Nicos Zographos Side Chair

Every now and then I find something that I’m initially unsure of, but something about it draws me in until I just can’t help but buy it. One such find recently was a rather simple leather side chair. According to the seller it had come from an executive office at his former job. From the photos I had seen of it, it just didn’t have anything that jumped out and grabbed you. It wasn’t a crazy color or a space age shape. So initially I passed, mostly because it was a bit of jaunt to go get. But it kept nagging at me. Although it didn’t scream out, it was really refined. And so, I bit.

IMG_5316 In person I was more impressed. The upholstery was real leather and hand stitched. The base was thick, solid and weighs about ten times what you’d expect it to based on appearance alone. It swiveled but has a mechanism that returns the seat to the original position. It was really just a beautiful, impeccably crafted object. Although there were no markings, surely someone great must be behind this chair.

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American Republic Insurance Building, Des Moines, IA

If I hadn’t known where it came from, I may not have researched it at all. But the owner told me it had come from an executive office at American Republic Insurance. The American Republic building is an award-winning Skidmore Owings and Merrill design completed in 1965. It was a very posh modern structure fitted to the nines with designer furnishings and a world-class art collection. Nothing about this building was run of the mill.

American Republic lobby area, circa 1965

American Republic lobby area, circa 1965

But with nothing to go on for a possible maker, I was a little stumped at what to even begin my search with. So, I just simply searched Google Images for “mid-century chrome and leather chair.” Bam! Right off the bat, there it was. The “2 Bucket Chair” with chrome “alpha” base, designed in 1960 by Nicos Zographos.

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I really couldn’t find much information on the designer himself, although he designed a number of very refined and finely crafted contract furnishings. The company is still in business today, although their products appear to be somewhat bespoke with every item listed as “contact for pricing.” My rule of thumb is if you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it. That’s why I love vintage things—accessibility.

Another Zographos design, the "28 Chair" introduced in 1959

Another Zographos design, the “28 Chair” introduced in 1959

It’s experiences like this that let me know my eye for design is continually improving. It’s great feeling when you can tell that something is something just by looking at it. It’s also a lot of fun to learn about designers who may not be as widely known as Charles Eames or George Nelson.

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But every time I find something like this I can’t help but think of the floors and floors of 1960s corporate offices packed with beautiful pieces like this. Where must they have all gone? Oh to have been in the alley the day they all decided to toss out their icons of 20th century modernism.

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2 Comments

  1. Justin
    Posted August 13, 2015 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I have a pair of the 28 chairs acquired from one of those 1960s corporate offices throwing everything out. I was an intern at Allied Signal (now Honeywell) in the mid-late 1990s and the building I worked in at their corporate headquarters in NJ was built 1965. There were 8 of the chairs around a table in the lobby, and while I’m sure most people thought it all looked dated, I loved walking through there every day. Right before I left the internship, an ugly and boring redesign of the lobby was announced. I asked a coworker to find out where the old furniture was going and she was able to secure 4 chairs for free and gave me 2. They are still one of the nicest things in my house, although in severe need of new leather upholstery at this point.

    • Austin
      Posted September 8, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Justin, that’s a great story, thanks for sharing! These chairs are still available with new prices in the thousands each. I would say they are definitely worth the investment for reupholstery :)

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