August 15-21, 2002
Photo By: Michael T. Regan
Float surfs into furniture design.
Surfing, like football or Parcheesi or architecture, is a game of well-established rules. Sure, some of those rules may be dodged, or even disregarded, but others stand firm. Landscape architect Jeanne Scandura learned those rules on a surfing expedition in California, and once she returned to her studio in Philadelphia, applied them to a few games of her own.
The result was the brainchild of an artist and an architect, in the form of modern furniture. The appropriately named Float line of furniture began as a side project to Scandesign, Scandura's architectural firm at 980 N. Eighth St., and is now in full swing.
It was through glass blower Steve Stormer that Scandura first met artist Kait Midgett, who currently serves as curator of Project Room, a progressive gallery for experimental installations. Cracked jokes about a foray into furniture design quickly snowballed into a more serious endeavor as Scandura began inviting friends to splay their bodies atop brown paper spread across her office floor. She traced their bodies in markers, and then studied the outlines intensely. She made drawings, built wooden prototypes and brainstormed marketing strategies.
From the get-go, Scandura and Midgett decided each piece would be handmade, every flaw embraced, every plane inimitable. Which, to the naked eye, explains the tiny air bubbles that surface in velvety purple rubber or a slightly rough edge. "Essentially we were designing for ourselves, and for what we liked most," Scandura explains.
The results were clean and fresh, sterile even, pure and orderly to the point of being uncomfortable, saturated in color or completely bereft of it.
Although she never intended for Float to be futuristic, Jetsons-like hovercrafts may be among the first things that spring to mind as you sink into the icy smooth wave chaise, the cherry-red bubbled rubber padding prickling ever so lightly against your clothing. "Minimalism just happens to be in sync with societal notions of the future," Scandura says.
It's precisely that simplicity which makes Float functional in the everyday home or office. The biggest obstacle for the everyman buyer may be the cost. Prices range from $245 for a wave oval cushion to $2,100 for the globe floor lamp. But for serious collectors, dropping $1,860 on a lounge chair is well worth the steel enameled legs.
Bigwigs in the biz couldn't have agreed more. At the 14th annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York, Float was met with a whirlwind of positive feedback. "People like Frank Gehry and Wendell Castle were sitting on them. I mean, they just had to touch the cube, to test it out, to roll around," Scandura recalls happily. Since then, architecture firms, universities, hospitals, television networks, hotels and magazines have shown immense curiosity.
Asked to list major influences, Scandura rattles off a mile-long list, dotted with architecture 101 names like Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra. She admires her predecessors for many a quality: a love of color, a willingness to experiment with pure form, incredible attention to the way the sunlight hits and moves across building plans and the richness and depth of shape.
But it's in Mother Nature where Scandura finds inspiration in abundance. The natural shapes of leaves and twigs, of shells and waves, spark her finest ideas. The versatile chaise is only one-third of the wave series, born of her surfing epiphany. The California native, who saw the wave as a metaphor for life, sees waves everywhere: from surfboard technology to the natural human form. The rest of the collection includes a smooth bench and chic stool.
"It is a joyful, livable, inhabitable form," she says. "It is accessible, but it's also a lot of fun. I'd love to see it have an impact." Scandura truly believes well-designed furniture can enlighten and enhance the lives of individuals, and it's that longevity for which she so mercilessly strides.
Scandura is also quick to point out that Float also has a serious, more theoretical side. The rigorous reduction of elements and the intensity of the production process -- from hand pouring rubber cushions to casting tabletops and molding fiberglass light fixtures -- is exhausting, and for Midgett, was simply too much. Midgett left Float recently to concentrate on expanding The Project Room. "Anytime you build there's always these moments of elation and then pure frustration,"Scandura empathizes. "It takes patience and persistence, plus a ridiculous and incurable optimism. You have to believe it will happen."
Even though Midgett has moved on, Scandura insists, "So many people have helped us get to this point. Float is a community effort." Six people, including designers from the Monsoon stable, are in the midst of overhauling the manufacturing process.
In the next year, Scandura plans to unearth a new lighting line, collaborate with more local galleries, including The Project Room, and eventually find Float a home of its own. In the meantime, Minima will celebrate a Float opening in late October at its new Third Street gallery, and the business office will move to 1927 Panama St.
Float, 215-413-3122, www.floatland.com.
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