Timber time: refined designer Deborah Ehrlich swaps crystal for wood
The pursuit of what she terms 'quiet beauty' has defined the work of American designer Deborah Ehrlich ever since she began producing pieces in the late 1990s. Ehrlich, classically trained as a sculptor, is most known for her lusted-after glassware; ethereal, gossamer-light treasures that design guru Murray Moss once described as 'behaviour modifiers.'
But Ehrlich’s métier is not limited to glass. This week, the designer, based in a stately stone house in New York’s bucolic Hudson Valley, will unveil her first chair at Manhattan’s ER Butler & Co. Like her glass and crystal, which is designed in her studio and produced by master glassblowers in Sweden, the chair is distinguished by its exceptional quality and Empyrean proportions.
Working with wood really didn’t present a conceptual challenge for Ehrlich, who had created furniture in the past and did so on this occasion at the urging of Milanese design and culture maven Michela Bondardo. Through friends, Ehrlich discovered a skilled artisan in New England who was able to collaborate and achieve the designer’s incredibly delicate scale, which she likened to the robust fragility of a stalk of wheat. 'For the chair, I asked that he find a material that was the equivalent of crystal,' says Ehrlich. 'Something that is strong enough to be thin, and hidden joinery that enables it to be, structurally, very sound. He chose hickory heart and ash.'
Not influenced by market or design trends, the chair’s pared-back form owes more to quixotic inspirations: a music score composed by the designer’s brother which played in the aviary where she sketched the chair, the 'incredibly loud silence of snow falling' and a movie she once saw where a chair levitates off the ground in a pivotal romantic scene. 'You can put anything you want into a design, it’s an act of faith – and I knew it was done when I looked at it and thought I might levitate off the ground in that chair,' Ehrlich says.
Nevertheless, the chair, which exudes a sense of timelessness whilst feeling au courant is bound to be as popular as her glass and crystal, which graces the tables of the finest homes and restaurants, including longtime collaborators Blue Hill at Stone Barns. 'There is nothing simple about Deborah's work,' says Rhett Butler of ER Butler & Co. 'To make something complex appear simple, as every designer knows, is as far from simple as simple gets.'
Like her iconic 'Hurricane Lanterns' – an exquisitely delicate inversion of the sturdy utilitarian Victorian staple – Ehrlich’s new chair elevates the prosaic into the realm of the poetic. Describing the chair’s muted power, Ehrlich says: 'When I look at it, I see an openness, an optimism, a lightness and strength.'