These chairs are an independent pursuit of mine, which I’ve been developing since I was 15. As a range, they show a progression in my design ideas and execution, and also reveal my hell bent pursuit of absolute perfection.
The Mark 1 A few months before making this I remember seeing a tropical lounge chair in Australia, whose arms extended forward, allowing your legs to rest on them, and in doing so cooling them in the breeze. I loved both its form and its comfort, so I spent 2 weeks making my own version that summer.
The Mark 2 I liked my first attempt but realised a few things could be improved. Therefore, the next summer I spent a couple of weeks making a revised version: more compact, lower and with curved arms, allowing your legs to assume a more natural and less “spread out” position.
The Eureka Moment I had the idea sitting on the tube one day, to make a chair in honour of a classic Italian speedboat, the 1960s Riva Aquarama. Could I recreate those fast, sleek, elegant lines and turn them into a practical piece of furniture? Call it fickle, but what I had stumbled upon was a nearly impossible brief, which I pursued obsessively until the very end.
Mark 3 – The ‘Riva’ Chair
A Growing Obession I was hooked. A new version, a “rocker”, was to be made. This time even curvier, sleeker, and better crafted. How to adapt the shape? How to make it balance just right? I eventually chose to steam bend the wood, resulting in far less components and wastage, and with the ultimate goal of making it mass produceable one day. But then came a big hurdle: how to steam bend?
Sketches & Planning
Final Paper Card Model & Rear Design I was insipired by the classic Alfa Romeo tail light.
Production I enlarged the model components to make templates for the patterns and made notations for the angles and heights of each mould section. I then laid out the patters on the wood, aiming to reach a compromise between getting the prettiest grain and having the least amount of wastage.
Steaming I contacted David Colwell, a specialist in steam bent ash furniture. He gave me valuable advice and showed me the moulds and steam oven he made. I then made my own steam oven using a huge industrial water pipe, blankets, a rubber pipe and a gas boiler. From then all I had to do was make the moulds, buy a load of clamps and ratchet straps, and have a strong friend to help bend the wood onto the moulds. We steamed the wood for nearly 2 hours before quickly taking it out and bending it onto the moulds. We had about 30 seconds to do this, as the wood fibres are only flexible for a short period of time, but the result was astonishing: inch-thick pieces of walnut seemed to defy the laws of physics!
Completing the wooden structure
Designing a Leather Seat I took my inspiration from photos of the Riva Aquarama itself. The final prototype seat was made by Hermione O’Hea
The Final Mark 4 – The ‘Riva Rocker’ Chair