Nicos Zographos is an architect, furniture designer, and interior designer, known for his work on some the most iconic modernist interiors from the late 1950s to 1980s and beyond. While Zographos designs can be found in so many of these iconic buildings, his name often goes less recognized, as architectural practices were often specifying the furniture in commercial and larger scale projects. After completing his studies at the University of Iowa, Zographos went on to work in the interiors division of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) architects from 1957-1962. It was here that he formed a close relationship with SOM and was engaged in designing furniture to accommodate the increasingly modernist and often Miesian interiors of SOM projects at the time. In 1959, the ribbon chair was introduced, which was referential to the Barcelona chair, though used a curved leather upholstered cushion in tandem with a pinched and polished stainless steel frame. Soon after this, Zographos designed the bucket chair in 1960, which repeated the stainless and leather palette, though took on a more graciously curved form even still. By 1964, he had formed Zographos Designs Limited, an independent design house for Zographos furniture.
Throughout the life of his company, over 100 products were eventually offered, all coming from the same design ethos and all using techniques for fabrication, which would allow the furniture to become heirloom pieces. This range included numerous variations on the bucket chair, dining and conference tables (often using the distinct "Alpha" base), side and coffee tables, sofas, etc. What is so distinct about Zographos furniture is that his meticulous detailing and choice of materials typically went above and beyond what would be done for Knoll or Herman Miller furniture for instance. Whereas works by Ray and Charles Eames as well as Florence Knoll were often outfitting corporate interiors also, the production processes often relied on a factory with economies of scale. This meant that chrome plating, wood molding, and metal casting were more feasible at these factories, making large scale production a possibility and costing less money to produce each piece. Because this was not typically the case for Zographos furnishings, there is a far more bespoke feel to how the pieces were be designed, specified, and eventually constructed. Of all of Zographos tables we've had, ranging from small side tables to conference tables, it appears that most if not all were constructed from solid stainless steel, which was typically then hand polished (rarely brushed). This is an unbelievably expensive and labor intensive process, made visible through the polished stainless steel Knoll Barcelona chair, which for a time was offered by Knoll alongside a chrome example at almost twice the price of the chrome.
When Zographos was not using stainless steel, he would sometimes produce works in bronze and there was occasional use of heavy-gauge chromed steel tube, used for the 66 chair as an example. That chair is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art. While George and Mira Nakashima's work is coveted because of the handmade and material-centric nature of the furniture, we feel that Zographos work deserves similar attention and respect. Zographos would pair the handmade metal bases with glass, yes, but often with highly figured and rare stone tops. If clients requested wood for table tops, extravagant specifications were not uncommon. Tables with elaborate burl veneers have shown up on the market such as a one with book matched olive burl. We have also had the opportunity to work with some of the Zographos wooden chairs and sofas such as the Saronis series. The construction used solid oak dowels with brilliantly simple but solid joints. In adding comfort and softness to the chairs, Zographos inset a wrapped leather material within the dowels of the armrests. Rather than laying on top, the leather sits perfectly flush with the rest of the wood surface. Again, the detailing is exceptional.
Beyond the furniture itself, it is important to note how important Zographos furniture was to the look and feel of the buildings they were used in. Walter Gropius, I.M. Pei, Phillip Johnson, Hugh Stubbins, and Gordon Bunshaft (partner at SOM for 40+ years) regularly specified Zographos pieces in their buildings. The Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. by Gordon Bunshaft still has Zographos benches and Ribbon chairs in regular use. Until recently, a library designed by Hugh Stubbins at Princeton University also used Zographos pieces in the public spaces. We have been lucky enough to acquire a number of his furniture works directly from SOM-Designed buildings, as SOM had continued to specify the furniture until the company was dissolved in the mid-2000's. As was the case with Florence Knoll in her successes, Nicos Zographos was able to fit a need for architects looking to use materials such as stone, steel, and glass in their monumental buildings and skyscrapers. For those architects, Zographos furniture could allow the designers to extend the feelings of grandeur and modernity to the scale of the human body. The furniture became an extension of the architecture and Zographos knew what was needed to accommodate.