Olson Kundig’s Kristen Murray: Finding Inspiration in Bruno Mathsson

Avid collector of Bruno Mathsson’s furniture, Kristen Murray discusses where her love of the Swedish designer’s creations stems from.

Kirsten R. Murray is a principal and owner at the Seattle-based architecture firm Olson Kundig. Her recent projects include Paradise Road housing at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and Copine restaurant in Seattle. Courtesy Rafael Soldi

A few years ago, I bought a pair of armless webbed side chairs by Swedish furniture designer Bruno Mathsson—early models built circa 1938—from a dealer in L.A. and began the process of learning about the designer and restoring the chairs and their original stained hemp webbing. As I was working on that, I found a different set of his chairs in Seattle, from the ’50s, with arms and a sturdy seat of thick brown saddle leather slung amid a graceful and expressive laminated bentwood frame.I couldn’t resist having both pairs.

These chairs are extraordinary. Featherlight, they taper to avoid any unneeded mass—perhaps a result of his training as a craftsman. The curves are more expressive than in other Scandinavian designs, with compound geometries reflecting an incredible understanding of the possibilities of materials and the mechanics of sitting.

Mathsson wasn’t an academically trained architect, theorist, or artist; instead he apprenticed under his father as a cabinetmaker. In a way, he was a self-taught Modernist, a dreamer, a high school dropout. His career was organic, his lessons learned from observation of the Bauhaus, Swedish Arts and Crafts, Alvar Aalto, and others—but freer from abstraction and more deeply rooted in craft.

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