The Animator’s Chair

Designer Cory Grosser finds a way to update Walt Disney’s favorite lounger.

Cory Grosser

Walt Disney Signature

Walt Disney was a man who respected his own passions. A cartoon mouse? Build it an empire! A dancing broomstick? Hire Leopold Stokowski to conduct a tune for it! A favorite chair? Buy it in the hundreds! “We’re not sure about the exact number,” says Los Angeles–based designer Cory Grosser, “but he bought three or four hundred of them, probably most of the production run.” Disney’s interior obsession was the cantilevered Airline Chair designed by Kem Weber, also the architect behind the studio’s Burbank, California, headquarters. Now an icon of Art Moderne design, the 1934 birch-and-Naugahyde chair serves as the inspiration for a new design by Grosser, in partnership with the four-year-old Walt Disney Signature (WDS) line.

From concept to completion, the new chair took over two years to finalize. “Chairs are tough in general,” says Grosser, 36, who has designed streamlined pieces for Italian lines like SpHaus, Dellarobbia, and Frighetto. “With a wood chair there’s a series of prototypes, and with that development can come a significant investment, so when you have a few key people who really love a story, it helps.” In this case the key person was Robert Oberschelp. When Oberschelp joined Disney to run WDS in 2006, he stumbled across an original Airline Chair in an animator’s office and learned that they had once populated the screening room and had been issued to each animator, but were being phased out. “The true collectors would go crazy. There are a dozen or two of them in our warehouse stacked on top of each other, covered in plastic,” he says.

Enthusiastic about reimagining this integral part of Disney’s studio culture, Oberschelp approached Grosser, who was work-ing as a design strategy consultant for the WDS line. Launched as a “noncharacter” brand (i.e., no dinner plates with Mickey Mouse on them), WDS is Disney’s foray into premium lifestyle, partnering with designers to make everything from housewares (with Cappellini) to high-end dresses (with Sue Wong). With Cory, “I was attracted to his angular designs and he’s got the industrial influence,” says Oberschelp. Also important was the shared SoCal identity of the designer and Disney.

Grosser set out to create his version, the Airline_009. The original was a flat-pack design, with straight lines and enough heft for the cantilever. “Today we’re looking for things that feel lighter,” says Grosser. Though the general outline is similar, the new chair has sleek, angled edges. “We just call it ‘skate ramp’ now,” he says of the feature, inspired by L.A.’s skateboarder culture. New CNC tools were also employed, enabling a walnut or oak frame that is narrow on the exterior but widens inward, giving the chair enough stability to make it viable as contract furniture. His favorite addition? “I talked them into offering an ottoman. With this chair, you just want to kick your feet up.”

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