Star-Struck Furniture Design

The furniture designer to the stars, Charles Hollis Jones, is enjoying his first retrospective at the R 20th Century’s R Gallery in New York City. Entitled “Seeing Clearly,” the exhibit runs until December 31.

Hollis Jones is situated between mid-century modernism and postmodernism, and his eclectic experimentation with forms, ranging from the biomorphic (Waterfall love seat, 1968) to the popular vernacular (Mailbox table lamp, 1963), merits our attention. Perhaps more important, however, the spotlight on Hollis Jones reflects his cultural moment and strikes a nerve in these recessionary times.

Hollis Jones’s designs are pure Hollywood, with clients including Dean Martin, Diana Ross, and Johnny Carson. So black-on-black New York seems an unlikely place for celebrating this particular career. But like previous decorative arts designed for the nouveau riche, his works eclectically draw from historical examples. The Wisteria chair created for Tennessee Williams in 1968 is an acrylic riff on the Memphis School of Furniture design, for instance, and the detailing on the 1966 wastebasket and mini tissue-box echoes Art Deco’s chevrons.

Hollis Jones’s furniture is all luxe. Acrylic and chromed steel strike a balance between the coolness and transparency of academic modernism, while their imitation of crystal and silver affect a lavish milieu. All glitter and no gold: this is the furniture of and for postwar Hollywood. (The exhibition design, by Tsao & McKown, includes dramatic lighting that recalls Vaudeville stage footlights and the flashbulbs of the paparazzi; even though it also occasionally drapes some pieces too deeply in silhouette.)

But don’t lose sight of this fact: Hollis Jones is a master craftsman. Before he was even 20 years old, he was appointed chief designer of the furniture and accessory showroom Hudson Rissman. Through an ironic use of materials, his furniture weds craftsmanship and showmanship.

His use of acrylic is anything but disingenuous, for example. Sinuous curves rendered in thin sheets, as well as pieces of Versailles proportions, couldn’t be efficiently fabricated in anything but plastics-era materials. Smaller sculptures, infused with cubist planes of color, meanwhile celebrate the possibilities of the hi-tech. Hollis Jones deploys materials to mirror their more expensive counterparts, without trying to be them.

In this broken-bubble, recessionary era, maybe we need a little Hollis Jones like we need a little Christmas. Still producing new designs, the furniture designer couldn’t be better suited to our dot.bomb times. His furniture isn’t cheap, but it demonstrates an understanding that is as sharp as the glint of a cubic zirconium: consumers like garish hyper-consumption, even when times are hard.

Categories: Cities, Furniture