NEW YORK — Architect and designer Frank Gehry (Canadian and American, b. 1929-) is best known for his building projects, such as the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, Spain’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Olympic Fish Pavilion in Barcelona. As he approaches his 94th birthday on February 28, Gehry is still at work on architectural projects, but he creates much more than that. His designs for the home and his wearable art creations for Tiffany & Co. have been groundbreaking.
Fish are a frequent source of inspiration for Gehry, who once said he came to this motif by accident. While his fellow architects were inspired by Grecian temples, he looked to the sea instead. He started drawing fish in his sketchbook and ultimately invented his Fish lamps, which were a huge success when they debuted in the mid-1980s. Gehry made them by affixing shards of colored plastic laminate to wire that was molded into the shapes of fish. Gehry’s Fish lamps are still collectible today and bring good prices at auction. A circa-1985 example, made by New City Editions, achieved $65,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at Hindman.
Gehry’s furniture designs win praise for his use of non-traditional materials as well as for incorporating architectural principles. He was first introduced to the trade in 1954 while serving in the U.S. Army, when he was asked to design furniture for the enlisted soldiers. Among his early breakthroughs was his first commercial line of furniture, the Easy Edges collection, made circa 1969-73. The pieces were constructed from corrugated cardboard and Masonite, giving them a unique and unfinished look. In the environmentally conscious 1970s, this furniture was a big hit for its use of recycled cardboard.
In the years that followed, Gehry has released additional furniture lines, including his Experimental Edges series in the late 1980s for New City and his ribbon-like undulating Wiggle chairs. A 1987 Grandpa Beaver armchair in corrugated cardboard from the Experimental Edges series made $15,227 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Piasa.
“The Experimental Edges series was ‘art furniture,’ in many ways similar to the work of Ron Arad and Tom Dixon, who used materials such as corrugated iron, plaster, industrial girders and wicker,” according to Design Within Reach, a firm that reissues many iconic Mid-century Modern furniture designs. Gehry’s laminated cardboard furniture demonstrated his mastery of engineering by relying on unusual materials to create structural strength, a detail that first emerged in his Easy Edges series a decade earlier. Advertisements for that series stated the chairs were so sturdy that a group of them could support a Volkswagen Beetle. Cardboard furniture had existed previously, but Gehry’s lamination process for strengthening the material was a game-changer.
Gehry also made tables from corrugated cardboard, Masonite and laminate. A standout is a circa-1980 custom dining table that realized $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Wright.
Gehry created a bentwood furniture collection for Knoll from 1989-1991 in keeping with his lifelong interest in creating well-designed and -made furnishings offered at budget-friendly prices. The bentwood pieces were lightweight, affordable and reportedly inspired by wooden apple crates and bushel baskets. A set of Cross Check bentwood chairs for Knoll brought $7,500 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2022 at Horseman Antiques. The chairs were fashioned out of unbroken wood strips and had no added chair frame, structural support or upholstery.
Gehry’s vision extends past buildings and furniture. Starting in 2006, he has collaborated with Tiffany & Co. on several collections of dramatic pieces of jewelry, including lines dubbed Orchid, Fish, Torque, and Axis, as well as designing decorative smalls such as bowls. A large example of his Torque necklace, featuring 64 interlinked square chain links in varying sizes, made $10,877 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2018 at Galerie Zacke.
Gehry’s carefully trained eye for good design transcends architecture, and his efforts in other fields of achievement ensure that the average person can enjoy one of his works in their daily life. From furniture to jewelry to household objects, Gehry’s designs are statement pieces that are original and intriguing.