One designer incorporated graphic elements from a champagne label. Another used a single cork for the entire chair. A veteran contest designer used no glue. And a retired welder drew on the tricks of his trade to achieve precision.
The 2017 Champagne Chair Contest is in the books, with four winning chairs in two categories.
The initial round of judging was done by popular vote to whittle the field of more than 500 entries to 10 finalists in the best original category and 10 in the best likeness. From there, judges PJ Mattan, Tucker Viemeister and Elish Warlop made the final selections during a champagne party January 31 at the DWR SoHo Studio in New York City.
Robert Metzger of Stamford, Connecticut, won best original chair for his Armchair, and Isabela Sá of San Francisco took home best likeness for Tube Chair, a paean to designer Joe Colombo.
Contest rules allow designers to use only the cork, wire and foil from no more than two bottles of champagne or sparkling wine. No restrictions are placed on tools, and this year, designers used everything from a high-tech boring machine to orthodontic tools.
“From conception,” said Metzger, an architectural designer competing for the first time, “I decided I wanted to use each of the available materials: label, foil, cage and cork. Most important, I also wanted the chair to be very graphic to take advantage of the vibrant color and strong typography on the (champagne) label.”
He found removing the foil without tearing the most challenging task, admitting that it took two tries.
If he could own any chair ever made, Metzger would choose Johnny Swing’s Murmuration chair from the lobby of the old Four Seasons restaurant in New York City.
Sá, winner of the best likeness chair and a design and development strategist for Ideo, used a concentric boring machinery to cut cork tubes that could be fit one inside another, just as the original chair is packed for shipping.
“So, I’m a Joe Colombo fan – love his Tube Chair – and realized there’s one trapped inside every champagne cork,” says Sá, a first-timer in the contest. “I cut the whole model from a single cork!”
Erin Lew of Sugar Land, Texas, says her method derived from inspiration, including working without glue, which is the only material allowed that does not originate with a champagne bottle.
“I started hollowing out a cork with my new Dremel tool for fun until it looked like a little log,” says Lew, who is finishing her studies in industrial design at the University of Houston. “That inspired me to make my funny little log chair. The connection between the cork and metal was my way of avoiding glue. I also wanted a space in the chair for cats to sit in (if it were full scale).” says Lew, who began competing in the annual contest in 2013 on urging from her father, “a big fan of DWR.” Another bit of inspiration came from the unlikely field of weapons craft. “I used a hammer and a bench vice to flatten out the wire,” Lew says. “I had been watching a lot of sword-making videos and I wanted to test out some techniques on a smaller scale.”
Third-place winner John Reyno, a retired welder from Kailua, Hawaii, collects and restores mid-century furniture as a hobby and a passion.
“In Hawaii,” Reyno says, “Paul Frankl-style rattan and Walter Lamb is some of my favorite furniture. I wanted a contemporary chair that was derivative of both, and this is what I came up with.”
His technique reflects the precision skills of his career.
“The wire was so tricky to get straight I had to peen it with a ball peen hammer for a while,” says Reyno, a first-time competitor. “I then used orthodontic tools to completely straighten it before shaping. I made a shaping buck out of scrap wood to get both pieces identical. I wanted it to look as refined as possible so making it straight and identical was imperative.”
The 2017 contest was the 13th annual, and this is the first time design lovers at large were invited to join in the judging based on photos uploaded to the the contest website.
The 2018 contest will issue a call for entries in late December. But it is never too early to begin designing.
• PJ Mattan is creative director of Aha, a design-shopping site. He founded Bezar, now part of Aha. He lives and works in New York City.
• Tucker Viemeister is an industrial designer and head of Viemeister Industries in New York City. He is a longtime mentor of upstart design firms and was head of the lab at Rockwell Group. Holder of more than 30 design patents, he was a major contributor to development of the Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools.
• Elish Warlop (first name pronounced like “delish” without the “d”) is an architect and industrial designer based in New York City. She focuses on lighting design in her company, Elish Warlop Design Studio.