Norman Cherner (1920-1987) was truly a renaissance man of the mid century-modern movement — his devotion to teaching, prefabrication and hands-on production probably handicapped him in the race to get into the pantheon of mid century greats.
Cherner is recognized as one of the most original of a generation of designers that explored post-war technological innovations in industrial design and architecture.
While Charles Eames, George Nelson, et al. were polishing their respective laurels, Cherner was teaching at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University and later became an instructor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1947 to 1949.
He embarked on a lifetime exploration of multidisciplinary design, from furniture, shelving, glassware, lighting and even toys to his pioneering work in low-cost prefabricated housing, for which he designed affordable furniture.
Unfortunately production ceased by the early 1970s. For almost 30 years, Cherner’s seating could only be seen in galleries, museums and the homes of a few lucky collectors.
After listening to countless requests from fellow Architects to see his father’s designs reissued, Benjamin Cherner decided to join with his brother Thomas to form the Cherner Chair Company in 1999, to revive the designs and produce them as their father originally intended.
Utilizing his original drawings and specifications, the reissued designs are manufactured with the same attention to detail found in the original hand made classics.
The 1958 molded plywood armchair by Norman Cherner a mid century icon found in design collections worldwide is now available to a new generation of furniture collectors. Reissued in exacting detail from the original drawings and molds, the armchair combines the best of both molded plywood and solid bent wood construction.
Like the original, made entirely in the U.S.A.
In addition to reissuing the molded plywood chairs, stools and tables, The Cherner Chair Company has introduced new designs by Benjamin Cherner.
The repeated success of chairs inspired Benjamin, an architect and designer in his own right, to create a coordinating table, the Cherner Table (2004)
The Cherner Chair Company Product Collections
The beautiful Cherner armchair is an icon of mid-century modern furniture design.
Reissued in exacting detail from the original drawings and molds, the armchair combines the best of both molded plywood and solid bent wood construction.
Smooth arms and flexible back rest make the armchair comfortable. The seat of the armchair is made of one piece molded plywood. The wood base is made of two piece laminate.
The 1958 molded plywood side chair by Norman Cherner is the companion to the classic Cherner arm chair.
The seat is made of laminated plywood of graduated thickness, from 15 plys to 5 plys at the thin edge of the shell.
Reissued in exacting detail from the original drawings and molds, the side chair is strong, lightweight and like the original, made entirely in the U.S.A
The armchair combines the best of both one piece molded plywood and solid bent wood construction
The flexible but solid back rest makes the side chair comfortable.
The Cherner Chair Company is making an effort to be sustainable by using wood from sustainably managed forests, recycled content steel and low VOC finishes.
Norman Cherner quote about sustainability ……………. “Our primary environmental philosophy is that you will never find a Cherner Chair product in a landfill. The perfect dining chair, it is built to be handed down from generation to generation.”
About Norman Cherner
Born in Brooklyn New York in 1920
Norman Cherner was an American architect and designer.
He is recognised as one of the most original of a generation of designers that explored post-war technological innovations in architecture and industrial design.
He studied and taught at the Columbia University Fine Arts department and was an instructor at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1947-1949.
There, he became steeped in the MoMA favored Bauhaus approach, where all the aspects and media of design were considered.
At the same time he also began his own practice, embarking on a lifetime exploration of architecture and furniture design.
Here he also explored the Bauhaus movement, and concentrated on multidisciplinary design, from furniture, shelving, glassware, lighting and even toys to his pioneering work in low-cost prefabricated housing.
Cherner’s training in the Bauhaus tradition led to a lifelong exploration informed by the belief that all design stems from one discipline.
His chairs, tables and case goods have shown an enduring popularity since their introduction nearly fifty years ago.
The molded plywood Cherner Chair, designed for Plycraft in 1958, has become an icon of mid-twentieth century design and can be found in galleries and design collections worldwide, including the Vitra Museum
Norman Cherner’s designs are part of the iconography of mid-20th Century furniture design.
Early in his career, Cherner envisioned houses as a total design concept and designed affordable furniture specifically for these low-cost modular dwellings.
He wrote about his theories in Make Your Own Modern Furniture (1953), How to Build Children’s Toys and Furniture (1954), Fabricating Houses from Component Parts (1958) and How to Build a House for Less than $6,000 (1960).
Norman Cherner died in the USA in 1987.
Cherner’s furniture Designs
Norman Cherner’s furniture designs include —
Plycraft Cherner Chairs
Cherner is best known for the molded plywood seating line he created for Plycraft, a manufacturing company in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
In the 1950s, the Herman Miller company, led by George Nelson, was working on creating lightweight chairs out of plywood.
Their Pretzel chair was designed by Nelson’s office in 1952 and produced by a Massachusetts-based company called Plycraft. The Pretzel chair proved too fragile and costly, so Herman Miller stopped production in 1957.
