The 'It' chair

“That’s the amazing thing about the chairs,” Shearron continues. “They’ve had a remarkable impact even though these pictures have only been seen a few times.” Mrs. Field’s porch was published just once, in Vogue in August 1936. And it seems that the Wheeler living room only reached a wide audience when the Art Institute of Chicago published a monograph on Adler in 1970 that showed some of the collaborations with his sister.8 That book, the essential source on Adler (and Elkins) for three decades, exerted a huge influence on a generation of interior designers. “Everyone had that book,” Shearron says. “And I know that this room really inspired a lot of people. I think designers had copies of the chair made at the time. But the copies are usually chunky and inelegant, nothing like the delicacy of Elkins’s version, and definitely a far cry from the originals. They all lack the beauty of the signature dipped seat, which Elkins was careful to retain.”

Insider knowledge went mainstream when Stephen Salny’s extremely popular monograph on Elkins’s interiors reintroduced her to a whole new generation in 2005. The recent explosion of popularity of the loop chair seems to stem from that moment. “There were a lot of copies of the chair around,” Shearron says, “and, suddenly, antiques dealers were all attributing them to Elkins.” In addition to vintage versions, several manufacturers began making new copies (see Fig. 6).

Salny had, in fact, pointed out that the chair was copied from an eighteenth-century design, though he did not provide any more information than that. Celerie Kemble used a version of the chairs created by her mother Mimi McMakin in a Palm Beach dining room shown in her recent book (Fig. 1). “Every one knows they owe someone for this design,” Kemble concedes. “But it’s such a great chair. It’s a friendly, sit-and-stay-awhile design.”

The decorator Miles Redd says he bought five loop chairs on Houston Street in New York a few years ago. Two of them are now in his entry hall. “These were probably made in the 1960s or 1970s,” he says. “They were definitely not of the best quality and were in terrible shape. At first, I thought it was some funky anonymous mid-century modern design, but I guess it is timeless.”

In the meantime, the original chairs continued on an odyssey of their own. Although the later editions of the Dictionary still credit Hudson, who died in 1936, as the owner, his set had actually been sold in the mid-1930s to Ronald and Nancy Tree (later Lancaster), who had acquired Ditch­ley Park, a grand early eighteenth-century house in Oxfordshire.9 Two of the chairs­—an armchair and a side chair respectively—can be seen in watercolors of the writing room and yellow bedroom at Ditchley Park by the Russian artist Alexandre Sérébriakoff (see Fig. 3).10 The Trees’ London address was 28 Queen Anne’s Gate, just a few doors away from Hudson at number 15, so they may well have acquired the set from him or his estate.

In the late 1940s Tree and his second wife, Marietta, moved to New York, bringing furnishings from Ditchley Park with them. Most of this material was sold at auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet in October 1976, and two loop chairs grace the catalogue’s cover.11 Although the buyer of the chairs at that sale remains a mystery, they subsequently passed through the English antiques firm Mallett and are now in a private American collection, according to Lanto Synge, Mallett’s chief executive.12 Synge included them in two books, Mallet’s Great English Furniture and Mallet Millennium: Fine Antique Furniture and Works of Art (see Fig. 7).13 Regarding the apparently delicate structure, he wrote, “Beechwood frames of this design would normally be very frail so the chairmaker has used a form of lamination to give strength to his woodwork.”14

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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