Aluminium chairs tie into everything that's current in interiors. They convey a nostalgic sensibility while being resoundingly modern. They're also environmentally friendly and built to last - buy one and chances are it will still be in the family three generations hence. And given some have been designed by luminaries such as Philippe Starck and Frank Gehry, as well as Charles and Ray Eames, their hip quotient is hotter than ever.
Pennsylvania-based Emeco (www.emeco.net), a maker of aluminium furniture with design deals with Starck and Gehry, is among companies that have noted skyrocketing sales. At the recent Milan furniture fair, Emeco unveiled its latest style, Icon (below left; US$350), designed by Starck, who said of the linear piece, which has a gaping back and no armrests: 'When I close my eyes, this is the chair I see.'
Much of the material's current cachet can be attributed to the Eames duo, who designed an aluminium chair in 1958 that is still selling today, at about US$3,000. The couple, who were based in Venice, California, designed the chair at the behest of architects Alexander Girard and Eero Saarinen. Although it was built for outdoor use, many recent models are for inside; Starck's versions can be seen in trendy Parisian restaurants as well as homes and offices around the world.
depot.com, aluminium is combined with wicker for colourful armchairs, swivel barstools and dining chairs.
Barcelona designer Jorge Pensi does a line of furniture in aluminium and stainless steel; his Toledo chair, created in 1988, is considered another design classic because it is a cafe-style chair made of cast aluminium. Its sections are joined by tubular arms and legs. Like the Emeco products, it is a
top seller at Unica Home, in Las Vegas.
Caleb McKee, contract sales manager at Unica, which sells Starck's Kong aluminium series (barstool; right), says, 'People buy aluminium chairs because they are such a classic design and they've been around for so long.'
Their functionality is also a big plus: the Gehry-designed Superlight chair, made from anodised aluminium, weighs only 3kg yet is three times stronger than steel. But whether they are made solely of aluminium or enhanced with teak, wicker, canvas or leather, the most popular chairs aren't necessarily the most recent.
'One of our bestselling chairs was designed in 1944,' says Dean Fogelson, vice-president of sales and marketing at Emeco, whose Hong Kong partner is Dentro (www.dentro.com.hk). 'It has that art-deco 1930s look. But it's about more than just a modernist revival. It goes along with that feeling that people can mix metal and wood, soft and hard, cool and warm. It's for the eclectic interior and for people who know that not everything has to be exactly the same philosophy.'