In the late 19th century, the advent of mass-produced metal wire gave rise to a new category of furnishings destined for conservatories and gardens. Those early peacock chairs and plant stands reflected Victorian tastes for fanciful ornamentation. Later, midcentury designers redefined wire for a new era of furniture-or, as Harry Bertoia called his Diamond chair, "functional sculpture."
For decorator , the allure of wire furniture remains strong. "It's lightweight, durable, and transportable," he says, underscoring why the material is so popular for outdoor use. But where comfort is paramount, such as for barstools and dining chairs, cushions are essential, he adds.
Furniture dealer and designer points to another benefit that's noticeable when wire comes indoors: "There's a visual lightness as well as a physical one." The airy, linear forms can punctuate a space, she explains. "They make me think of line drawings by Matisse or Ellsworth Kelly.
ABOUT THE EXPERTS:
DAVID KLEINBERG The Manhattan decorator's serene, handsomely appointed spaces reflect the title of his book, Traditional Now. He has recently completed projects in Aspen, Colorado, and Los Angeles.
LIZ O'BRIEN In addition to running her New York gallery-a top source for 20th-century design-O'Brien produces a line of furnishings inspired by American classics.
Liz O'Brien and David Kleinberg with a bookshelf by Paola Navone, a Jayson Home pendant, and a barstool by Hee Welling for Hay.
"Everyone loves a sunburst mirror," proclaims David Kleinberg. This 1960s-inspired version, rimmed with brass-finished wire, is versatile, he says: "You could put it in a very girly room or a minimalist space." Liz O'Brien sees it hanging above a console for decorative effect. "This is a modern take on a time-honored form," she says. A larger size is also offered. 35" dia. x 2" d.; $618;
"Very energetic," O'Brien says of the bookcase's jagged silhouette. She envisions it in a fashion-forward loft, anchoring a wall, or floating in the middle of a room. "I like the combination of iron and leather," says Kleinberg, pointing out the hammered frame and soft, suede-like shelves. A wider version and alternate leather color are also available. 71" h. x 36" w. x 14" d.; $6,810;
Kleinberg is a fan of this lightweight cocktail table, which pairs an intricate bone-tile top with a spare steel base. "It's like a girl wearing a fancy jacket with jeans," he says, adding, "this can go anywhere." To O'Brien, the table's petite scale makes it ideal for situating between two chairs or in front of a small sofa. "I see it in a sophisticated country house," she says. 28" dia. x 18" h.; $399;
A single sheet of wire mesh forms the back and seat of this low-slung, all-weather chair. "It reminds me of the folded cloth of a kimono," says O'Brien. Kleinberg likes the curves: "Even though bending metal takes a lot of force, this has a fluid, natural look." He pictures it on the terrace of a contemporary apartment. The chair comes in two additional colors. 39" w. x 27" d. x 28" h.; $1,005;
To Kleinberg, this piece recalls Brancusi's primitive sculptures. "It has whimsy and practicality," he says, adding that it could work beside an 18th-century French chair or a contemporary Italian one. "It's fun to have a small stool that can be moved around," adds O'Brien. The indoor-outdoor table (available to the trade) comes in additional finishes and a larger size. 18" h. x 15" dia.; $990;
Constructed of steel wire with a seat and back of taut black twine, this is a statement piece, says O'Brien: "It stands on its own, like a piece of sculpture." Kleinberg imagines the chair in the entry of a modern house or high-rise apartment. While the design is complicated, "it has visual impact," he says, "and it's perfectly comfortable." 31" w. x 43" d. x 36" h.; $5,000;
"So comfortable-this is only as big as it needs to be," says O'Brien, praising the intimate scale of the wire armchair (available to the trade). She would place a group of them around an outdoor dining table, or set a pair in the garden. "I like the curved nature of the design," says Kleinberg. "It's a great chair that's not at an insane price point," he adds. A range of colors is offered. 21" w. x 22" d. x 29" h.; $388;
"I love the bare-bones simplicity," Kleinberg says of this wire-mesh pendant, which has a silvery finish and polished nickel fittings. He would hang a series of them over a bar or kitchen island, to lend a touch of sparkle. O'Brien also appreciates the subtle shine. "It makes this less industrial and more jewelry-like," she says. "In a small room, the shade would cast some nice shadows." 15" h. x 11" dia.; $160;
With its linear iron base and opaque white glass top, this table is "elegant and minimal," says O'Brien. "The surface is forgiving, so it's good for a high-traffic area," she adds, pointing out the child-friendly rounded corners. Kleinberg notes that the proportions are just right: "In the Goldilocks school of cocktail tables, it's not too big and not too small." 52" w. x 24" d. x 14" h.; $795;
This steel barstool's unexpected color, one of several powder-coat finishes offered, earns Kleinberg's praise: "In an all-white kitchen or one with natural-wood cabinets, how happy would you be to see robin's-egg-blue stools?" The stackable design is smart, says O'Brien, who envisions several pulled up to an outdoor bar or inside at a counter in a casual breakfast area. "The kids will love this," she adds. "It's very family-friendly." 34" h. x 14" w. x 15" d.; $325;