Dining Designed by Wright

Photo: courtesy Steelcase

When Jim Hackett, Steelcase’s CEO, and James Ludwig, the company’s VP of global design, invited us—panelists and moderator–to dine at Wright’s restored Meyer May house, I felt my spine tingle. On the evening before the September 10th symposium, which focused on what today’s designers can learn from the master, I was thinking of how uncomfortable sitting in those stiff chairs would be. But instead we were all pleasantly surprised and grew to understand that Wright knew exactly how to bring people together.

With Jim and James seated at either end of the table and functioning as family patriarchs, the setting turned us into a lively group, willing to express opinions, argue (collegially, if heatedly at times), exchange ideas, and come away feeling that each of us had something to add to the discussion. Though the food, prepared with local produce, was delicious and the service courteous, we felt that it was Wright’s design that made it all work.

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The perfect width of the table which put us close together without making us feel cramped; the four lights/planters (above) that grow out of each corner of the dining table and create a warm glow and, yes, those blocky chairs that actually work to shut out the surrounding house and focus diners on each other—here was furniture that did what all dining furniture should strive for, that communal grace so hard to come by today.

A century has come and gone since the ensemble was designed, but its scale, position, and materials are as relevant today as they were then. Which leads me to ask: What better way to study design history than to really experience it, not just gawk at it?

Previously: a report from the Meyer May house anniversary symposium
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