New Materials And New Forms

Metal and Glass Furniture

When we walk through rooms mellow with the tones of old furniture, rich in its historical traditions, possibly endeared to us through years of sentimental associations, it is hard to conceive of furniture other than wood.

But, overhead is the burr of an air liner. Moving across a rather dark room to its heavily draped window, we see a trimly dressed young couple emerging from a glittering steel and glass house, a house filled with sunlight and air and space, an efficient and inexpensive dwelling of modern design. Through the windows of this house gleam sparkling high lights of metal and glass. Somehow that house seems to stand as a symbol of the age—the machine age, the age of metals—and we wonder if a mechanical civilization will in the end spell the departure of wood for our furnishings.

For, in the use of metal, there are many advantages: it is superior to wood in strength, malleability; it is noninflam-mable and will neither warp, crack, nor, if rightly constructed, break at the joints.

Metal stands for what it is, honest and simple, giving lightness and strength and, with the recent addition of spring steel for furniture, a maximum of comfort. Thus we can argue that it is an efficient material for furniture. And yet, the argument that metal is cold and lacking in that which may be termed companionship, may be mainly a question of textures and tactile reactions. Many people object to pipe-like furniture as suggestive of plumbing and best adapted to

offices and for the porch; but again this may be a matter of design and too vivid associations with dentists and plumbers. At any rate, its comparative newness places it in the experimental field, where its marked fitness and durability will give ample opportunity to prove its worth.

One of the most important decorative finishes is chromium plate, which has put metal furniture "on the map." Chemists have discovered some "cold dip" colors on solid or plated metals: copper and brass can be colored brown, green, blue-black, or "old English," giving agreeable and lasting variations of the natural colors; experiments are giving new effects to the designer, which may do much to remove prejudice against existing types. At any rate, metal is appropriate for the modern concrete and glass dwelling, both in textural feel and in harmonious relationship to the materials of construction.

On Plate 14 are found typical contemporaneous forms combining metal, glass, tapestries, bakelite, monel metal, and wood. From the designer's angle, metal furniture is capable of much more space penetration than is the case with wood, due naturally to the nature and strength of metal. If properly designed, a chair can be planned in metal to weigh about the same as one of wood, while aluminum tubing will give a lighter article. (Recent aluminum furniture exactly following wood lines is to be considered as imitation not in keeping with the qualities of metal.)

Another characteristic of metal furniture is in the growing use of curves, undoubtedly due to the greater pliability of metal over wood and the temptation to soften the severity of earlier wood forms. Will the use of curves change the spirit of modern design into an approach to the sentimental? The answer seems to be in the material itself. No one would ever accuse metal of generating sentimental attachments, unless it be in some pure art form, as sculpture.

In modern design, metal frequently serves as a graceful

Form Enrichment enrichment growing out of materials and construction.

Form Enrichment enrichment growing out of materials and construction.

fig. 107. after fig. 108. cantilever design of m. breuer. principle of rohe: tubular steel and strap stock • leather.

glass and space fig. 107. after fig. 108. cantilever design of m. breuer. principle of rohe: tubular steel and strap stock • leather.

glass and space

  1. ho. bakelite and hexagonal monel metal tubing .
  2. ioq. loewy's and si mon son's design in gun-metal finish .

fig. ho. bakelite and hexagonal monel metal tubing .

fig. iii. chromium and fig. 112.. glass maximum black nickel space designing» proportioning of major importance.

and monel metal.

fig. iis* stool: with slight change of ratter n, glass may be substituted for the cushion.

chromium, veneer, ebony fittings.

chromium, veneer, ebony fittings.

framework or support for removable cushions which may be readily taken out and cleaned or replaced.

In designing modern furniture, the volumetric casing is created and the mass and space divisions planned as with wood, each division line being regarded as the center line of tubing. The turning points of curves are proportionate indicators of subtle spacing, while the curves themselves should not be parts of circles. Ellipses, ovals, parabolas, hyperbolas: all make attractive curves which, in their beauty, far exceed the circle. The circle has one continuous thrust and is the emblem of continuity or concentration, while the ellipse has a varied and more beautiful thrust pattern.

And in designing metal furniture, the thrusts are much more complex than in the simpler wood forms; but, as is the case with wood design, there should be one major thrust responding to the character of the volume and, if possible, supported by one or more long pieces of tubing to give the necessary character to the design.

To show the versatility of designers, note the chairs, Figures 107, 108, and 109, Plate 14. Figure 107 gives the comfort of the rocker without the danger of its counterpart in wood; Figure 108, the creation of Mr. Rohde, balances on one point as in the cantilever form of construction; while the curves of Figure 109 are peculiarly attractive. The problem of physical balance in metal furniture construction introduces engineering problems, and supplies a splendid example of the link between science and art.

The sophisticated, contrasting effects of black bakelite and monel metal appears in Figures 110 and 112. As described by its manufacturers, monel metal, one of the new, rustless products on the market, is approximately two-thirds nickel and one-third copper. Monel metal is classed as a distinctly white metal more closely related to platinum in color and reflectivity than to any other well-known metal. It can be formed, machined, spun, drawn, brazed, soldered with silver solder, and welded.

