Furniture collection

Bernhardt Design reimagines classic american furniture for its 125th anniversary

Olga M. Sales. 21/11/2014
Bernhardt desings
Bernhardt desings. Source: bloomberg. Click on the image for more information

For 125 years Bernhardt Furniture Company has been a family-owned operation crafting furniture in North Carolina. To celebrate this anniversary, Bernhardt Design (the younger, more modern branch of the company) commissioned three international designers to reimagine a few well-known staples of American furniture: the Windsor rocking chair, the courthouse chair, and the Chesterfield sofa. Photos have been clogging up Pinterest boards since the summer, but now they’re finally ready for your living room, according Bloomberg.

When John Mathias Bernhardt started his little furniture workshop in Lenoir, North Carolina in 1889, he did so by leveraging the abundance of local oak trees and skilled woodworkers. The furniture was exactly the sort of traditional joinery-work you’d expect from the days before the names Eames and Prouvé were being dropped over cocktails. With the One Hundred Twenty Five collection, the idea was to task thoroughly of-the-moment international designers to think about these old techniques and styles in a way that didn’t feel so stodgy. The results? Drool-worthy.

Just because Bernhardt Design is extremely forward about its American origins doesn’t make the brand immune to the charms of the French. (Then again, who is?) Parisian designer and interior architect Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance couldn’t think of anything more American than the classic Windsor rocking chair, the seat of choice for porch-dwellers and julep-sippers since the days of 13 colonies.

The Harper chair ($2,900) takes the familiar spindles and transforms them from a back rest to a cocoon that extends from the rockers to the top, with the seat almost floating in between. That seat is available in a few colors, but the spindles are always maple and the other structural elements cherry — both American woods. The contrast between the two is key here and creates the illusion of motion as you walk around the chair.

More familiar working with metal, glass, and synthetics, British designer Ross Lovegrove saw Bernhardt’s tradition of woodworking as a fresh challenge. After settling on the courthouse chair as his inspiration, Lovegrove knew he had to embrace the natural material to create something that would be both comfortable and inviting to the eye.

The arched back from the original chair comes through in the Anne ($2,500), but the overall shape has been simplified to create a curvier, more organic looking form. Creating this shape requires an unusual mix of hand-carving and multi-axis CNC machines to get the angles and joinery just right. The large openings keep the solid walnut chair from falling into the dreaded “big block of hardwood” territory, and the curved leather seat really does just beg you to give your feet a rest.

Completing the trio of international designers is Glaswegian Jephson Robb, who opted for something less timber-centric in the Chesterfield sofa. The Alex sofa ($4,900) does away with the aura of Harvard Club cigar smoke in favor of a more restrained type of elegance. The stature of the Alex alone speaks to indulgence — it’s nearly 9 feet long — without needing constellations of buttons wrapping themselves around every surface.

In fact, Robb has done away with most of the Chesterfield’s curves altogether, like the arms and rolling back. A belt creates a long single tuft that draws the eye down the length of the sofa, and just a handful of buttons (three on the seat and one at the end of the belt) nod to the original without going overboard. The walnut and bronze base seems to effortlessly hold up the massive sofa and lets a little much-needed light peek in from below. All three anniversary pieces are now available for order directly from Bernhardt Design. The two chairs are also available through Hive Modern.


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