovely piece.

i feel my argument is rather clear and i guess that's all i can say. i think we'll just have to agree to disagree, which is the beauty of this medium- we can communicate our opinions and explain ourselves to one another all the while altering and strenghthening our own thoughts, which is a wonderful learning process. so thank you again, i appreciate the spirited debate on bent ply. in closing, i'll have to refer to the words of the great steve harvey, "these are my opinions, therefore they are the right ones."

before i go, i wanted to add one more note- the only reason i discuss williamsburg frequently (although note, i didn't discuss it in the bent ply piece) is because i live there. writers write about what they know best and so, quite simply, i cover that area because it's what i see the most and know the best. so, my apologies if it feels threatening that i discuss the neighborhood frequently.

in the meantime i'll be here- tying myself into knots about what sneakers to wear,


9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grace: if your concerns are about quality of design as it degrades a particular approach, I think taking direct action against your neighbors while sneaker shopping might produces better results. If you tell them all to 'move on' we'll have wait another two years to figure who these losers are again. The innovators will always innovate, but if you keep quiet about the bent ply, the also-rans will conveniently collect there and if it's not an Eames chair, we will be able to tell at a glance what the shitty designers will be doing, because they will all continue doing bent ply. So, shhhhh. Don't disturb them; they're exactly where we want them. -Miss R

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They can be ordered at Personal Interior Design http://www.pid.se

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey..i think your chair is really awesome. was it on the oprah winfrey show? the reason for my asking is that i am a 17 year old, independently working clothing designer. i have been working on a clothing line for about 2 years now, and i thought that i had came up with the perfect name for it, because my designs are constructed from felt. the name i wanted for the company is Felt Up. i know i know.. i thought i was such a genious, for 2 years, i made hand stitched tags sporting the name and then i found out today that the name had been taken. i was crushed.. actually i still am crushed. im just curious- do you have a pattend for this name? or any copyrights? you dont understand.. this is my dream and ive worked so so so hard on all of my hand stitched, hand cut shapes and images from felt, and i planned on going to college to have a major in business and also take numerous fashion and art courses, just so that i could persue my goal of opening the store of my dreams: Felt Up.
and so, it would be much appreciated if you were to send me an e-mail on any copyrights you might have to this name.
i truely wish you luck in your business though. you and i both share a love or felt that no one else can understand, and i hope that you go far in life with all of your creative and stylish ideas.
+cody copeland

my email address is copeland850@earthlink.net

1:39 AM  

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