Designed in West Germany and produced mainly in East Germany, a confusing trail of intrigue and deception makes the Garden Egg Chair by Peter Ghyczy all the more fascinating.
Often highlighted as a typical example of sixties space age design, the portable polyurethane pod that opened to reveal a brightly coloured spongy fabric-covered seat and back was one of the earliest works by the Hungarian immigrant who was born on the Buda side of Budapest to aristocratic parents.
Ghyczy developed this portable outside chair, a kind of plastic suitcase you could sit in, to inspire his bosses and clients at the polyurethane factory Elastogran GmbH, where he was chief of design from 1968 to 1972.
He wanted to show the limitless possibilities of the material but, after launching the initial prototype, production of the Garden Egg Chair was transferred to VEB Synthesewerk in Schwarzheide in 1970, an East German company who bought manufacturing technology from Elastogran.
Unbeknown to Ghyczy, who was told the chair was far too expensive for his West German factory to produce, VEB Synthesewerk was contractually obliged to manufacture 15,000 pieces of polyurethane furniture as part payment for the Elastogran machines they had bought, including a substantial number of Garden Egg Chairs.
Chemist and owner Gottfried Reuter had landed in financial difficulties and was involved in a variety of scandals that culminated in his rather mysterious death in a hotel room in East Berlin in 1986.
When Jana Scholze, curator of Modern Furniture and Product Design at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, interviewed the production manager at the East German factory in 2010, she was surprised he had not been allowed any contact with Ghyczy, even when the design had to be slightly altered.
He and his workers were proud to be associated with such an extraordinary piece from the West and he would have loved to have met or at least spoken to the designer. “Since he did not get any royalties, he thought that the chair was not selling,” says Ghyczy’s son Felix, who grew up with his father’s most recognized design in the garden of their house in Holland.
Ghyczy was always designing and money was not his prime motivator, so he worked in a bit of a bubble. “Our home was full of my father’s designs, old and new.
But when in 1998 I did a study on the Garden Egg to see if a reintroduction would be possible, he was very surprised at how desirable and copied the chair had become.”
While Ghyczy went on to invent a revolutionary frameless glass dining table in 1970, Elastogran GmbH went bankrupt in 1973, with production continuing solely for the East European market until it was halted in 1975 after around 14,000 Garden Egg Chairs had been made.