“After Roly-Poly,” said the British designer Faye Toogood from her studio in London, “I wanted to make a fiberglass chair that would be a friend of Roly-Poly, without being rooted in its geometry. I was imagining something stern, more like a granddad chair.”
Roly-Poly, of course, is the rounded chair on stubby little elephant legs that debuted in Toogood’s 2014 collection, “Assemblages 4.” Almost instantly, it became a classic of 21st century design and now forms part of the permanent collection in museums around the world, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, where her exhibit Downtime is a cornerstone of the COVID-interrupted but ongoing 2020 NGV Triennial.
The museum piece is also a public hit. Thanks to a collaboration with Italian design house Driade, the Roly-Poly chair (and sofa) is now available commercially in a range of colors drawn from quintessentially modern British sources like the paintings of Paul Nash and Charleston, the studio and gallery complex that was the home of the Bloomsbury decorative style.
Since the success of Roly-Poly, Toogood’s designs have departed somewhat from perfect geometric forms, and she has experimented with the use of maquettes (tiny models made with disposable materials like masking tape or repurposed wire) to create designs that celebrate the hand-produced imperfections of prototypes in finished pieces. Toogood eventually emerged in September 2020 with her new Fudge chair, a friendly and yet still grand armchair that has gently curving lines and a subtle asymmetry: something more human than geometric.
Here, the artist takes us through the design and production process for the chair in her own words.
1. Clay Maquette
It’s a basic model made from clay. I must have made over 300 maquettes in the last three years, across a range of different projects. They don’t always succeed, but this one came out right. Following Roly-Poly, I wanted something upright and sturdy, and in terms of shape, I was looking to nod towards something slightly more traditional, like a wingchair. From the clay maquette, I made a series of 1:1 models in cardboard to tease out changes as the chair evolved into an actual piece of furniture.
2. Hand-Carved Wooden Pattern
I knew that creating a prototype with a CAD model wouldn’t work for this piece, because I wanted to keep the handmade appearance of a maquette. The answer was to hand-carve the pattern, and in the end the perfect medium was Damar Minyak, a wood popular in Indonesian carpentry. I’d just completed a design project for a boutique hotel in Bali where I worked with some incredible craftsmen, so I got in touch with them again. We worked together closely on the pattern until we got it right, and then the carved piece was shipped back to the studio in England.
3. Fiberglass Mold, Resin, and Gel
We created a fiberglass mold in multiple sections from the carved pattern. The master fiberglass manufacturer I work with is mainly involved in shipbuilding — in fact the only other item of furniture they help produce is the Roly-Poly chair. This makes sense, because in its lines and forms, Roly-Poly is completely smooth and perfect, just like the hull of a boat. For the Fudge chair, though, the mold had to retain evidence of the hand, first from the lumpy clay of the maquette and then in the scoring on the hand-carved wooden model, which embraces the imperfections on the surface.
The mold produces a basic structure in fiberglass, and then we slowly build up the form of the chair by hand-layering with loose fiberglass and resin. Where Roly-Poly has a slightly more fibrous quality, the Fudge chair has more sheen, thanks to gel-coating (which is where the color comes from) in the resin.
In terms of color, there are options in cream and in charcoal, which were non-negotiable for me. Previously I haven’t used a lot of color in the furniture line, but lately I’ve been quite insistent on it. As with much of my work, these aesthetic choices often come from something very close at hand. For example, the mallow Fudge chair color comes from a jumper I love that’s a really murky, off-lilac color. So, I sent it off to be color-tested and then matched it in the resin. Landscapes have always been important, too. The malachite chair is a deep forest green that evokes the famed green door of St Ives in Cornwall.
4. Dry & Hand-Finish
After the fiberglass and the resin has been completely layered, we remove the mold. The resin is left to seep into the fiberglass in a drying process that takes several days. The last step for the Fudge chair is to be sanded over and over again by hand, particularly over the joins, so that each piece achieves a seamless semi-matte finish.