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Introducing the Bertoia Diamond Chair

By: jwilde

Diamonds are forever.

bertoia diamond chair gm design studio
Photo credit General Motors Company, LLC. Cadillac Design Studio at the GM Technical Center, Warren, Michigan. Harry Bertoia Diamond Chair.

What better way to introduce the iconic Bertoia Diamond Chair than in the setting of the General Motors Technical Center, also a marvel of modern design.

This skillfully composed (color!) photo was taken at the Cadillac Design Studio at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. The date was probably around 1954.

There is so much awesomeness captured in this photo, but I want to focus on one thing.

It's the largest object in the photo (but virtually invisible).

That chair!

Bertoia Diamond Chair History

harry bertoia history knoll
Photo credit Knoll. Harry Bertoia. Artist, sculptor, Diamond Chair designer.

The diamond chair, as it is called, was designed by Harry Bertoia and was manufactured by Knoll Inc.

Harry Bertoia was born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1915. In 1930, at the age of fifteen, he moved to Detroit, Michigan and stayed with his older brother.

Bertoia studied art and made metal jewelery. He taught metal working for a time. He then moved to California to work with Charles and Ray Eames where he designed furniture.

In 1950 Bertoia was invited to work with Hans and Florence Knoll in Pennsylvania. Florence Knoll met Harry Bertoia years before when they both attended Cranbrook Academy of Art. They offered to set Harry up in his own design studio. This is where he began working on his own furniture design using formed wire mesh.

Knoll built a strong brand by working with some of the best designers of the 20th-century such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, and of course Harry Bertoia. Florence Knoll's mantra was "Good design is good business."

Bertoia designed five wire furniture pieces and Knoll paid Bertoia handsomely for the rights to manufacture them. Knoll introduced the Diamond Chair in 1952 and began producing and selling them in 1953.

Over a half-century later...

Knoll Inc. is still in business. And Knoll still manufactures and sells the Bertoia diamond chair today.

Seriously, let this sink in. What design lasts this long?

The money Bertoia made from the design of the chairs enabled him to focus on creating sculpture, which he did for the rest of his life.

GM Technical Center

bertoia diamond chairs gm design studio madler
Photo credit General Motors Company, LLC. GM Technical Center, Warren, Michigan. Bertoia Diamond Chair. Photo by GM Styling photographer, Neil Madler.

Now, back to the GM Technical Center.

The GM Technical Center is also an amazing story. It was designed by Architect Eero Saarinen (a key player in modern architecture).

Construction began in 1949 and was completed in 1955. It was officially opened in 1956.

In 2000 the GM Technical Center was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2014 it was designated a National Historic Landmark, primarily for its architecture.

Architect Eero Saarinen (who also worked with Knoll) was no doubt responsible for choosing the furniture for the center. He also commissioned Harry Bertoia to create a sculpture to function as a partition wall in the cafeteria building. This partition wall was Harry Bertoia's first commissioned sculpture.

Summary

Today we refer to this amazing time where modernism flourished in the United States as Mid-Century Modern. But really, the foundational ideas are timeless.

Very few furniture designs survive beyond a season. The Diamond Chair is one of those few exceptions. It has been in production for over a half century!

Indeed, diamonds are forever.

Get Inspired

I hope you are inspired to look at the spaces you live and work in and explore how you can make them an expression of the things you love.

Maybe you can start with some garage inspiration!

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