A purple entry wall displaying a sign with the facility’s name and a lipstick red sofa welcome visitors to the space. From there, one can enter the space, which is composed of two adjacent rooms that have been redesigned and refinished as an exhibition space. Like the chairs, this space is unique, innovative, and creative. The main design elements of this project are custom-made shelving units with integrated lighting in one room and a cantilevered casework in the other. These are complemented by a sophisticated lighting system and reflective surfaces. Dark, horizontal surfaces on the floor and ceiling allow the vertical surfaces (the walls) to continuously flow throughout the entire project, and accents of red and purple have been added to encourage viewers to pause and reflect on the pieces. A large composition on one of the walls displays the names of the designers represented in the collection. This graphic element strongly supports the educational intention of the project. Additional smaller graphics have been placed in the adjacent room. An opening through which users can transition from one room to the other as desired physically connects the rooms. Additionally, the rooms are visually connected by a glass and metal bridge-like element that seems to penetrate the wall. In one room, this element provides a transparent surface for showcasing several pieces, and in the other, it creates a place to display a visual timeline of the chairs. Only a few pieces have a permanent space within the collection, and users are encouraged to reposition the others as they prefer.
A collaborative effort between the Sutton Initiative for Design Education (S.I.D.E.) and Salem College, the Chair Library is a unique resource that no other college or university in the country has assembled. Students can touch, sit, sketch, photograph, study, and be inspired by the collection. Located in the Robert E. Elberson Fine Arts Center, The library houses 45 chairs considered iconic by designers and furniture historians alike. Each chair carries its own mystique, earned through innovative design, material use, technological advancement, and creativity.
Named in honor of Martha Allene Stevens Sutton and the Salem Academy Class of 1971, S.I.D.E. has worked tirelessly to improve Salem College’s design research library. Along with Martha’s husband, Charles, the Suttons have been the driving force behind the Chair Library. The Suttons have also donated their personal library of over 1,000 books on furniture, architecture, design, history, and interiors. This collection is available at the Gramley library on the Salem College main campus.
Dr. Rosa Otero is the Curator for the SIDE Chair Library and an Associate Professor of Design, Chair of the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.
She is also the architect who designed the space and display for the Chair Library. All are welcome to visit the Chair Library by arranging a time with Dr. Otero at Salem College: 336-721-2770 or firstname.lastname@example.org
One area of design study that is not readily accessible to students is that of 20th-century furniture icons. The establishment of a teaching collection of chairs provides students with a way to access these pieces, learn from their histories, and be inspired toward future design and refinement. The chairs chosen for this collection have stood the test of time or seem poised to do so. A few of these chairs have sold in the millions, and some have remained in continuous production since they were first designed and marketed. Today, all of these chairs are still in production. These chairs reflect the energy and creativity of one of the most inventive and exciting periods in furniture history. Forty-five chairs that are considered icons by furniture historians compose the core of this collection. Each chair is unique because of its design, use of materials and technology, innovation, or creativity.