Airline Deco Chairs (1935-1936)

Weber’s most famous work is probably this exemplarily Deco armchair, fully expressing the clean, streamlined style of the age, with its cantilevered frame-supported seat even reminiscent of wooden aircraft components.

Airline Deco Chairs (1935-1936)
Airline Deco Chairs (1935-1936)

Chair on air

This American Art Deco armchair was realized in 1936 by Karl Emmanuel Martin (Kem) Weber (1889 – 1963). Originally designed in 1935, following the trend of streamlined manufacture (a 1920s-born current, that applied the same aerodynamic and technological techniques, usually reserved for airplanes, automobiles and high-velocity trains, to other products of modern design, ranging from freezers to furniture to windows; rounded edges, horizontal shapes, uniform and simplified assembly were the key words), Weber nonetheless struggled to find a manufacturer that would take up this project. He eventually resolved this, by 1936, by selling its rights to the Mueller Furniture Company of Grand Rapids, in Michigan, and had it immediatly begin production.

The seat would not see much popularity, until 1939, when Weber was commissioned the design of Walt Disney Studios, in Burbank, with full control over the entire project, from site plan to furnishings. During the year of work, Weber’s employers – already familiar with his cabinet designs – enjoyed his Deco Chair designs, and had the Airline incorporated into the facility; Walt Disney Studios even commissioned a local woodworker to realize a full, 300 pieces batch to refurbish every office of the complex.

Kem Weber, Airline chair, 1935- 1936
Kem Weber, Airline chair, 1935- 1936

Image source: https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/kem-weber-the-most-important-mid-century-modern-designer-you-never-heard-of/

Kem Weber in Disney's Burbank offices
Kem Weber in Disney’s Burbank offices

Image source: https://creativefuel.frch.com/2015/10/08/kem-weber-chair-build/

Kem Weber designed Disney's Burbank offices in the late 1930s
Kem Weber designed Disney’s Burbank offices in the late 1930s

Image source: http://www.paulfrasercollectibles.com/news/movie-memorabilia/disney-animators-office-furniture-valued-at-80-000/21196.page

Streamline and Deco

Born of the same veneer that inspired the cantilevered chair designs pioneered by Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Airline chair heralds Modernism  and the aesthetic of the Age of Machines,using an hinged seat and back, together with simple, U-shaped legs and arms to allow the chair to be packed in a flat box, shipped and then easily assembled. Its prowess expresses itself only when one sits in the upholstered plywood seat hinged to the chair back, as the pressure strengthens the frame rails to give the chair strength that feels out of proportion with its lightness.

Although it was thus practical, stylish and economical to construct and ship, the Airline chair failed to find a volume manufacturer, even after the 1936 contract, and most surviving examples come from the 300 craftsman-made for the Walt Disney Studios.

Kem Weber’s Airline Chair was designed to be packed in a cardboard container and assembled by the customer.
Kem Weber’s Airline Chair was designed to be packed in a cardboard container and assembled by the customer.

Image source: https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/kem-weber-the-most-important-mid-century-modern-designer-you-never-heard-of/

Data Sheet

  • H. 31-1/2,
  • W. 24-3/4,
  • D. 33 in.

(80 x 62.9 x 83.8 cm)

Kem Weber, Airline chair, 1935- 1936
Kem Weber, Airline chair, 1935- 1936

Image source: http://www.modernismgallery.com/kem+weber/

Image source: http://www.icollector.com/K-E-M-Weber-Airline-chair_i7292753


Info sources:

http://www.modernismgallery.com/kem+weber/

https://www.kirklandmuseum.org/collections/work/airline-chair/

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/490910

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kem_Weber