Gel and titanium take indoor-outdoor furniture high-tech at Heltzer in Chicago
Thomas Connors -- Interior Design, 10/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The way Michael Heltzer saw it, after nearly 20 years in the furniture business, he was at a crossroads. The designer and manufacturer could either take a crack at the mass market or, putting his personal fulfillment above commercial pragmatism, pursue even greater creative risks than his adventurous firm, Heltzer, had in the past. "It can get boring, every year, putting out a new collection that's maybe 5 degrees different from what you put out the year before," he says.
Combatting potential ennui, his new Titanium Collection is a singular line of indoor-outdoor furniture that centers on a chair made of the lightweight metal. The piece also has unusual back and seat cushions that incorporate a silicone gel found in breast implants. The titanium frame is more durable and maintenance-free than the stainless-steel one that Heltzer used in previous mixed-use pieces, and the gel cushions offer a technologically and aesthetically superior alternative to traditional foam upholstery. Each 18-inch-square pad comprises 36 discrete urethane cells laid out in a grid. Inside each cell, a sac of silicone gel sits on a pouch of compressed air, with pressure regulated by a small hand pump.
Frame components, fabricated in Milwaukee, are assembled in Heltzer's shop on the Chicago River. The tubular pieces are welded together, then air-blasted at 100 pounds per square inch to produce an etched finish. Titanium mesh is attached to support the back and seat before the gel cushions are snapped into place.
The chair's back features a further quirky element, a dispenser that holds a roll of Lyocell toweling. Derived from wood pulp, this ecologically friendly, absorbent material unfurls to drape over the seat—a practical touch not only for bodies wet from the pool but also for anybody who finds the feel of urethane odd against bare skin. "This isn't going to be for everyone," admits Heltzer. "It's a very specific beast."