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The Athens Chair: From Inspiration to Market – by Thomas Pheasant

Ancient Klismos Chair

The Klismos Chair is a 5th-century-BC Greek design that has inspired designers for centuries.

“Inspiration is not imitation. It is not simply recreating something you have seen…it is taking something you have experienced and allowing it to filter through your own unique sensibility, so that when it comes out, it comes out new.”
- Thomas Pheasant

The Klismos chair, with its graceful, sweeping silhouette, has been one of the most influential styles of furniture produced over the many centuries of furniture design. It has been reinterpreted by the French, the English, the Russians, and certainly by some of the best American furniture designers from Benjamin Henry Latrobe to T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings. Its sculptural form has allowed it to accent both modern and traditional interiors with great ease. While many of these interpretations are beautiful, few meet today’s demand for comfort. Its beauty has allowed many collectors to overlook the reality that most of these forms are uncomfortable.

The Iconic 1960s Klismos Chair by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings

The Iconic 1960s Klismos Chair by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings.

Most of my creative moments occur on airplanes. When I am in my DC studio, my time is divided by the business of design, clients, staff, emails, phone calls and the daily unexpected surprises. So I have learned to ignore the unpleasant realities of flying and to look forward to the peace and quiet of being up in the air, alone, strapped in a chair with my sketch pad and pen.

Athens Chair Sketch

My first sketch for the new collection was this concept for a sculptural lounge chair. The sketch took minutes…the development took over a year.


One of the challenges of creating a new collection of furniture is developing new products that not only present a new idea, but also that incorporate today’s demands for comfort and function.

In designing my new collection for Baker, my very first thought was that I wanted to produce a new occasional/lounge chair that would capture the sweeping silhouette of the Klismos style, and at the same time present something new.

My DC staff works with me to take my sketches and translate them into CAD drawings. These drawings are then sent electronically to Baker where they are reviewed by engineering. Baker then produces a set of full-scale drawings — and that’s when we come together at the factory to begin the review process.

 

Full-scale drawings of Athens Chair

Four months after receiving my initial drawings, I review the first set of full-scale drawings at the factory in Hildebrand, NC.

 

Thomas Pheasant Athens Chair Leg

Chris Ervin presents a model of the front leg, which is, for me, the focal point of the design, and, for engineering, the biggest challenge of this piece.

This process can be a tug-of-war among many factors. I have a vision, engineering has to make it work, and price implications are carefully considered throughout the process. Bringing all of these ideas together in one piece of furniture can be an enormous undertaking… but when it comes together, it is extremely exciting.

Baker team and the Athens Chair Frame

I was unyielding about not changing the proportion of the frame. The Baker team invested enormous energy to make this frame work. Here the product development team considers the challenge.

Two months have passed and I am back at the factory for another review. This time I am presented with a model of the frame for my review. Still not engineered for strength, my focus is solely on proportion. I spend a good deal of that day alone with the frame. These reviews are intense and I request time alone during each review to gather my thoughts before bringing everyone in.

Thomas Pheasant with Athens Chair

Left alone with the model I study the frame and make revisions to the drawings before we bring everyone in for the review.

 

Thomas Pheasant with Athens Chair

 

Thomas Pheasant with Athens Chair

Details that would become bronze castings are presented in resin. These bronze details are my modern translation of leather straps that were once used to join frame members together.

Thomas Pheasant and Steve Hobbs with Athens Chair

Here Steve Hobbs reviews the original leg and the structural issues we will be up against. The Baker team understands the importance of my vision and endeavors to protect that vision throughout the process.

 

After long hours with engineering my focus shifts to upholstery. The upholstery group brings in the first round of tufted cushions for my comments. A good first round but more notes and revisions are required to maintain the sleek profile of the chair.

Thomas Pheasant and Alan Dills with Athens Chair Upholstery

Alan Dills works with me on perfecting the seat and back cushions.

Perfecting the Athens Chair Seat Cushions

On my next visit to the factory I work with Anissa Leatherman, who assists me in creating new fabric palettes for the collection. One of the biggest fabric challenges was the development of a new leather for the Athens Chair. I wanted a new color I call Cameo. It needed to be whiter than ivory, but not stark white. This sounds simple but we went through endless color trials before striking just the right note.

Thomas Pheasant and Anissa Leatherman with Fabrics

We continue work on the fabric collection. It is late November and Market is 5 months away. While most decisions have been made, we are still waiting for many dye lots to come in for approval... the clock is ticking.

Over the next 5 months there are countless emails exchanged, many trips back to the factory, and lots of determination by all to produce a chair that would be stellar.

I write this blog to share a process that is so rewarding to me as a designer. I also hope that in sharing this process I acknowledge the contributions of an incredible team of people that made this past year remarkable.

Thomas Pheasant with Athens Chair at Market

Finally! Just a few weeks until Market and I am here in High Point shooting the new collection for the catalog. The Athens Chair in Cameo leather is ready for its debut!

Baker is excited to announce the addition of many new designs from The Thomas Pheasant Collection, including the Athens Chair. Launched at High Point Market to much critical acclaim, the new collection represents an evolution of the designer’s classical ideals. Visit our website to browse the designs, or click here to read more posts from Mr. Pheasant about the inspiration for this collection.

7 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing the Design collaboration and teamwork that went into the creation of this elegant chair. All creative endeavors are truly a labor of love! I was in High Point and saw the Athens chair as well as the rest of the collection last month – It is more beautiful and comfortable than photos can capture. Kudos all around!

    Peggy Robbins Bender

  2. I would love to be the first to own “The Athens Chair” Great work Tom.

  3. Thomas, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about and seeing pics of your journey in creating the Athens chair for your latest Baker collection! The chair is a masterpiece and is destined to become a new classic. I am so proud my team and I were afforded the opportunity to photograph this beauty, along with all of the other amazing pieces in your collection. You have a brilliant mind and a generous spirit.
    - Diana Parrish

  4. stunning piece of furniture… work of art. and, what a treat to be invited inside the creative process, start to finish.

  5. Steve Barley says:

    The Athens chair inspiration was an excellent plan. Look at that gorgeous furniture! Classic meets modern design and they went along very well!

  6. I was lucky enough to see this chair at High Point in April – and it is fantastic. Sculptural and elegant – a real conversation piece!

    -Christine Philp

  7. Pingback: High Point Picks | Luxe Neutrals | Quintessence

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