Chris Connell’s Gallery Chair for Schiavello was made specifically to meet the needs of one of the biggest-ever art events in Australia. And now it’s an award winner.
31 August, 2018
How did the Gallery Chair come about? Last year, one of the biggest art programs in Australian history kicked off at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. The NGV Triennial featured works from over 100 artists and designers from over 32 countries – from a room filled with monolithic skulls by Australian-English artist Ron Mueck, to a woven wool rug landscape by Argentinian-based Alexandra Kehayoglou, to a series of anime-inspired chairs by legendary Japanese design firm, nendo.
Naturally, an event that celebrated design on such a high level needed a chair that was… not just any chair. The concurrent program of talks and events that ran throughout the Triennial required a chair that would reflect the values and aesthetic of its home at the gallery. The NGV initially approached Schiavello to recommend an iconic Australian designer to create an iconic Australian chair for them, and in turn, Schiavello commissioned Melbourne-based furniture and interior designer Chris Connell to fill the brief.
Connell is a veteran of the Australian furniture industry, with over 30 years’ experience in the architecture, interior design and product design industries. In the late 1980s, he co-founded his own award-winning practice, Chris Connell Design, to combine these disciplines. Around the same time, he also co-founded MAP International furniture, under which he still works.
Having grown up in Melbourne, Connell was also intimate with the architecture and work of the gallery – something that immediately drew him to the commission. “I’ve loved the NGV ever since I was a young boy – I used to lie on the ground for hours looking up at the Leonard French-stained glass ceiling in the Great Hall, so the chair’s design process was both organic and enjoyable,” Chris explains.
“The Great Hall’s architecture and glass fragments were key to my creative process,” he says. “I wanted a chair that was strong and light, fine and elegant – it had to be timeless and classic and never take away from what makes the NGV.”
The resulting chair, called the Gallery Chair, has that particular gift of being able to blend into the look and feel of its surroundings while adding something new in its own right. (Although Connell himself might balk at that interpretation. “I’d hate it if anyone ever actually commented on the chairs,” he says. “I wanted them to be part of the experience and meld into the overall look, feel and holistic experience of the gallery.”)
Specifically, the Gallery Chair takes its cues from the metal columns that support the ceiling of the Great Hall. A large and conspicuous element of the Hall’s architecture, they are nonetheless slender, tapered and refined. This aesthetic sensibility is reflected in the Gallery Chair, which consists of a slim lumber support backrest with a removable polyester-blend upholstery jacket. Referencing the elegant split lines of the columns, the peeled out geometric form of the backrest is finished with a Y-shaped stitch detail. All of this sits on a high carbon steel frame and nylon mesh seat, both of which respond to the user’s body weight while encouraging an upright posture – crucial when considering its intended use within conference and function settings.
Considering its high use, the Gallery Chair needed to be both durable and low-maintenance. The high-performance upholstery has a Martindale rub rating of 80,000, while the removable aspect of the jacket means that the gallery can easily wash and maintain the chair between uses. They are also designed with the ability to be stacked eight chairs freestanding and 20 chairs to a trolley, with their lightweight construction reducing risk to service staff.
By combining contextually referential design with high function and economic value, Chris Connell’s Gallery Chair for Schiavello brings all the makings of a classic piece to a design that is entirely catered to the NGV’s needs – for the grand scale of the Triennial and beyond.
“The Gallery Chair is a very elegant design solution. In an open space, the acoustic properties of the fabric bring an added solution to an auditorium, theatre, workshop scenario and the tight and tidy stacking is well resolved. Designing chairs that need to be stacked is a challenging task and the Gallery Chair just nails it. As an upholstered chair it looks graceful and contemporary. Removable covers take care of the cleaning and the upholstered versions help acoustic issues in harder edged venues. Well done.” – Good Design Awards 2018 Jury.
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