// BarryBlog //

A creative dumping ground for issues that interest me personally and professionally, with the thought they may interest you too. Issues such as the business of design, the design of business, the design of objects, design strategy, creative direction, innovation, creativity, thought leadership, observations, as well as recommendations, mid-century modern decorative arts and architecture, and the state of my thinking (and currently the state of my heart).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Steelcase. The Genius of Warren Snodgrass.

Learning and discover new things is thrilling. Recently I had an experience that although cool and fortunate at first, only got better. It went like this.

I recently came across a reasonably priced pair of Steelcase guest chairs designed by Warren Snodgrass. I have a knack for discovering hidden gems, and these immediately caught my attention. Simply put, they are a work of art. The blue fabric in the pictures I've posted didn't come out as well as I hoped, as the true color is a brilliant and vibrant blue, in a tightly woven fabric that appears
brand new. In researching these beauties, I initially found them featured in a November 2007 Steelcase publication entitled "Wood Seating Specification Guide PDF" (page 73). In this publication I discovered the model was 474419W and part of the Encore Series of guest seating, with a U.S. base price of $962. Awesome! I also learned that they were designed in 1980, and found the tag underneath the chair which said these particular chairs were made in 1994.

With further research I discovered more about Warren Snodgrass. Having lived and worked as an art director in Grand Rapids Michigan for several years, I had significant exposure to the contract furnishing marketplace and I had heard of Warren. Not only has he designed products for Steelcase, but also for Haworth, Thonet and Stow Davis. As I researched further, I discovered Warren's personal webpage. As it turns out, he is spending his time with his lifelong passion for painting and sculpture in his art studio located in Ross CA. His studio looks incredible. Sounds idyllic. So with a desire to know more, I emailed Warren directly and asked him if he would be willing to shed any further light on these remarkable chairs. He was kind enough to respond. This is what he said in an email I received this evening:

Dear Barry– "We designed the chairs for Steelcase in 1980. It is nice to know they are still appreciated after 28 years. Our goal was to design a chair with clean classic lines that would stand the test of time. The frame was designed to be configured from a single piece of elliptical oval steel tubing which made it economical to produce without sacrificing esthetics. The chairs surround the conference table in my study and the poker table in my den. In addition they are part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art." – Yours truly, Warren Snodgrass

Thank you Warren for your transparency, and your willingness to share this first hand experience in creating these wonderful chairs. I especially appreciate your sensitivity to the balance between beauty and economy.

You know how when you or someone you know gets a new car, you start to notice similar ones from that point on? I'm sure this is what will happen to me as I begin to recognize and appreciate the incredible design of Warren Snodgrass. I am a big fan.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

They really are cool. Sounds like the artist is, too!

10:25 AM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Speaking directly with the person who designed the thing is so fun. One other person I have spoken with is a relatively well known artist named Marko Spalatin. I even got to know him well enough that he brought his work in and spoke with all our designers at the publishing company I work for. What an amazing artist, and person.

5:09 PM  
Blogger paperseed.wordpress.com said...

These are a lucky find. And I'm impressed that you email Warren AND that he replied to you. I'd be interested in knowing where you found them and how much you paid - or maybe that is secret and I am uncouth for even asking?

My last studio bought leap chairs not too long before I gave my notice. Those babies were amazing.

10:54 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Okay paperseed.

If you dig into my blog you'll see I happen across things of value that other people don't notice. These Snodgrass chairs cost me $20 bucks each. I believe there may be more. Every Saturday in Carol Stream is a Jubilee Furniture sales from 9-noon. The proceeds go to a ministry and they are selling donated goods, so the chances of finding gems are slim, but occasionally they do have some interesting items if you know what you're looking for. Garage sales are the best place though. And while the retail on these specific models is $962, I would value them used at around 325. I absolutely love furniture, and being exposed to the Grand Rapids contract furniture marketplace for 4 years really wet my whistle. As for emailing designers, I am never afraid to contact them and would encourage you to do the same. Most often they are enthusiastic about discussing design, just like you and I are. Keep an eye out for my newest find. 7 new Eames Executive work chairs. I will post on these soon.

Hey, thanks for stopping by.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous CT said...

I have a couple of similar chairs, Barry. They are Steelcase. The difference is in the legs. Mine don't have the rounded continuous legs. They are four straight legs. But the top of the frame is the same, where the back and arms meet. Thanks for the great info. The problem is my cats love to lay on them and they are covered in cat hair. Ugh.

4:46 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

I have the same "problem." but like you am a cat person so they take priorotu. My chairs impress me mostly because of two things. One, the rich warn wood. Like you said, they are a different look. We have some random versions here where I work and they juts are ordinary. I also find the vibrant blue fabric, which my photos don't do justice, are real unique. The fabric is light teeny tiny balls all finely woven together. I can tell the chairs were used, but there is no wear showing at all.

Hey thanks for stopping by. I am glad to hear your "voice." I take you going quiet as a good sign that business is coming your way.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Barry,
I came across 6 of those beautiful chairs...Awesome story you have.. I was wondering if you could let me know how you dismantled them. As I have screws sticking in our backs.
I didn't see anywhere in the spec. about it.

8:49 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...


It's been a long time and these are long sold. If I recall correctly, the seat dismantles first, but recommend you contact Steelcase public relations to inquire about a planogram. Sorry I couldn't have been of more help.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long sold???????? Thought that you loved those seats? :-( What did u sell them for???? Curious :-)

6:16 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

I still have 2 mint ones at work, and sold a series of others. At one point the place I found these had 10. As collections go, I am always buying and selling. Some for pure profit and others to refine the collection. I have a medium size home, and the whole thing is furnished with vintage (pre-used) items. If I find an amazing piece, generally something has to go.

As for how much I sold these for...how much money do you make? Certain information isn't casually shared, especially with a blog poster named anonymous.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to pry. I joined your blog and my name is Ros. For some reason , I can't seem to post a reply without using the anonymous. Reading your blog about the chairs and you contacting Warren was very interesting :-) , the price you paid and the value you estimated was considerable high. Hope you got your estimated valve.
PS: I have to keep remitting my comments if I try using my username cause, I keep getting a error. Therefore, here I go again as Anonymous.
Have a Great Weekend!
Anonymous Ros

12:33 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

Hi Ros. Sorry the site is acting buggy. This blog has needed a tune up for some time, maybe my code has gone bonkers. Anyway, I appreciate knowing who you are and getting to know you. All of your comments are welcome. As for selling stuff, I very often get offers via exposure on Flickr, though I keep business and Flickr separate, so I got a decent return. Plus, I still have the better two and likely will keep them for the sentimental reasons you've suggested. So keep in touch. Hope you also have a great weekend buddy.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work at a university and have these conference chairs 474419W in my office. I was searching to find out why the under the seat lining was disintegrating. The chair lining is literally falling off the chair into a black powder. Oh well, I guess not harmful. I do now have an appreciation for these warren snodgrass designed steelcase chairs. Thanks for the blog and picture.

If you know why the lining is disintegrating, it would be nice to know. I'll have to place the label direct on the chair for preservation.

12:54 PM  
Blogger studiosmith said...

I'm glad this blog was helpful for you. I am not a scientist, so like you, assume that after 30 years they are just aging. Also assume conditions such as humidity might play a factor.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a couple of these chairs too.
FYI if you find you need a new backrest or seat, you can order them from Steelcase/NBS. You may not be able to get the same fabric.

8:23 PM  

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