Ask Ben Cherner when his interest in his fathers work began, and you begin to understand the term legacy. "My fathers studio was next to the house," Ben recalls, "so even as children we were consulted on his latest designs. He loved his work and it was a very positive influence on me and my brother." Bens father, Norman Cherner, was a noted furniture designer in the late 50s; one of a remarkable group whos ranks included George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, and Isamu Noguchi. He was most distinguished for the chair that his sons are now reintroducing in a reissue.
The chair itself is a shining example of the complex bentwood furniture that came out of the 1950s modernist design boom. The seat and back are molded out of a single piece of tapering laminations, narrowing at the bend like the waist of a Vargas girl. The legs are slender and poised, giving the chair a delicate nature that belies its actual strength and stability. By far, the most striking feature is the curving, ribbon-like arms that wrap around the back and disappear under the leading edge of the seat. The effect is that of constant movement, of a flow to the static elements that give the chair its unique appeal.
In 1958, the Lawrence, Massachusetts manufacturer Plycraft (known for their ability to bend and mold thin strips of laminated wood) sought a designer to improve upon the Pretzel Chair, a design that George Nelson created for Herman Miller. Nelson suggested Cherner, who agreed not only to redesign the chair, but also work closely with Plycraft to overcome the significant manufacturing hurdles. An historic chair design was born, but with it came struggles and legal battles over ownership rights with Plycraft. Cherner eventually won the suit, though Plycraft continued to manufacture the chair until the factorys destruction in 1972.
Since that time, several imitation versions were introduced; whose poor quality and inferior build tarnished the Cherner Chair image. Not wanting to see their fathers design lost to history, Ben and his brother, Thomas, sought out a manufacturer who could re-create the design to its original specifications at an affordable price. However, the new Cherner Chair isnt merely a replica; its an exact reproduction created with the same blueprints, tools and processes that Norman and Plycraft utilized. Only small changes have been made to the molds, to improve manufacturability. The signature graceful curving arms are now made of bent wood (as opposed to the laminated wood of the original), a detail lost to prohibitive costs in 1958. In reality, the reintroduced version is closer to the designers intent than the original.
Naturally, the demand for the chair has been tremendous. Ben credits this to the renewed interest in mid-century furnishings and the resurgence of industrial design and architecture influenced by the early modernists. Collectors and consumers alike are eager to find pristine pieces like the Cherner Chair, especially those featured by the Vitra museum. This interest has spurred the Cherner brothers to introduce more of their fathers designs, including modular case goods, tables, metal base seating and lighting. Obviously, all of these will be reproduced with the same devoted attention to their fathers creative design.
As for carrying on the family name, Ben notes that he and his brother have found different aspects of the business that they enjoy. "As an Architect Im most interested in the design and manufacturing processes. As a businessperson, my brother is interested and excited in running the business. I guess the most unexpected thing weve encountered is how well this partnership works."