A strong, well-crafted 21st century table in conversation with mid-century Good Design
Eager to shape postwar consumer culture, MoMA championed its own brand of Good Design founded on the modernist precepts of functionalism, simplicity, and truth to materials.- MoMA press release.
What is Good Design?
It was the decade after World War II, and Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was on a mission to shape American taste. The audacity of naming a perspective “Good Design” sounds as outlandish now as it did then. (MoMA remembers these years now at their exhibit ‘The value of good design.’ ) Yet we continue to benefit from the day MoMA displayed Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Hans Wegner pieces alongside a humble rake and celebrated Good Design.
The story of the Panafold 3+3 Table begins one Sunday with a set of 1950’s Katavolos, Littell & Kelley T-chairs spotted at Coup D’Etat. This chair happened to be MOMA Object number 151.1958 — and exemplifies the modernist precepts of simplicity and material beauty of the Good Design mission. We acquired them for a project — and immediately realized finding or building a table would be a design challenge.
Size and Design Constraints: What would the table look like?
Taking stock, we recognized some interesting constraints. What would it mean to match the chairs? Most chairs have four legs. These had three. Most dining chairs have a seat 18” from the floor and our leather sling sat at 16”. We uncovered photos of a 1950’s dining table by the Katavolos team, but it seated six people (William Katavolos TedX talk (2:58). We needed to seat eight — and the table would be situated in a narrow space.
The slender table would stand near a wall of windows. Along with the modernist chair lines, the tight space suggested that we needed a thin frame and tabletop. The chairs called for a low 28" height, and despite this, the owners wished for shelves to stash electronic devices or papers. The height also ruled out using bulky side-stretchers or aprons that could strengthen the table and prevent wobble.
We would have to design our own table that would fit the space and the chairs.
With Staprans Design, we selected a quieter marble than the white and grey-veined Carrara marble table originally designed to accompany the T-chairs (1stDibs image). The honed white marble we selected was the same stone as the kitchen backsplash, a little less bright than some highly polished pieces. It was heavy. The table would have to be well crafted and strong.
For the legs, we chose to echo the black enameled, rectangular T-support on the chair and not the tubular chrome legs. To support the slab, we followed the triangle of the three chair legs and created a triangle of three table legs at either end. These are secured to the underside by steel sub-frames. We worked with our collaborator, Luke at Omnitasker Design, for fabrication.
Form and Function
The constraints and the choice of materials led us to a design with 3 + 3 black powder-coated legs attached to two steel sub-frames on either end of a beam flush against the bottom of the table. The triangles and stretcher prevent bowing and strain in the middle on the long, heavy marble, and the design assures that leg space isn’t encroached on by aprons and supports. In addition, two leather shelves hang from the sub-frames and accommodate bulky laptops without bumping knees.
The table is an American kitchen table — a table for dining, coffee with friends, baking preparation, laptop use, homework or sorting mail. The shape is closer to a long Refectory table than formal dining furniture. It stands in a mid-century house with refreshed architecture (See TRANSFORMATION IN LOS ALTOS: A BACKSTORY ) that connects modernism to a post-war, wildland-urban interface. The ample windows bring deer, birds and dog-walkers past those seated at the table. Over a half-century after the campaign for Good Design, functionalism, simplicity, and truth to materials still sneakily guide product design.
Design + Build: Lisa and Armin at Staprans Designhttps://www.stapransdesign.com/
Fabrication: Luke at Omnitaskerhttp://www.omnitaskerdesign.com/contact-us
Stone yard: Fox Marble https://www.fox-marble.com/
1953 chairs: Coup D’Etat is at 111 Rhode Island Street Suite 1 in San Francisco. https://coupdetatsf.com/
“Tree Trunk”: Curved cabinet in photo by Garde Hvalsøe. Their Copenhagen showroom is at Esplanaden 8 D. https://www.gardehvalsoe.dk/contact/
Museum of Modern Art:
MOMA aaa.archive William Katavolos, Ross Littell and Douglas Kelley / T-chairs model 3-LC / Laverne International / USA, 1953.