By John Furphy, on 26-Feb-2017

Have you sat in a Featherston-designed chair?

With original Grant Featherston contour chairs frequently fetching well over $5,000 most people probably think that they have never sat in a Featherston chair but they are most likely wrong. Most Australians would have experienced at least one Featherston chair, arguably making him Australia’s most successful industrial designer.

Grant Featherston’s best known work, designed in the early 1950s that most people are familiar with is the R160 (pictured). It is the most commonly found and frequently copied, however his most successful designs were those created for the commercial market, with offices, community halls, universities, cafes and restaurants ordering hundreds at a time. A book exploring the life and work of this famous Australian has not been available until now.

Grant Featherston’s best known work, designed in the early 1950s that most people are familiar with is the R160 (pictured). It is the most commonly found and frequently copied, however his most successful designs were those created for the commercial market, with offices, community halls, universities, cafes and restaurants ordering hundreds at a time. A book exploring the life and work of this famous Australian has not been available until now.

Featherston first designed chairs in 1947 and continued until the late 1970s.

Working in wood, steel and plastics he designed hundreds of chairs many of which were produced by leading Australian manufacturers, most notably Melbourne based Aristoc. Some of his designs were so successful they sold hundreds of thousands of copies, at a time when the population of Melbourne was just 1.2 million.

While Featherston is best known for his Contour series aimed primarily at the domestic market his most successful designs were adopted by the commercial market, with offices, community halls, universities, cafes and restaurants ordering hundreds at a time.

Many of these designs were so sturdy that they can still be found in use at cafes and bars in country towns over half a century later. The Delma was the most successful design – simple, stackable and cheap - just £9/5/- in 1963, less than half the cost of other steel framed chairs. Artistoc sold over a quarter a million copies of the steel square tubed chair with vinyl upholstery and the design was widely copied.

Featherston, working with Aristoc, also designed custom public seating for sports halls, conference halls, university lecture theatres and other public venues – ensuring that most Melburnians have sat in at least one Featherston chair.

In 1967 Featherston, working with his second wife Mary, designed the "Talking Chair" for the Australian pavilion at World Expo in Montreal. This highly innovative design merged technology and furniture to allow exhausted Expo visitors to relax in a comfortable chair whist learning about Australia from tapes of famous Australians played though speakers concealed in the head rest. The chair was an instant success and became the talk of the town in both Montreal and Melbourne.

Grant worked with the leading modernist architects (including Robin Boyd and Neil Clerehan) to supply furniture for their clients and the Featherston’s designed all the furniture for Roy Grounds’ new National Gallery of Victoria building in 1968.

Despite all these achievements it is the Contour series that remains Featherston’s best known work. Designed in the early 1950s most people are familiar with the R160 (pictured) as this is the most commonly found and frequently copied design. The Contour series includes two dozen designs and this extraordinary flourish of creativity is displayed in its entirety in this new book for the first time.

Surprisingly, a book exploring the life and work of this famous Australian has not been available until now. The outstanding commercial success of Featherston’s later designs discussed above is one of the surprises revealed in this book.

Over four years in the making this new book has been extensively research by Geoff Isaac who argues that Featherston has been under estimated by the local design community.

“Critics have accused Featherston of being derivative. However, this fails to acknowledge his achievements in developing production methods that enabled the sparsely populated and remote Australian market to experience the Modern look. The ingenuity required to succeed and consistently deliver successful modern designs, is the real, previously untold, story revealed in my book,” said Isaac.  Beautifully illustrated with over 250 photographs, including previously unpublished material from the Aristoc achieve.

Featherston is not available through bookstores but is being crowd source funded though Kickstarter. As with all Kickstarter listings the project gets to go ahead and credit card charged only if the funding target is reached. For more information visit the Kickstarter webpage or grantfeatherston.com.