Posted on October 3, 2016
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Steel is one of humanity’s most favored materials. Long used in the production of modern forms of transport – bicycles to airplanes – for its inherent versatility, strength and durability, it also appeals to artisans and craftsmen for the same reasons. When a German manufacturer perfected the manufacture of seamless tubular steel in the early 1920’s, it soon found its way into furniture design.
Marcel Breuer, a Bauhaus architect and furniture maker, first took a fancy to the material in the mid-1920’s. Impressed with the strength and lightness of the handlebars on his Adler bicycle, Breuer began experimenting with this new material. The first piece created by Breuer - the Wassily in 1925 - is light and simple and went on to become a symbol of the modern era.
The durability and flexibility of steel continued to impress furniture makers and consumers alike. Mart Stam, a Dutch architect, designed the revolutionary cantilever chair in 1926. However, it was Mies van der Rohe who added tubular steel to turn it into the classic and comfortable furnishing still used today.
Leo Jiranek, an American industrial and furniture designer, took the metal back outdoors when he sketched in the 1930’s what historian and furniture maker Louis “Skip” Torrans calls in his A History of the Metal Lawn Chair, the first classic American metal lawn chair. Durability, lightness, and flexibility again came into play as America’s burgeoning middle class wanted something stylish and comfortable for enjoying long summer evenings in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The Warmack Company, founded by sheet metal fabricator and Arkansas manufacturer Ed Warmack, began making steel gliders, lawn chairs, and tables that withstood the test of time and the elements to become coveted family heirlooms and antique store gems.
The clean and simple look of steel still appeals today for offices and homes alike. It’s inherent neutrality means it matches with everything around it, whether fabric or wood, and continues to make it appealing to modern designers. Whether used in a bicycle frame or a favorite piece of furniture, steel’s ability to resist damage and flex where plastic or aluminum would break, makes it an investment in functional beauty and style for years to come.