Bel Air thumbnail 1
Bel Air thumbnail 2
+1
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Bel Air

Chair
1982 (designed), 1984 (manufactured)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Painted wood, coloured cotton fabric
Brief Description
Chair, wood frame with cotton upholstery and painted wood, asymmetrical back, 'Bel Air', designed by Peter Shire, 1982, produced by Memphis, Milan, 1984.
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.
Dimensions
  • Height: 128cm
  • Approx. width: 123cm
  • Depth: 108cm
Measured from object
Style
Production typeMass produced
Object history
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
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).
Production
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.
Summary
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.
Collection
Accession Number
W.19-2010

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdNovember 1, 2010
Record URL