Objects of Desire

Lisa Marie Hart Current PSL, Modernism

Serpentine Sofa

When design is distilled to the purpose of its form and then built up again in minimal fashion, you begin to understand why so many people marvel at modernist furnishings. Free of ornamentation, they surprise and delight in the way a poem does: few words, much to say. Interestingly, the advances in manufacturing technology that partly spurred the modern movement have been eclipsed by advances in information technology, which fuel our insatiable obsession with distinctive design. As we edge closer to the once ridiculously futuristic-sounding year of 2020, no modern object can elude us. A quick online search makes it possible for you to summon the object of your desire to your living room, credit limit willing, in a few keystrokes. On the internet, modernism meets voyeurism, a 24/7 pastime where people who speak any number of languages go simultaneously gaga over a first-generation, egg-shaped chair. Great design, from any movement, is equal parts artistic, emotional, technical, and experiential. And rare furnishings and objects like the ones appearing on the next few pages — pieces we borrowed from collectors, institutions, and dealers for this feature — are conduits for memories. When stories unfold because the design encourages them, the objects have truly earned their premium value.

Vladimir Kagan / Serpentine sofa / Circa 1950

Few pieces have launched a visionary’s influential career like this soft and sensuous sofa. An ambitious Vladimir Kagan was only 23 years old when his Serpentine started hearts a-thumpin’. Long, low, and luxurious, this example is one of the oldest Serpentines in existence. Dedar Milano sent the fabric from Italy so the piece could be painstakingly upholstered and elevated to a modern take on 1950s glamour by Peter Blake Gallery. Ballet-slipper-pink velvet slides across the seat in contrast with the artful, dimensional fabric on the back, all atop glistening casters. “There’s a lot of shimmering that goes on as you move around it,” Blake says. “The light just travels from one fabric to the other.” The owner of the exclusive fabric house was a personal friend of Kagan, and the sofa has been authenticated by the designer’s estate. The son of a Russian master cabinetmaker, Kagan emigrated in 1938 from Germany to New York when he was 11. In 2009, 62 years after he started designing and producing spectacular showpieces like this one, Kagan was inducted into the Interior Designer Hall of Fame. The Serpentine is one of two-dozen Kagan sofas still produced by the company in left- or right-facing models.


Gae Aulenti / Patroclo Lamp / Circa 1975

The prolific and highly regarded Gae Aulenti is probably best known for architecture, especially her multiple-award-winning renovation of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, notes designer Brad Dunning. “I personally respond to her furniture and her lighting designs.” He owns this Patroclo lamp sheathed in a metal net, produced by Artemide, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has one exactly like it in its permanent collection.
“I have been trying to acquire them all. Perhaps my favorites are the ones she innovated based on ancient glass blowing techniques where a heat-resistant wire frame is created, and then a master Italian glass blower ‘inflates’ molten glass into the rhomboid frame. The process makes each one unique. When lit, it casts a dramatic shadow if placed against a wall, giving it an almost sci-fi, Blade Runner vibe.”

Scala Luxury / Rib Lounge Chair / Circa 1990s

The ’90s does the ’50s in this steel-frame chair by Scala Luxury, a California design and manufacturing house that caters to the trade’s elite. The unmistakable design for the natural teak Costela, or Rib, chairs originated with Martin Eisler and Carlo Hauner for Forma Brazil in 1952. Scala’s all-white version is even more literal: High-gloss lacquered bentwood supports evoke the image of strong skeletal ribs beneath soft, tufted leather cushions. From Bridges Over Time in Palm Springs available on DECASO.com.



