Video: Reinventing the Garden Seat

This exhibition of design for the garden by Munder-Skiles arrives at a pivotal juncture in the growth of this idiosyncratic and extraordinarily successful firm, with less than ten years has reconceived the art of making fine garden furniture.

Under the guidance of its dedicated founder, John Danzer, the company has spent its first decade extrapolating the best and most beautiful designs of the past, translating and reinterpreting these historical classics. Te results of these efforts, and some of the objects that inspired the, are presented in the exhibition.

The company's furniture, according to Danzer, will take another direction, focusing on new materials and technologies, for designs to suit the emerging needs of changing lifestyles and evolving outdoor rooms. Its objective, in the decades ahead, will be the creation of designs that become the classics of generations to come.
Judith Gura

reinventing the garden seat


Silhouette. Contour. Mystery. Essence...
The silhouette captures the soul, begging to be noticed.

The garden seat isn't the only thing John Danzer reinvents. In reinventing garden seat, he reinvents himself. This exhibition is a portal into the history of Munder-Skiles and the story of John's own remaking. Welcome to this new-fashioned revival.

Ten years ago, John was on Wall Street. Despite all the trappings of success, he yearned for something more-something essential and creative. He wanted to be an expert in a field. Determined to do something that added value, he surrendered to what one of his heroes, Leo Lionni, called "the irresistible urge to make things." "I've always had heros. They live in me. But I couldn't fine heroes on Wall Street," John maintains. "As these inner heroes called me, the job fell away."

In 1990, he started his company, and perhaps it's his genetics code. After all, his father-another hero- was a telecommunications entrepreneur of great renown. "As a child, I was interested in history and loved gardens. Allowing myself to return to the innocence of childhood, I began realizing how furniture always spoke to me. It was this combination of the sculptural and the functional, the silhouette, that called to me."

"Design starts with observation and paying careful attention. Objects in the garden domesticated and outside space... they become graphics that summon our spirits out into the garden. After all, the outdoors is the original 'great room.' It should be unconfined, special and not just an afterthought." John calls his approach "above ground archeology." Book dealers keep their eyes peeled for old catalogues an books on garden furniture. Antique merchants everywhere know when to put aside in interesting char for Mr. Danzer.

Like any good analyst, he monitors the micro and the macro looking for trends, patterns and noel ideas. In John, art and production meet. "I am obsessed and passionate about what i do," he notes. "Sometimes the professional part of me is overshadowed by the mad scientist. I fuss until I get it right. Then I push to make it better. People who know me will attest to this fact."

Education and learning are at the heart of Munder-Skiles. History and story buttress every piece in the exhibition. Edith Wharton's original bill for her garden furniture is displayed beside the French catalogue from which she ordered. "All these details matter," insists John. "Our eclectic range of designs is the direct results of thinking deeply about the subject, the object, its context, its origins. It is about then and about now. It's visual vocabulary."

The work of Munder-Skiles incorporates the timeless appeal of classic design, the application of modern technology and fresh renderings using new materials. "For this exhibition, we looked at icons of garden furniture, like the Adirondack chair, from a contemporary perspective. Our Adirondack chair is made of clean acrylic and is nearly invisible. We're attempting to cut a recycled plastic lumber Jeffersonian bench using a CNC router. If Jefferson were alive, this is what he would have done."

While designing a chair or consulting on-site with a client, John considers several aspects. He looks at what was done before and combines it was contemporary needs and constraints. He reflects on the circulation aspects of the outside space and takes a good, hard look at architectural styles. The practical German in John makes him very sensitive to designing simple, comfortable solutions for the human body. It is always his hope to bring the restorative power of nature into people's lives- especially in the midst of todays's technology frenzy.

John is passionate about furniture that embraces the human body. "The look of the end product should never be at the expense of comfort. There is something so anthropomorphic about some furniture. It has arms, legs, back, feet, curves, knees, joints, elbows and seats. We caress their arms, feeling silky wood or the slick, thin strength of metal. A chair is like a devoted lover- always expectant, waiting, patiently, with arms open."

So enjoy Reinventing the Garden Seat. While touring, take a moment to image yourself outside, seated most comfortably, garden in full, fragrant blood. Blue skies dissolve to... silhouette.

Eve Berry
The Nautilus Group



It’s Hard to remember where this all began. Let’s start with the evening in 1993 when I unveiled our first four products. Tim Kapeluck, the one-man shop woodworker, arrived with the first prototypes. In the middle of Party Held after my first lecture on garden furniture design at the Cooper Hewitt. Not long after that the first catalogue was launched—Fourteen pieces. What a thrill when John Saladino and Albert Hadley trekked their way up to my tiny apartment and became my two designer clients. I can’t believe how un-market driven it all was back then. It was a table here. A bench there.

A dear friend, Sue Cohn introduced me to the Colton’s and their modernist garden by James Rose. This encounter leads to the development of the entire Taconic Collection TM. It was about contoured body stuff, a chair that could hug the body. About the time I strained my back badly. That year, call it the beginner’s luck; the Taconic Chair TM won the Roscoe for the Best Chair Design in America. All of this was still happening in my apartment a 520 square-foot studio on the Upper West Side. In those days, Melissa Sellers and Molly Froelich, where my sounding boards. They are still here for me today.

Another milestone was moving the business in 1996 from my apartment to our showroom on Madison Avenue with the help of realtor Marianne Thorsen. Also a Small space, configure differently, but I still have to hang chair on the wall. In contrast, this exhibition has given us a chance to put everything on the floor! We’ve grown as a company, now 52 designs.

Behind the scenes are some very critical players. My mom, Norma Jane Danzer, has backed me in so many ways. She incredibly generous and patient, and has always been supportive of this endeavor. I have also been lucky enough to have craftsmen—listed in the program—who facilitate and work with my vision instead of overriding it. I have such a profound respect for them. Without them this would not be possible. In addition, my colleagues in the museum world have been willing to collaborate in licensing arrangements. They’ve afforded me a way to show my respect for history.

Over the years, I have always stayed abreast of the changing American garden as well as emerging new materials. To experiment with new concepts, such as invisible chair, vinyl extrusions, and metal- coil fabrics, has made me realize how much more is possible. The World of Exteriors TM is an awesome field of dreams. Thank you for sharing a bit of the journey with me.

John Danzer




The Morris Workshop
Mike Reid Weeks
Lee Badger. Anvilworks
Ron Cosser. The Craftsman
Tim Kapeluck. Encore Woodworks
Romancing the Woods 
James Wolf Designs 
U.S. Plastic Lumber Corporation


Greeff, a division of F. Schumacher & company
Bamtec TM Bamboo floor by Mintec
Bahama Handprints
Friendly Robotics
Canyan Antiques


Liz McIlvaine. Blue Diamond Studio
Susan Schultz. Twist Graphics
Eve Berry. The Nautilus Group
Judith Gura. Exhibition Writer


Frederick Charles
Formula Z/S
Laurie Lambrecht
Lisa Mierop


Sally Newcomb. Furniture
Carl Weisser. John Danzer


POSTED ON 08/06/2000