THE ICONIC PRETZEL CHAIR (AND THE WHOLE SCANDALOUS BACK STORY)

So if you follow my instagram feed maybe you picked up on my current debate with myself about buying a set of pretzel chairs that I found recently in one of my usual junk store haunts.  I'm still totally going back and forth on this and haven't made a decision yet!!  

I did find out that the chairs are not the mid-century originals I thought they were, and looking into it has sent me way, way down the rabbit hole ... turns out there's a whole scandalous back story to the iconic pretzel chair.  There were a number of versions made by a number of different designers and hence this chair is quite often confused with other versions and mistakenly attributed to the wrong designer and even the wrong decade!

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So here's the story ...

The first pretzel chair was inspired the classic bentwood designs of Thonet, and was designed in 1952 by George Nelson for Herman Miller and it is truly a study in beauty and simplicity.  


George Nelson
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Nelson's pretzel chair was fragile though, and costly to produce, so it was only made by furniture manufacturer Plycraft for a short time before Herman Miller sacked the project.  They are rare and highly prized by collectors now.

But the Plycraft factory was now all tooled up to construct bent plywood furniture and they wanted to continue experimenting with it, so they hired designer Norman Cherner to design a different, sturdier version of the original pretzel chair (with George Nelson's blessing ... he was in fact the one who recommended Cherner to Plycraft.)  And so the Cherner pretzel chair was born ...

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Not without a bit of scandal though.  When Cherner originally submitted his designs to Paul Goldman, the owner of Plycraft, he was told that the project had been abandoned.  Soon after he spied his exact chairs in a furniture showroom with a Plycraft label saying they were designed by "Bernardo."  He sued Goldman and Plycraft who admitted that "Bernardo" was a fictitious name, and Cherner won the rights to royalties and the correct attribution of his pretzel chair design.

Cherner's pretzel chair remains one of the most lovely, sculptural, iconic chairs in mid-century design.

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Norman Cherner
But the saga continues!  Plycraft made yet another version of the pretzel chairs in the 1980s, this time re-imagined by a designer named Lou App.  These are the ones that I happened upon and am having a fierce debate with myself buying.  It's a slightly less elegant version in my opinion, thicker at the base of the chair back to make it stronger (a weak spot for the Cherner chairs) and with more bowing at legs.


As far as I can tell the Cherner mid-century chairs were made a couple different ways, both with and without the thin padded seat and back cushions.  The 80's Lou App version seems to have only been made with padded seats and backs. 

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And here they are in a seriously 80s color scheme for ya ...

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So that's whole long story!  All that is why you'll sometimes find pretzel chairs attributed to Cherner, sometimes mis-attributed to the dubious "Bernardo," sometimes even to Goldman, and sometimes to Lou App.  At times you'll see them just called Plycraft pretzel chairs (which could mean anything, as we now know!)  

Vintage Cherner chairs fetch $800-1200 apiece, and in the past decade his sons re-licensed his designs so you can buy sanctioned reproductions at stores like Design Within Reach for $2000 a pop.  Of course you can also get inexpensive knock-offs for around $400.  

It seems that almost nobody knows about the Lou App version, so they regularly show up on ebay and 1st Dibs attributed as original Cherners and fetch the same price because of the confusion.  The set I found is selling for $425 apiece and I would have to refinish them for about $100 each.  They currently have a scratched up black finish with black vinyl padding.  I kind of like the walnut with white leather combo that's pictured up above and I'd consider going in that direction ... or a warm danish wood tone with caramel leather ... or ...?

So what do you think!?  While it's not quite as pretty as the Cherner chair, and certainly not as elegant as the Nelson chair, it's still a really sculptural and beautiful chair, don't you think?  What would YOU do?  Help me out of my design decision inertia!

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6 comments:

leroyce said...

Buy them!!

Erin @ Suburban Bitches said...

I would buy them. You'll probably regret it if you don't and if you can't use them in your own house I'm sure they would fit into a client's house. Or send them to me- I love to hoard midcentury chairs!

Linda@ Lime in the Coconut said...

Hmmmm. Now that you have told their whole story, Buy em! They are rightfully yours 80's or not!

KKButler said...

Hi Rosa, my advice is that if you love them, get them! I found myself recently agonizing over a vintage brass and glass coffee table purchase, and I was getting hung up on the right manufacturer...but in the end, I went with a table that felt right...it was the right scale, dimensions, and I love it. If the lines and the look of the chairs are special to you, then forget about who made them! Hope you enjoy, Kelly

Carin Goldstein said...

Buy them...it's a given that you'll make them even more fabulous looking :)

Rosa said...

Thanks for nudging everyone! I'm going back to the shop this week to see if they're still there. If they are, it's meant to be :)

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