Anyone who owns a Cherner armchair knows the heart-opening feeling it gives you when you walk into a room. Hands down it is the sexiest plywood chair of all time.
It resembles a musical note with its sleek curved arms, sculpted and steam-bent from a length of solid wood, and those veneered legs tapering into points. Fans of the chair will instantly spot the Cherner that Woody climbs on to in order to talk to Jessie in the villain’s high-rise apartment in Toy Story II.
But it is that Norman Rockwell image “The Artist at Work” with the Saturday Evening Post’s graphics man captured from behind that made this chair famous, back in 1961.
The result of the designer’s passion for Bauhaus idealism and low-cost construction, this chair, laminated in graduated thicknesses, has legs as far as collectables go.
Simon Andrews, head of Twentieth-century Decorative Art and Design at Christie’s in London dubs it “one of the definitive expressions of American mid-century design, uniting innovative plywood-bending technologies with the bikini hour-glass silhouette and whiplash styling of 1950s American popular culture”.
If its wasp waist and generous curves are not enough to make you weak at the knees, its story only adds to its allure.
Imagine Cherner walking past a Manhattan showroom and spotting his axed 1958 design in all its glory, six months after Plycraft founder Paul Goldman pronounced it too expensive to produce? See him walking into the showroom, turning the chair over and finding another name under the Plycraft production name a name so fictitious it makes you want to spit out your tea. Goldman also occasionally used the nom de plume “Lou App” to include his Christian name backwards.
Quite why Goldman, a man who started out manufacturing sailboats in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and developed a moulded plywood tubing that was used by the US military during the Second World War, decided to change the name on the sticker under the chair to that of “Bernardo” and destroy his own reputation in the process is baffling. Cherner was a native of New York so he was bound to see what Goldman had done.
This well-established architect had written numerous books, won awards and was friends with George Nelson, who recommended Cherner to Goldman after his own Pretzel Chair turned out to be too delicate.
So, with Nelson’s witness testimony and the orignal drawings to hand, the Cherner-Goldman case was open-and-shut from the outset, with Cherner successfully suing Plycraft for monies owed and a commitment from the devious manufacturer to produce and pay for his design well into the early seventies.
Benjamin Cherner, who with brother Thomas took up the Cherner mantel after countless requests from architects and interior designers, remembers his father as “always drawing, the sketches that he routinely threw away 80 were effortless and beautiful.”
The brothers formed the Cherner Chair Company in 1999, which now distributes moulded plywood chairs, stools and tables in all manner of wood finishes and leather detailing, reissued from their father’s original drawings and moulds.