Background and Provenance
Written in 2017
A set of SIX (6) dining chairs designed in the 1930’s by highly-regarded American designer, Warren McArthur. (IN THE ORIGINAL MAROON VINYL.) I’d say this set was made in late 1940’s in Australia by Namco. This is a special piece of design history. McArthur’s designs are included in museums around the world and are highly sought-after in America and Europe. Australia is late to catch on but there are signs of this changing. The two highest-priced items I’ve ever sold were McArthur designs purchased by Australian buyers directly from my showroom in Sydney. (My showroom has since closed.) This set is something that really should be in a museum in Australia (if museums don’t already have a set). Apart from the United States (McArthur’s home country), Australia was the only country to be granted a license to produce his designs (worldwide). The fact that this set is in full original condition means they are a special reminder of Australian furniture history.
Warren McArthur’s designs were way ahead of their time and embraced by design buffs, celebrities and movie stars alike. Today when furniture of the 1930’s is discussed it is often commented that McArthur’s work was a cut above what was happening anywhere including the designs of the much-respected Italians. If you Google “1st Dibs Warren McArthur” you will see an amazing array of McArthur designs for sale in America. If you register to the 1st Dibs website you will get values as well. (I have had no problems with spam after registering with 1st Dibs.) After looking at the 1st Dibs website the esteem of McArthur’s work is immediately evident. There are side chairs for $1200 each that I think are quite boring in looks.
I bought these chairs in Sydney in 2003 and they have been transported to various locations as I’ve moved around. When I first bought these I had a feeling the design was special but knew nothing further so decided just to hang onto them. In late 2004 I stumbled across a set in this design for sale in America (the upholstery on those was also quite worn and weathered). This dealer was asking $9000 for the set. Prices in America for McArthur designs have declined since 2004, particularly with the GFC but they are still fetching WAY WAY more than this. (Around AU $7000 for this set from my research.) These chairs have obviously been priced to sell.
I like this design so much I’ve been using a set of these chairs myself for 10 years (the ones shown in white leather). (This listing price is for a set that needs re-upholstery.) I have come across thousands (probably millions) of dining chair designs over the years and this design is my choice for a modernist designer-type dining chair. In white they are lean and minimalist and work brilliantly. They really are a design sensation when you consider they were first created about 80 years ago. I think they’re also a great choice for a warehouse conversion. The industrial looking joints and caps give them an edgy style but they also have a touch of deco glamour as well. These chairs are aluminum so they’re lightweight and easy to move around and they also stack. They are also very durable. Because of the aluminum construction they will never corrode or rust. They are practical investment that can be used and enjoyed. The only criticism of this design I have is the comfort, but in saying that the comfort is still good overall (for a dining chair). Over the 10 years I’ve used mine they’ve been used for extended dinner parties and they do the job. They are NOT the most comfortable dining chair you will sit on but certainly not the worst either. My Mum really likes the comfort of these chairs. I think the backs are too low for perfect comfort- every other aspect of the comfort is good though. The low back creates a clean minimalist look.
I think this covers it. I have agonized over pricing these for years. They really should have a LOT more on them but I’d rather move things quickly to go onto the next thing. After many modern chairs have ended up at the dump due to poor design and workmanship this 70 year-old set of chairs will passed onto yet another generation. In a world where so much “stuff” is coming and going and the revolving door of wasted energy and resources is cycling faster than ever, some items make us stop and appreciate what we have. And whilst most continue to get pushed towards landfill, there are others that stand apart and only become more prized as time goes on. When we buy vintage there is no better way to invest in our homes and our environment.