Monel metal is obtained in various degrees of hardness and resists corrosion to a marked degree. It may be obtained m sheets ranging from .018" to Strips are available in thickness from .01" to .15". Seamless tubes are available with

Sheets-Strips—Plates Cold-Rolled Angles


Seamless Tubes ^^^

Round—Rectangular—Square Hot-Rolled Angles

Rods and Flats Rounds—Squares-Rectangles—Hexagons

Figure 110a. Standard Forms of Monel Metal

Rods and Flats Rounds—Squares-Rectangles—Hexagons

Figure 110a. Standard Forms of Monel Metal outside diameter from to 214", and in many shapes, Figure 110a. These tubes may be bent and coiled, particularly if annealed tubing is specified. This brief description of monel metal gives an indication of the possibilities in other materials on the market, as aluminum and other rustless metals.

Many finishes are available, as wire scratch brush, satin, and bright, giving various textures which must be considered in relation to the accessories surrounding the articles. For example, rough-textured wrought iron must be combined with a wood of rough, open texture, as oak. Metals capable j of being forged, but with smooth textures, must be combined with close-fibered woods and veneers, thus establishing textural harmony. Large, thin sheets of metal, sandblasted into geometric patterns by the means of stencils, make unique modern screens. Here we find slightly differing textures in the same metal, defining the stenciled pattern.

A stool with many uses is depicted in Figure 113, Plate 14; while, by a slight change of proportions, a glass shelf, substituted for the cushion, converts the design into a useful and portable table. Convertible models providing dual uses for projects are well within the scope of modernism, distributing functionalism over a still wider range of activities. The dust-less quality of the desk of Figure 114 has its distinct sphere of service for the school and office.


The clear-cut alternating with the obscure in the appearance of a pane of glass gives it a peculiarly varied imaginative quality; while its textural relations to metal, its varied sparkle and light, its clean and hygienic properties offer to the designer material full of possibilities.

The reflective qualities of glass, its ability to pick up color, make it an attractive area upon which to place the colored glassware of modern service. Circular plates of glass without frames, utilized as mirrors, create illusions of new space and new vistas and do away with the stuffiness of small rooms; at least as far as reflections are able to add to room design their desirable quotas. Black and purple glass, vitrolite (a type of black glass), and the processes of sandblasting and etching, are enrichment features sure to bring fresh emphasis to the uses of this material for furniture design. Little is known relative to the use of glass for furniture in houses in which many children are living, and, on the whole, it seems advisable to omit its use under these conditions.

While other suggestions for the use of glass are found throughout the text, Figure 111, Plate 14, is specifically an example of glass design. From the designer's angle, glass design gives a chance to use piercing with a certain amount of support supplied by glass; although the designer must not depend wholly upon this type of support, but avail himself of the firmer structure supplied by metal. This is illustrated by modern houses in which structural steel carries the load, while glass in the house corner gives a feeling of unity and at the same time gives light penetration.

Glossary for Glass

For convenience and general information, the following little known terminology for glass, compiled by the Plate Glass Manufacturers' Association, is appended. Mainly it deals with defects in glass and the amount permissible in different grades of the product.

  1. Gas inclusions in any rolled glass. These inclusions are practically always spherical and brilliant in appearance. The term applies to all such inclusions larger than 1 /32 inch in diameter. The term "small bubbles" (commonly known as boil) refers to sizes between 1 /g2 inch and 3/32 inch.
  2. Minute bubbles less than 1/32 inch in diameter. Fine seeds are visible only on close inspection, usually appearing as small, fine specks, and are an inherent defect in the best quality of plate glass.

Open Bubbles. Bubbles which have been broken into by grinding, leaving a hemispherical hole in the glass surface.

  1. Streaks of dense seed with accompanying small bubbles.
  2. Wavy, transparent lines appearing as though a thread of glass had been incorporated into the sheet.
  3. An area of unhomogeneous glass incorporated into the sheet, producing a wavy appearance.
  4. Self-evident.

Short Finish. Insufficient polish or lack of brilliancy; improperly finished surface which has the appearance of being slightly pitted and wavy when the surface is viewed in reflected light.

Stones. An opaque or partly melted particle of rock, clay, or batch of ingredients imbedded in the glass.

Fire Cracks. Small cracks penetrating the surface, caused by sudden heating or chilling of the surface.

Sand Holes. Rough spots on the polished surface produced during coarse grinding that fine grinding did not later remove.

Central Area of Sheet. This term is used with slightly different interpretation with reference to plate or window glass. In plate glass the central area is considered to form an oval or circle centered on the sheet whose axes or diameters do not exceed 80 per cent of the overall dimensions. This allows for a fairly large amount of space at the corners, which may have imperfections not allowed in the central area.

Sizes and Thickness. Standards of thickness for plate glass shall be i/s, 3/16, i/4, 3/g, i/2, etc., inches. Polished plate glass of i/s, ]4, and 3/16 inches thick is carried in stock in the larger cities. There is a tolerance of 1/32 inch per i/8 inch in thickness allowed.

Qualities. All flat glass contains some imperfections, and the principle involved in grading is to exclude all defects that would be objectionable in a given grade. This is difficult, for there are no sharp lines of demarcation between grades, and experienced inspectors differ in judgment as to the quality of the glass as it approaches the limits of the grades. Small lights must be quite free from imperfections as compared with the larger. The center of any sheet, however, should be clear; whereas the edges may contain more pronounced defects.

Specifications are as follow:

Form Enrichment CONTOUR ENRICHMENT IN metal. and wood.


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