Walter Lamb / Brown Jordan Lounge Chair and Rocker / Circa 1950s

A rare S Lounge, one of the more elegant pieces by Walter Lamb for Brown Jordan, is all an outdoor chaise should be. Supportive cords gently conform to the body as one relaxes with a cold drink and a sigh. Children like to sit on them and pretend they’re plucking the strings of a harp.
Adults appreciate the breathability of airflow through the back and seat. And collectors don’t mind replacing the rope periodically to retain its time-honored integrity. Their satisfaction traces to designer Lamb’s idea for turning salvaged copper and bronze tubing from sunken naval ships at Pearl Harbor into something with more levity. Its frame can even withstand the elements — as long as owners can withstand the encroaching patina. The vast collection that included tables, chairs, benches, ottomans, and the Waikiki rocking lounge chair earned a MoMA design award and was reissued in 2009 by Design Within Reach. From Bridges Over Time in Palm Springs available on DECASO.com.



Charles Hollis Jones / Edison Lamp /
Circa 1975

In 1971, Charles Hollis Jones won three awards at the California Design Eleven show at the Pasadena Art Museum. One was for the Edison lamp he designed to “bring romance back to lighting.” The piece, inspired by the bulbs used to light the Eiffel Tower, helped launch Jones into design history. Arthur Elrod was his best client for the Edison, which Jones developed in 1968 and produced with clear, bronze, and smoke Lucite shades.
The custom lamp shown here was made in copper for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé for their Beverly Hills estate. Jones recently found it in a shop on Melrose Avenue, purchased it for $300 (a tenth of its fair market value), and spent three days hand-polishing its base. He still produces the Edison, including floor lamp versions in nickel and bronze. The Indianapolis Museum of Art owns one. “For the first 10 years, I didn’t get any credit for my work,” Jones recalls. “Now they say I designed everything you see in Lucite, so I get 10 percent more credit than I deserve.”

Pierre Guariche / Magazine Rack / Circa 1950–1959

Is there a magazine, other than Palm Springs Life, fine enough to store on this functional piece of sculpture? Designer and architect Pierre Guariche began showing his work in his early 20s and rose to prominence in modernist France. The wood spindles/dowels bring to mind the handheld newspaper sticks of turn-of-the-century Europe, while its gleaming hairpin legs suggest the gilded wings of some French-modern angel. Petite enough for any collector to place, the rack is also bold enough to serve as a focal point. From Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach.



William Haines / Backgammon Table and Chairs / Circa 1965

Walter and Leonore Annenberg played backgammon at this handsome set, which resides in the Royal Sitting Room at their historic estate at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage. Each made their moves from the comfort of a brilliant turquoise seat. The chairs, with their curved paneled backs that stretch out into wings, are part of a suite of eight in a design introduced by 1920s actor-turned-interior designer Billy Haines in 1949. Tucked discreetly in one drawer of the game table was a catalog of the Steuben glass collection, Asian Artists in Crystal. If their guests had a question about the rare glass collection in the adjacent gallery, the catalog was quick with the answer.


Jean Louis Godivier  / Armchair / Circa 1985

Little has been recorded about the fleeting furniture moments of Parisian architect Jean Louis Godivier, who designed this rare streamlined chair for UP8. The style echoes Italy’s postmodern Memphis group and is as sculptural as the designer’s more well-known French buildings. Godivier exhibited a version of the chair at a modern furniture expo in 1986 at Centre Pompidou. Beyond that, they are objects of mystery and movement. Each chair has a back that swivels and arcing armrests that lightly pierce the floor with their tips, which give the appearance of either sticking into the ground or preparing to spring into action. From Bridges Over Time in Palm Springs available on DECASO.com.

Charles and Ray Eames /
Tru-sonic Speaker / Circa 1956

One glance at this old-school speaker takes you back in time. It’s easy to picture a mod, postwar American family sitting around and paging through their newspapers and comic books while listening to LPs on the turntable in mono sound. The walnut cabinet sits on four aluminum legs, similar to the X-shaped base on the Eames Ottoman — the one that pairs with the couple’s famous namesake lounge chair. The speaker represents one of several enclosure styles that Ray and Charles Eames designed in the mid-1950s for the new owners of Stephens Tru-Sonic Inc. in Culver City. The piece embodies all that was sometimes stark and always beautiful about the Eameses’ work — and much of midcentury’s most beloved designs. The speaker recently sold to a collector in Singapore, and yes, he’s actually using it. From Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach.