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The artful furniture within the Renzo Piano Pavilion

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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There is more than art in the new Renzo Piano Pavilion, opening in late November on the campus of the Kimbell Art Museum.

There are tables, chairs, desks and sofas — scads of them. They are purposeful and functional, chosen to inhabit the interior with grace and a certain amount of restraint. They can’t shout their presence — it wouldn’t be seemly to challenge the art for the spotlight. Nevertheless, the upholstered pieces are covered in bright tomato red.

Renzo Red, they call it.

The renowned architect is extremely fond of the colors red and green. He sketches in green marker and makes his notations in red ink. Each of his buildings has a signature color; for the new building in Fort Worth he chose red — a bright, listing-toward-orange red.

“When you hire him to design an auditorium, he is going to want red seats,” says Kimbell director Eric Lee.

Although Piano presented many color options, Lee says, the Kimbell board of directors acquiesced to Piano’s favorite. So red it was. The auditorium seats are red.

Renzo Red also was used for other upholstered pieces. The interior design team, led by Emily Moore, an architect with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, found red chairs and sofas at resources such as Knoll and Bernhardt.

Three long, sleek Florence Knoll sofas were chosen to line the galleries with views of the south lawn. Placed along the floor-to-ceiling windows, they offer a lovely spot for contemplation. These Knoll sofas, the design of which has been around since 1954, are some of the workhorses of contemporary interiors; like the Barcelona chair, they appear regularly in residences and public institutions. They are ubiquitous; the Amon Carter Museum of American Art has them, too. They look good, and they never seem to age.

Arne Jacobsen Sprite chairs, also from Knoll, were chosen for the cafe and classrooms. The simple molded wood chairs with chrome legs, in natural wood for the education area or bright red in the lobby, are, “clean and playful,” Lee says. “While they are famous, they, too, look fresh and new.” The cafe won’t be operational until after the flurry of opening receptions, but by February, it is expected to be open.

The building has several offices, and for these, Moore chose Stylex Sava chairs for the private offices and Knoll’s armless Chadwick chairs for the communal office spaces.

“They lean toward the technical but are comfortable and have a pleasing aesthetic,” Moore says.

Secondary chairs in the offices are simple wood ones with curved backrests and upholstered seats, also in bright red.

“These are from Knoll,” Moore says. Although the Krusin chairs look rather spartan, she says, they are surprisingly comfortable.

Circling the boardroom table are a dozen Bernhardt Duet chairs covered in poppy leather. They, too, are sleek, as is the Davis table they surround.

“They are simple but have their own sense of power,” Moore says.

A number of pieces were custom-made for the new building. Many of the pieces in the public areas can be seen from all sides, because of all the glass, so it is impossible to hide the unsightly cables and cords that the ticket desk, cafe counter, auditorium console and podium demand. These pieces were designed by Piano and built in Houston by Brochsteins.

“These will all be in white oak,” Moore says. They were designed to look as if they were carved from large blocks of wood. Two large trees were milled into a special thick veneer so that all the pieces have the same beautiful presence.

“One of the challenges of custom pieces is they have to be beautiful as well as functional and house all the technical equipment. The rooms are so transparent, we have to study the furniture and cabinetry from every angle so that, when we hide things, they still look good,” Moore says.

The new building is remarkably transparent, so that these bright spots of Renzo Red can be seen through multiple walls, while the graceful lines of the cabinetry and molded chairs are in accord with the architecture — austere, yet lovely in their functional simplicity.

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