Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the greatest architects of all time, and many design aficionados would do just about anything to own a piece of his work. But while you may not be able to pony up millions to own a Wright-designed home, you can now buy something else he’s designed that’s a bit smaller in scale and budget: a chair.
In 1949, Wright designed the Taliesin 1 chair for his own use, and placed them in the garden room of his home, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, AZ. The originals are still on display today in the house, which now serves as the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Wright died in 1959, and the chair based on his original design was briefly manufactured by Cassina S.p.A., from 1986 to 1990. More recently, the Italian furniture manufacturer just announced that it would be producing a limited run of 150 of each color—midnight blue, petrol green, and burgundy—to be sold for $5,500 apiece.
Though the price is steep, this is a Wright design after all! But beyond the pedigree and design, as is the case with any furniture, we need to know: Is it comfortable to sit in, too?
Spoiler alert: This isn’t exactly Frank Lloyd Wright’s chair
Though the Taliesin 1 has been lauded as a prime example of Wright’s shift to more sophisticated designs, one has to wonder if that angular design would be a pleasure to lounge in, or more of a pain in the butt than it’s worth.
Even Wright himself once said of his chair, “Organic architecture calls for this chair, which will not look like an apparatus, but instead will be seen as a gracious feature of its environment, which can only be the building itself.”
I’m no expert, but that sounds like fancy architect speak for, “It wasn’t designed to be comfortable.”
Even the manufacturer, Cassina, conceded the chair was lacking in “lounge-ability.” As such, it tweaked Wright’s design a bit. While the chair is still constructed from a single piece of folded plywood—giving it the origami look it’s famous for—Cassina made a few simple changes to add a touch of comfort the original was lacking. The new version of the chair boasts a deeper recline, as well as thicker padding underneath the short-haired leather upholstery.
But is that enough?
Alan Tanksley, a designer in New York City, says he doesn’t have high hopes for the chair actually being comfortable.
“It’s no secret that Frank Lloyd Wright’s furniture was designed with a priority being his architectural aesthetic, with any concern for human comfort taking a distant back seat,” he says.
While Tanksley admits that some of the redesigned features may make this chair an exception to the rule, he’s doubtful.
“I’m intrigued by the chair; its design draws me to sit down and try it out,” he admits. “However, my expectations for true comfort are pretty low.”
Why architects don’t always make great furniture
While no one is denying that the Taliesin 1 is a gorgeous piece of furniture, there is a hefty debate over whether or not it’s functional.
Perhaps the real issue here is that it was designed by an architect, and not a furniture designer. Wright was a genius when it came to his buildings, but maybe he should have focused his energy on what he did best: architecture.
James Gaddy of Bloomberg probably put it best in his review of the chair: “For all their brilliance with the outside of buildings, architects haven’t had much success making furniture that you’d actually want to sit in, once you’re inside—just look up the designs from Daniel Libeskind, Zaha Hadid, and David Adjay if you want proof.”
Still, this particular chair may actually be the most comfortable of Wright’s creations.
“From a functional point of view, it looks to be one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s more comfortable pieces of furniture, with its reclined seat and back,” explains Nancy Snyder, founder of Bon Brise Design in Chicago, who’s excited about the Taliesin 1’s rerelease. “This chair is absolutely iconic. It’s a must-have piece.”
So is it worth it?
The real question here is this: Would you want a Taliesin 1 in your home? It all boils down to how much you value Wright’s work, and how willing you are to accept questionable comfort.
Leslie Saul, a designer and founder of Leslie Saul and Associates, says it’s a good buy, even though she admits it doesn’t seem to be a seat you’ll want to linger in for long.
“Frank Lloyd Wright is still an American icon,” she says. “So it seems like spending $6,000 for a piece of the Taliesin could be well worth it.”
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