When does a person develop his or her design sensibility? I’m not exactly sure, but I think my own interest in mid-century modern stuff was born at a fairly young age, even if it was sub-conscious. See the chairs above? They were located in the women’s waiting room of The Gonstead Clinic of Chiropractic, in Mt. Horeb, WI, which my father owned with his brother (my uncle) for many years.
Everything about this building was (and still is) funky and extremely cool. It is 19,000 square feet, and construction was completed in 1964. Commissioned by legendary chiropractor Clarence Gonstead, this building was designed by Wisconsin architect John Steinman who designed lots of mid-century modern public buildings and private residences around the state. Check out the roof line:
Back to the chairs. I must have seen them a zillion times in my youth: I walked past them, probably sat in them, ran around them in circles. But it wasn’t until I went back to visit about 10 years ago that they really caught my eye. I said to my dad, “If anybody ever wants to get rid of those chairs, let me know. Or PLEASE save them for me.” At the time, I had no room for them — I was apartment hopping around New York and my living spaces just seemed to be getting smaller. I guess on some level, though, I trusted that I’d one day have the ideal place for them.
Then I met Rob, who also loves mid-century modern design and we found our house, built in 1965. My dad had, in fact, secured four of those chairs for me a few years before. Once we got the house, he got two more to complete the set. As a house-warming gift, he re-painted the fiberglass. Though we liked the mustard-yellow vinyl, it was somewhat beat-up and stained from over 40 years of use. So he and my ultra-kind, can-do step-mother, Sherill, had them re-upholstered in a fabric of our choosing. Then they shipped them half-way across the country in three gigantic boxes. We lined them up on our front walkway in order to apply copious amounts of Scotch Guard stain protector:
Once they arrived, I was able to do some research. Alas, these chairs are not Knoll. They are not Saarinen. They are in fact modeled after those iconic tulip chairs, and the design comes pretty close, but they have a “four star” base instead. They were manufactured in the 60’s by Burke, Inc. out of Dallas, TX.
Fun fact: it’s rumored and highly likely that these chairs were used in a modified form on the set of Star Trek.
Rob and I love how they look in our open concept dining room, located between our living room and our library/book nook. I am happy to report that so far (knock on fiberglass), the chairs have remained stain-free.
We paired them with a Danish modern table (reasonably-priced from good ol’ IKEA), for which my mother gifted us a customized glass top.
Like several items in our home, such as the vintage Hanova Double Candle Holder I wrote about recently, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by things with a past, objects that remind us of a certain time and a particular place. These chairs fulfill a purpose and they do so perfectly. But they also hold a meaning that goes far beyond the first glance. And this, I think, is one of my favorite aspects of having a home.
As a chiropractor, my father has helped thousands of people in pain feel better during his lifetime. Many of these patients waited anxiously in these very chairs, hoping for relief. And they got it.
On this note, you might be wondering, are these chairs comfortable? The answer is: Extremely! They give excellent lumbar support, indeed.
Thank you to Dad and Sherill for this wonderful gift…
Does anyone know anything more about these chairs or about Burke Inc.?