Designer Chairs for Cheap

After previewing a new line of chairs and bar stools to fanfare this spring, Jack Markuse assumed it would be easy to land floor space for his new company, Appoggi. But although the designs—by Richard Gluckman, Arquitectonica, SHoP, and others—were a hit at the furniture shows, he has yet to find a New York showroom. Markuse suspects the problem isn’t the quality of the furniture, which is being released this month through Unica Home, but the cost. “Starting at $150 a bar stool, my price points were low,” he laughs. “I think I was threatening my competitors.”

The key to Appoggi’s bargain-basement prices lies in creating design strategies that anticipate cost-effective production—something familiar to the former Alessi distributor, whose other company, Projects, fabricates and sells architect-designed clocks, mailboxes, watches, and weather vanes. “We hoped to offer as few constraints as possible, but we also gave our designers strategies for making the furniture affordably,” Markuse says of the guidelines he and business partner Shahen Pooladian gave the five architects. The price-minded methods included designing simple fabric and wood-frame structures, using vinyl, manufacturing in Asia, and allowing contract customers to provide their own materials.

The results are diverse. Gluckman brought intellectual precision to powder-coated steel forms; SHoP designed quirky chairs in lime green, white, and orange that are slightly reminiscent of kindergarten; and Arquitectonica’s Laurinda Spear offered a curvy rotational-molded plastic lounge chair that can also be used outdoors. “We get the simple job of designing, and they take care of the rest,” Arquitectonica design director Damian Barton says. “We were able to retain our personal approach in style, language, and theory while making something that has mass appeal.”

Markuse hopes to expand each line to include outdoor furniture and tables, as well as form more of the collaborations that excite him. “An architect looks at the whole environment,” he says. “They don’t just build a better mousetrap, but one that’s more beautiful. They build a sleeker mousetrap.”

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