Asked to design a table for the LA Dining by Design event, he and his em [collaborative studio] partner Mark Yeber decided to take a decidedly different approach to the charge of dressing a table for this gala evening. “We knew that every designer taking part would be decorative. We wanted to look not at what was on the table but the table itself,” says Cobbet. They built a table made of translucent polyester resin in a mosaic of very warm colors. “We dressed it in vintage glass. Everything had to be transparent so it could be about the table. We lit it from underneath, and it looked quite stunning,” he says. “Everyone went gaga over the table and asked what else we do. And we didn’t do anything.”
Six editorials about the table started to change all that. “We thought, okay, maybe we have something interesting here,” Cobbet recalls. “We got really excited about pushing the resin in a new direction. The material excites us so much. We like the grain, the texture, the warmth, the coloring options, but we were challenged by the fragility. We use polyester resin, and that composition is as brittle as glass would be. So if you hit it with a hard object it would break. You can dance on it, but don’t wear metal heels.”
Cobbet and Yeber started considering the idea of a making a resin chair. Before beginning to design, they set out a list of objectives. “It had to look good as a product, but more importantly, the one who uses it had to look good in it,” says Cobbet, who has a fashion design and marketing background. “No matter what you wear, the chair would make it for you. You’re wearing your chair,” he explains. “This is very important. Third, but not least, it had to be as comfortable as any other chair. I like the idea of introducing art to the chair, but we didn’t want to push it to an experimental level.”
Because resin is a cast product, and they couldn’t afford rapid prototyping, they had the first prototype sculpted out of fiberglass. “The first one looked really odd,” Cobbet says. To make adjustments, “we traced on it by hand, like I would do in fashion,” he says. “It was kind of like a fitting, really. We’d go back the next week to see how much they took off. It took three visits to adjust it.” Cobbet and Yeber also asked several different people to sit in the chair to test its comfort and proportion, and make sure it met this critical goal.
The open-back design was dictated by the sheer weight of the resin, which again, is comparable to glass. “Should the whole chair be closed, it would become a 75 pound (34 kg)-chair, instead of a 45 pound (20 kg)-chair,” notes Cobbet. “It was an imperative to us to lighten up the chair. The process and material dictated that, but we’re very happy with what it translated into.”
@ Top left: Because rapid prototyping was cost prohibitive, the first chair had to be hand sculpted out of fiberglass. Credit: Michael McCreary
Top right: To make adjustments, the designers drew on the fiberglass shell, much like a fashion fitting, to mark areas where more material could be removed. This is the final fiberglass prototype. Credit: Michael McCreary
© A series of different studies was made exploring possible forms for the chair. Full-back versions were abandoned because the resin is so heavy: “It was an imperative to us to lighten up the chair,” Cobbet says.
Credit: em [collaborative studio]
back height elbow height
seat height ground
@ Initial studies of proportion and shape show the distinctive three-leg design. While the drawing shows a comfortably seated person, the tilt in the final chair is much less pronounced.
Credit: em [collaborative studio]
(^) Construction drawings show the extended V-shaped support that is mostly hidden underneath the seat but provides critical extra support to the heavy resin back.
Credit: em [collaborative studio]
The chair is made in “one solid pour of resin,” Cobbet explains. “The different colors are done in stages. If we do striping, we wait for one color to dry and then do the next. You have to time it right or otherwise the colors run into one another. It cannot be done by machine.” The colors themselves were derived from the original table and the imperative that they enhance the person sitting in the chair. “We were looking at colors that, once lit, would sort of be flattering to you. If we did a blue table, at dinner you would look a little green,” Cobbet says. So they chose colors lifted from the western sunset. The chairs can also be made in solid colors or up to four stripes. “We have a palette of twenty – five colors,” Cobbet says, “I invite people to make their own palette. But it almost always comes down to what they’ve seen working already.”
While the resin performs like glass, it is not self-supporting, so a structural frame was required. “We were looking at suspension rather than four legs where you can see where they’re coming from and going to,” Cobbet says. “Three legs give it the illusion of suspension. It seems very light.” Two bars that extend vertically from the lower part of the back give extra reinforcement to the base. The legs come in either brushed or hand polished, highly mirrored steel and are permanently glued to the seat. Finally, a urethane sealer is put over the resin to help protect against normal wear and tear and make it resistant to oils and water. The chair comes with a thick foam cushion, made to order
in any fabric. They are also making the chair in solid colored fiberglass, which can be used outside.
Getting the structure correct was the most challenging aspect of production. “I still don’t understand why and how so many companies have difficulty in getting the angle right,” Cobbet says. “I’ve been told it has to do with the coping of the metal, but I think there’s an aspect to it that people don’t want to think it through and they just want to do it fast. I wish I could find someone passionate about what they do, who could look at it and find some efficient way to achieve the result. As much as we battle with the imperfection of resin, there is a seductive quality to that. But there’s nothing seductive about the difficulties of getting the base right,” he says.
The resin material apparently seduces not just Cobbet, but everyone else who looks at the chair. “Resin has this warmth and grain,” he says. “It’s very attractive and tactile. The first thing people want to do instead of sitting in it, is to touch it.” He points out that this is all part of their design philosophy. “We work a little bit like modernists did,” he says, “using material and technology that are available today and doing the design around them. We like to look at the materials of today and use them to make designs that are relevant for today and tomorrow, without falling into the experimental. That’s of no use to us. We live today, we’d like to use it today.”