But because of the Pretzel chair, Plycraft had the materials and techniques for constructing plywood furniture, and they didn’t want them to go to waste. George Nelson recommended that Norman Cherner design a sturdier and more affordable Pretzel-type chair that could be more easily produced on Plycraft’s equipment, so Paul Goldman, the owner of Plycraft, hired Cherner, contract and all.
After Cherner turned in his design to Plycraft, though, he was told the project had been scrapped. However Plycraft’s owner continued to produce it, claiming the design as his own.
Soon after, the chair’s popularity was heightened when it appeared in Norman Rockwell’s 1961 painting “The Artist at Work” on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
Six months after being told the project had been scrapped, Cherner saw his chair design on a New York showroom floor for sale!
The label indicated the chair was from Plycraft with the design attributed to “Bernardo”.
Cherner sued Plycraft in 1961 and won… And, Goldman admitted that Bernardo was a fictitious name.
In the end Plycraft was still legally allowed to produce the Cherner Chair, but had to pay Cherner royalties and give him proper credit.
Eventually the whole seating line was taken out of production in the early 1970s.
And the story of his most famous design is a dramatic tale of innovation, betrayal and, ultimately, of justice.
This molded plywood ‘Cherner Chair’ became his most recognized design and is found in furniture collections worldwide.
Now Cherner’s sons have recently reissued their father’s original designs, not only for the famous chair, but also for various tables and case furniture, as well.
Cherner was initially interested in housing as industrial design and became recognized as a pioneer in the design of prefabricated housing.
In 1948, Cherner built modular, low-cost cooperative housing in upstate New York, for which he also designed the affordable furniture and all other decorative details.
Housing was in enormous demand in the US during the Postwar era, with the GI Bill, the baby boom and the surge of postwar prosperity.
Cherner was determined to make affordable design a reality. His first houses were built in 1948 for a co-operative community in Ramapo, New York.
These homes were examples of this total design concept and included affordable furniture designed specifically for these low-cost modular dwellings.
These homes were examples of his belief that the house and what goes into it should be considered together.
One of his first prefabricated houses in the United States was the “PreBuilt”.
It was designed, produced and assembled in 1957 for the U.S. Department of Housing.
After being exhibited in Vienna it was shipped back to Connecticut and uncrated to become his first home and studio outside of New York City.
The PreBuilt prototype was not commercially successful.
One of the first prefabricated houses in America, the “Prebuilt”, was designed and produced in Camden Maine in 1957 for the U.S. Department of Housing.
Norman Cherner’s Published Books include:
“Make your own Modern Furniture” (1953)
“How to Build Children’s Toys and Furniture” (1954)
“Fabricating Houses from Component Parts” (1958 )
“How to Build a House for Less the $6,000” (1960)
MAKE YOUR OWN MODERN FURNITURE (1953 )
MAKE YOUR OWN MODERN FURNITURE [Working Plans and Room Designs for More Comfortable and Convenient Living]. NYC: McGraw-Hill, 1951. Third printing. Quarto.
A hardcover book in full, decorated black cloth in a near-fine photographically-illustrated dust jacket:
Out-of-print and rare. 7 x 10 book with 140 pages profusely illustrated with b/w photographs and illustrations by the author.
Cherner, his wife and son are models for many of the photographs in the book.
From the dust jacket: “Illustrated with almost one hundred working drawings, sketches and photographs, this book tells how you can furnish your home or apartment in excellent modern taste at little expense.”
The book subtitle (Working Plans and Room Designs for More Comfortable and Convenient Living) clearly points the direction Cherner wanted to lead.
HOW TO BUILD CHILDREN’S TOYS AND FURNITURE (1954)
Norman Cherner: HOW TO BUILD CHILDREN’S TOYS AND FURNITURE. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954. First Edition. Octavo.
Black cloth stamped in silver. Photographically printed dust jacket. 144 pp. Drawings, plans and black and white photographs throughout. . 6.75 x 10 book with 144 pages profusely illustrated with black and white photographs and illustrations by the author.
Cherner and his two sons are models for many of the photographs in the book.
From the dust jacket: “Here are 80 pages of plans and specifications and more than 200 ideas for toys and furniture. Each piece is shown in exploded views and working drawings so that the reader can see at a glance how all the parts go together.
FABRICATING HOUSES FROM COMPONENT PARTS ( 1958 )
HOW TO BUILD A HOUSE FOR $ 6,000 ( 1960 )
About Benjamin Cherner
Benjamin Cherner is the son of the furniture designer Norman Cherner and co- founder of the Cherner Chair Company.
He heads the multi disciplinary design studio Cherner Design.
Benjamin Cherner is a registered Architect in New York and Connecticut and holds degrees in Architecture from Arizona State university and Columbia University.
His most recent work, a duplex penthouse in New York’s East Village has been featured in Dwell magazine and the New York Open House tour.
His building designs often incorporate his father’s as well as his own furniture designs.
NB The Cherner Chair Company is the “Sole Licensor” of original Norman Cherner and Benjamin Cherner designs