The Isamu Noguchi coffee table is the today’s iconic mid century object. I’m lucky to see it every day from real -it’s in the hall of my office- and I can say to know it quite well 🙂
Who Isamu Noguchi was? A Short Biography.
(Isamu Noguchi portrait by Josie Portillo)
“I do not wish to belong to any school (…) I am always learning, always discovering.”
Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was probably one of the most important and acclaimed artists of the XX Century.
Through his six decades long career, he created sculptures, furniture, set designs and much more.
Born in Los Angeles to an American mother -she was a writer- and a Japanese father -he was a poet-, Noguchi lived in Japan before moving to US at the age of thirteen.
The first official recognition of his work in the US, was in 1938 when he created a large-scale sculpture symbolizing the freedom of the press: commissioned for the Associated Press building in Rockefeller Center, New York.
Although he was mainly a sculptor, Isamu Noguchi embraced mass-production design as well.
In 1937 he designed a Bakelite intercom for the Zenith Radio Corporation, the Cylinder Lamp for Knoll
in 1944 and started to collaborate with the furniture manufacturer Herman Miller in 1947. His point of contact with Herman Miller was George Nelson. He used one of the Noguchi design to illustrate the article “how to make a table”: the illustration become later the famous coffee table IN50 introduced in 1948 and still in production.
The Isamu Noguchi Coffee Table.
The Noguchi coffee table is made of two wooden asymmetrical pieces -one inverted and glued to the other- and a plate-glass top: the link between the two pieces makes a tripod base structure.
The most interesting part of this table are the two elements that constitute the base: together they create a triangular structure without appearing to do so. The plate-glass top -triangular as well- is placed directly on the sculptural base.
Despite the Noguchi coffee table asymmetry of the base, the final effect is a symmetrical structure with a dynamic design. Only a master in controlling forms, materials and shapes like Noguchi could create a product that is strong and charming at the same time like this coffee table.
The use of asymmetrical forms is also part of the Noguchi’s Japanese cultural heritage: the tradition in painting, ceramics and garden design, in fact, gives an huge importance on asymmetrical balance.
According to the original blueprint, the glass top of the Noguchi coffee table was 2.2cm thick; it was reduced to 1.9cm after 1965. Also the wooden base -walnut or ebony- and the height were modified after 1965; but the peculiar details -like the metal dowel connection of the table base- never changed.
The coffee table has a clearly organic inspired shape. As many artists during that time, in fact, also Noguchi investigated the possibilities of the organic design that was strongly promoted in the early ‘40s after the ‘Organic Design in Home Furnishings’ exhibition -at The Museum of Modern Art in New York- where Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames stood out in the woodwork section with their ‘Conversation, Relaxation and Lounging‘ trio.
The specific shape of the base -two identical pieces- made the table easy and economical to mass-produce: the IN50 was an immediate success and Herman Miller still produces it.
From 2003 the Isamu Noguchi signature was added to the table because of the numerous imitations on the market.
If you want to have more information about the today’s configurations of the coffee table, check the Herman Miller site.
I personally love this coffe table -I have one in my office as well ;)- but what about you? Did you know it already? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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Thanks for reading and ciao!