Warren Platner: Beyond Steel Wire

Retrospect

Warren Platner is famous for his iconic steel wire designs for Knoll (images 1-3). This suite of furniture is still remarkably popular, a perfect combination of sleek modernist materials and sensuous curvilinear form. But Platner was no one-trick pony. Take a look at some of the other designs he created during his long career.

Born in 1919, Platner was a Cornell-trained architect who started his career in the offices of Eero Saarinen and I.M. Pei. While working for Kevin Roche, Platner took on the interior architecture design of some important commissions, and began focusing on furniture and interiors.

He designed the Knoll line in 1966 (images 1-3), using nickel-coated steel wires and shaping them into elegant forms that he likened to the “decorative, gentle, graceful” designs of the Louis XV era.

Platner’s other designs have not been as enduring. This may be a reflection of the incredible importance of Knoll’s enduring success and efficacy as manufacturers. But it might also be because Platner never achieved the same timelessness in his other work. His boxy walnut armchair on a metal base (image 4) seems rooted in the Mid-Century aesthetic, while his space-agey sofa for Steelcase is maybe too chilly for a broad audience (image 5). You may like these designs (do you? I do!), but I’m not sure you could argue that they totally transcend their era, while the steel wire Knoll line works alongside an eclectic range of styles.

Platner’s interiors present a totally new aspect of his work. His American Restaurant in Kansas City (images 6 & 7) featured a scalloped motif in oak and lightbulbs fanning up from the floor to the ceiling. The Hall family (of Hallmark Card fame) commissioned the American, so Platner wanted to make the interior look like a greeting card — by night, it looks like a big doily (image 7). Meanwhile his interior for the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center drew geometric lines in brass, his furnishings running a low horizontal profile to contrast with the spectacular verticals of the windows and columns (image 8). And talk about spectacular, his mirrored entrance corridor (image 9), which featured photo-murals of New York on the silver walls, was like a journey into outer space, an apt if over-the-top introduction to the restaurant’s mid-air location.

Platner’s steel wire line for Knoll may be the most enduring of his work, but his career was long and prolific (he died in 2006). A canny interpreter of the zeitgeist, his designs reflected the prevailing values of the time, whether it was organic modernism, space-age sexiness, or skyscraping glitz.

Images: 1 & 2 Knoll; 3 Ngoc Minh Ngo for House Beautiful; 4 via the Furniture Store Blog; 5 via Swank Lighting; 6-9 via an excellent article on Platner by Alexandra Lange in Design Observer.