Schindler House is a defining work of Southern California modernism designed by Rudolph M. Schindler in 1922. A bold, unapologetic experiment in progressive architectural design and social theory, the Schindler House was the shared vision of Rudolph and his wife, Pauline, that thrived as a space of communal living and social gathering. Since the 1990s, the house has functioned as a unique venue for exhibitions.
Curious to better understand this work of architecture during its six decades as a furnished and lived-in domestic space, I’ve collected photographs of the house taken between 1922 and 1980, the years before institutional stewardship. To Sit Is to Time Travel, commissioned on the occasion of the house’s centennial exhibition, Schindler House: 100 Years in the Making, is a tour about seating. More specifically, it is a tour about the absence of seating—historic, functional, or otherwise.
Pauline Schindler Studio, ca. 1922
This chair—like the house it occupies—is a cool-tempered, unadorned head turner. It’s nestled at the base of the concrete wall like a natural extension of the architecture. Oriented towards the patio, it sits a few feet from a wood-burning fire crowned in copper.
This armchair’s name comes from one of its defining characteristics, a sling. A sling seat to be precise, made of soft cotton with a long thin cushion to emphasize the downward slope that contrasts an otherwise hard-edged and right-angled boxy frame made of dark, handsome wood. A master woodworker who frequents in modernist chair restoration tells me the warm-tinted redwood has been wire-brushed to emphasize its grain, creating tiny, tactile topographies. The woodworker also tells me this chair is as comfortable to get in to as it is difficult to get out of.
If this chair slings, are its occupants slung? (I think I’d rather enjoy the symptoms and possibilities of a seated slung-ness.) The low seat/high arms combo does well to comfortably cradle a seater into a reclined state, letting gravity and body weight work their magic together.
My favorite details, though, are the two rectangular pieces of seating fabric that visually bookend the sling seat form. Purely decorative, one at front and the other at back, they hang like ceremonial banners that announce this chair to all who enter.
Schindler Patio, 1924
The bench top is beginning to buckle and splay under the weight of a quintet of Thanksgiving dinner guests. Well-dressed and martini-glassed, this party is propped up by a makeshift bit of furniture that’s been casually assembled: a pair of two-by-sixes laid atop a trio of somewhat sturdy boxes, two at the end and one as center support. I’m sure the resident architect has reassured them that this no-fuss solution takes advantage of wood’s ability to be as strong and stiff as it is flexible and light. “Don’t worry! Just enjoy the bouncy bend of this material under pressure because it’s doing exactly what it needs to: infusing this dinner table space with some rhythm.”
Chace Patio, 1941
Just off the patio, the Adirondack reserved for garden dozes has been occupied. Its sitter, with smile painted in a deep shade of lipstick, is a restful vision at peace. Cuddling a cat in her arms, she’s taking advantage of this chair’s characteristic wood-slatted seat that rewards a body with comforting recline. Even the chair’s oversized back is just the right height to support her head in blissful tilt-back. If one needed any more evidence of the benefits of this chair’s stability, admire the chunky legs and skateboard deck arms. It’s a thing of wonder that has been designed to quietly thrive across garden space and time.
Schindler Patio, ca. 1967
Marooned in Hollywood
two sun bleached cabana chairs
and their slings: waiting
Rudolph Schindler Studio, ca. 1970
Spied through the partially opened studio sliding door is an office swivel at rest. Its upholstered seat, wrapped in a dark leather or vinyl, forms an angular back that transitions into gently sloping arms that morph into cushioned base. It’s the kind of seat designed to provide unwavering support to the daydreaming draftswoman or stressed writer. Supported by a stainless steel cylindrical base which ends with four legs on wheels, it’s also the kind of chair that begs to be moved in. Surely in a house such as this, populated with avant garde adventurers, there must have been a modern dance performance with office choreography of quick swivels, dramatic turns, graceful lifts, and sweeping rolls.
Erik Benjamins is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles currently exploring ideas of embodied knowledge, domestic rhythms, and rest as a vital act.
To Sit Is to Time Travel can be listened to in its fourteen-minute entirety on Schindler House’s Companion Tours webpage.