Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Chair - Bel Air

Bel Air

  • Object:

    Chair

  • Place of origin:

    Los Angeles (probably, designed)
    Milan (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1982 (designed)
    1984 (manufactured)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Shire, Peter, born 1947 (designer)
    Memphis (producer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted wood, coloured cotton fabric

  • Museum number:

    W.19-2010

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The iconic ‘Bel Air’ chair was the most important contribution of the Californian designer and ceramist Peter Shire to the Italian design group Memphis and became a signature object for the collective. It was used on the cover of the most widely distributed book on the group (authored by Barbara Radice); and - in a cartoon version - as the ‘poster object’ for the first American museum exhibition about the group: ‘Memphis in Memphis’ (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee, 1984/85). While it fit into the Memphis aesthetic, the design is pure west coast. Shire’s style was influenced by the Los Angeles culture of surfing and hot rodding, as well as Art Deco and 1950s Space Age architecture in Southern California and the state’s mass culture. The chair’s asymmetrical back is based partly on shark fins and partly on the Stevens House by architect John Lautner, located on the beach in Malibu. The title ‘Bel Air’, like other early Memphis furniture-titles, was taken from the name of a luxury hotel, in this case a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. The chair has been in constant production since its creation. The V&A’s example is an early ‘Bel Air’ with the original colours.

Physical description

Colourful armchair with wood frame, multi-coloured cotton upholstery and painted wood. The asymmetrical back is based on the Stevens House by architect John Lautner and also resembles shark fins.

Place of Origin

Los Angeles (probably, designed)
Milan (manufactured)

Date

1982 (designed)
1984 (manufactured)

Artist/maker

Shire, Peter, born 1947 (designer)
Memphis (producer)

Materials and Techniques

Painted wood, coloured cotton fabric

Dimensions

Height: 128 cm, Width: 123 cm approx., Depth: 108 cm

Object history note

The Californian designer and ceramist, Peter Shire made several notable furniture designs for the Italian design group Memphis. The 'Bel Air' chair was his most important contribution. While the chair fit into the Memphis aesthetic, the design is pure west coast. Shire's style was influenced by the Los Angeles culture of surfing and hot rodding, as well as Art Deco, 1950s Space Age architecture in Southern California and the state's mass culture. The title 'Bel Air' is taken from the name of a five-star hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. (Early Memphis furniture names were often taken from other luxury hotels.) Shire recalls he wanted to give the title 'Bone Air' but Ettore Sottsass preferred not to.

Historical significance: This example of the 'Bel Air' chair is an early production. Peter Shire knew of only one other early example which is privately owned. Shire believes that perhaps 30 or 40 'Bel Air' chairs in total have been sold, at a rate of 4-5 a year in the 1980s. Groningen Museum, Vitra Design Museum and MAK Frankfurt have examples in their collection. One recent 'Bel Air' with a latter, alternative colour scheme was acquired by the model Iman as a gift for the rock musician David Bowie.

Historical context note

The 'Bel Air' chair became a signature object for the collective Memphis. It was used on the cover of the most widely distributed book on the design group (authored by Barbara Radice). It was also the 'poster object' for the first American museum exhibition about the group: 'Memphis in Memphis' (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Tennessee 1984/85).

Descriptive line

Chair, wood frame with cotton upholstery and painted wood, asymmetrical back, 'Bel Air', designed by Peter Shire, 1982, produced by Memphis, Milan, 1984.

Production Note

The upholstery was done by a workshop headed by Nino Ornaghi in the Monza area near Milan.

Attribution note: The 'Bel Air' chair has been in constant production since its creation. The colours have been changed later because the original upholstery fabrics were not available any more. Shire redesigned the colours and submitted 5 finished colour schemes.

Materials

Wood; Cotton (textile)

Techniques

Painting

Categories

Furniture

Production Type

Mass produced

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.