Ron Arad at the scrap yard
Vinterior is a marketplace for vintage designer furniture. In this article, we explore how Ron Arad, the eminent Israeli designer, created his iconic Rover Chair.
According to Ron Arad, with his sharp manner and ‘industrial’ approach to design undoubtedly in mind, Marcel Duchamp made everyday objects useless by calling them art. And in immediate contrast, Arad’s work turns the obsolete into objects with a renewed life.
This is illustrated most clearly in his earliest product design, the ‘Rover chair’ (1981), which had him mount a vintage leather seat from an old Rover that he had salvaged from a London scrapyard to a frame made from key-clamp fit steel tubing.
“I picked up this Rover seat and I made myself a frame and this piece sucked me into this world of design”. “If someone had told me a week before that I was going to be a furniture designer, I would think they were crazy.” — Ron Arad
A continuation perhaps of Duchamp’s famous concept of the readymade, where ordinary industrially produced objects such as a urinal or a bicycle wheel were signed and presented as works of art, the Rover Chair shares a certain aesthetic but challenges something else conceptually — that otherwise abandoned and supplanted objects can be used in acts of design. “In the back of my mind,” Arad tells MoMA during the 2009 retrospective of his work, “I had Picasso’s Tête de taureau that was made out of a bicycle seat and the handlebar.”
Working in London in the early 1980’s Israeli-born Arad was amongst a group of young designers, such as Tom Dixon and André Dubreuil, producing design that was tagged with the label ‘creative salvage’, design approached with a kind of do-it-yourself punk attitude for making furniture from found material.
Legend has it that when the fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier saw the Rover Chair, he bought the entire collection that Arad had made to date. The chair fell out of manufacture toward the end of the 80’s, until in 2006, over two decades on from when the piece was originally realised, the Swiss manufacturer Vitra revisited the chair by producing rusted and chromed steel versions in limited edition. A neat anecdote would have Arad wear white gloves to touch the original Rover Chair whilst it was on display at theCentre Pompidou when it typically rests in his living room at home.
As the city of London becomes increasingly design-conscious (and expensive to live in), the story behind the Rover Chair poses an interesting proposition to those galvanised by design but who are on a tight budget. This is not to suggest that everyone is as astute and skilled as the young Arad, but the idea of digging about the treasure trove of salvage yards and reimagining their original purpose is an intelligent way of furnishing one’s home.
Vintage furniture is another genre through which consumers can revitalise their homes through original pieces. And here at Vinterior, we’re building a marketplace which makes this process far more transparent and convenient.
Understandably, there are the typical constraints of ‘up-cycling’ — transportation, maker facilities, space, etc. — the pieces of furniture you think to make may soon become as just expensive as professionally designed pieces, often too without a certain standard of durability.
There are however a number of independent design collectives in the capital that have created a business out of the methodology. The Restoration in Stoke Newington for instance uses disused scaffolding strips and creates bespoke pieces of furniture at a reasonable price. Liddicoat & Goldhill in Dalston too works with both architectural and interior design to shape homes and products from the materials that surround them.
The Ancient Party Barn by Liddicoat & Goldhill — Photos by Keith Collie and Will Scott
Our task was to combine the quality of the surviving barn fragments with the texture and tone of their found materials. — Liddicoat
Waving the proverbial flag for a DIY attitude towards design, Arad at the scrapyard not only marked a moment in design history where art and design merged, but continues to inspire the design conscious world we live in today.