Lofty Pursuit

A difficult form becomes a reality, thanks to persistence and lots and lots of computer models.

Last year Jerry Helling, the creative director of Bernhardt Design, chose to commercially produce four student ideas from a class he taught at the Art Center College of Design, in Southern California. One of the concepts, the dynamically angular Loft chair—in profile, it looks like an obtuse triangle about to spring into action—made its debut at this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair and won Gold at NeoCon.

The chair, by a student from Indonesia named Shelly Shelly, was an exercise in perseverance. When she first showed Helling her working sketches for a wooden armchair consisting of a series of fluidly connected geometric shapes, he judged it perhaps too difficult to execute. “He said, ‘Good luck with that,’” Shelly recalls. In the end, it took 26 computer models to refine the design, in which 22 pieces of solid walnut are joined seamlessly, at modern angles, using traditional dovetailing. Here Shelly gives her thoughts behind the making of Loft.


Product Dimensions
Height: 27.75 in.
Width: 27.5 in.
Depth: 29.5 in.

I tried to think of a way to create a modern product from a material that is considered traditional. The design then became about the connections between old and new, and that’s why the form of the chair is endless—there is no start or end.

I started with a lot of sketches—the smallest drawing actually ended up being this design—and then made full-scale drawings and mock-ups from foam and wood. The final result was achieved using a combination of CNC-milling and hand-carving.

When I designed this, I wanted people to touch the arms and understand that they diminish as they loop into the seat.

The seat is very wide and very deep to create a lounging feeling.

Bernhardt changed just one little detail: the legs were less straight and more sculptural on my own prototype.

I consulted various people with experience using a CNC-milling machine, and they suggested that walnut would work best because it cuts nicely without much chipping.

To showcase the beauty of the wood, I applied a natural finish and used contrasting grain at the joints.

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