In 1964 a British designer called Peter Murdoch created a chair from a single piece of die-cut, folded polyurethane card. Designed to be disposable, it was the perfect piece of Pop furniture.
Architect Frank Gehry’s longer-lasting Wiggle Side Chair materialized eight years later. Gehry wanted to create something softer than the plastic pieces he was seeing emerge around him, like the corduroys, hippies had started wearing around his hometown of Los Angeles.
Lovingly carved from a redundant pile of corrugated cardboard he used for building architecture models, Gehry gave the collection of sculpted furniture the name Easy Edges after the edge board from which it was made.
Gehry’s work is very much a product of his upbringing in Los Angeles, a magical, experimental, ever changing place where he saw Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler make their mark at the beginning of the mid-century movement in architecture.
But his Wiggle Side Chair also suggests a knowledge of the work of Alvar Aalto, the way he used the curve in his furniture to strengthen his pieces, and of Panton and his all-in-one plastic chair.
His father, an art-loving boxer and salesman, introduced him to paper as a child, when they fashioned hobby horses out of papier mâché. And Gehry returned to making sculptures in quieter moments at his architectural practice.
For Wiggle he set about cutting and gluing sixty layers of corrugated edge board in alternating directions, secured with hidden screws and clamped each side with hardboard. Wiggle looked like a snake about to unfold and slither around the room.
The folds made it sturdy, the fabric ensured it felt warm to sit on and the texture of the cardboard had an incredible noise-reducing effect in a room.
Gehry thought it would be a bit of fun and extra cash, but once the architectural chairs had made a splash in the design world, demand was overwhelming.
The line made it into Bloomingdale’s with a family of other pieces, surrounded by a system of cardboard walls and floors, but orders flooded in and the studio became chaotic.
In March 1990 Gehry professed at a TED talk, “It threw me through a loop. I wasn’t secure enough as an architect. ” Not wanting to turn his space into the next Eames Office, Gehry stopped production of Easy Edges.
“I started to feel threatened. I closed myself off for weeks at a time in a room to rethink my life. I decided that I was an architect, not a furniture designer… I simply stopped doing it. “
Experimental Edges followed, a collection of items that have since become museum pieces, made to be intentionally bizarre and impractical so that Gehry would not have to mass produce them.
As his architecture became more well-known and people started to snap up every cardboard piece Gehry had ever produced, Vitra took on Easy Edges and started producing four models from the collection in 1986, including Wiggle Side Chair, Side Chair and Low Table Set.
Today, the earliest pieces are highly sought after and the Easy Edges series is still in production.