Monday, August 20, 2007


As I've mentioned before in this blog, I'm on a serious, long-term quest for some new living room furniture. I've searched across Perth, from budget furniture warehouses to luxury boutique showrooms, and even scoured the stores in Melbourne, all without success. All the couches I saw were too bulky, or too squooshy, or too girly, or too expensive, or too cheap. The upmarket design magazines are filled with sleek minimalist sofas, upon which one can imagine sitting with a martini, discussing the use of the feminine ideal in the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. But go into the stores and there's nothing but overstuffed monstrosities, intended for slumping upon to watch Adam Sandler movies on your home theatre with surround sound.

There is, however, one exception. In the Art Gallery of Western Australia they have a collection of matching benches and couches, upon which to lounge while viewing the art, and I've been enamoured with them ever since I first saw them when I was in college in the mid-1980s. They are very long, very firm, and very black, made of quilted leather and chromed steel. A single couch seats four but looks light and graceful, thanks to the simplicity of the upholstery and the sinuous flow of the legs.

I rang the Art Gallery a few months ago to ask where they'd sourced them, but unfortunately no one knew. The furniture was installed back when the gallery was built in 1979, and as such it was older than the curator to whom I spoke.

So I had my friend the interior designer ask the senior staff at his office if they knew about it, since they've been on the local commerical design scene for decades. And oddly enough, one of them remembered them. Apparently the couches were copies of a Danish Modern design, built locally because it was considered too expensive to import them. However, in the intervening 28 years the people who actually built them had gone out of business, and I hit a bit of a dead end.

My interior designer friend found another company willing to take on the job of duplicating the couches. He could create some blueprints using CAD software, so all I'd need to do was provide them with some comprehensive measurements and some good photographs.

So last week I rang the Art Gallery again, and told the receptionist that I wanted to speak to someone about getting permission to photograph the furniture.

"Photography is not permitted inside the Art Gallery of Western Australia", she told me, in an exquisitely cultured western suburbs accent.

"Yes, I know that", I replied. "That's why I'm ringing to arrange permission. I don't want to photograph the art, just the furniture. Maybe there's some in a storage room or workshop?"

She told me she would check with the curatorial staff, and put me on hold. Over the next few minutes she popped back onto the line and politely told me that she was still checking. Then after one lengthier than usual period of holding, she came back with the verdict. She graciously informed me that I was permitted to stand in the foyer, where the cloak room and giftshop are, and use a zoom lens to look into the gallery and take pictures of the furniture across the main concourse.

Yes, you read that correctly.

I admit that for a moment I couldn't say anything. I thought to ask, "Is there anyone else there I can talk to?", but obviously there wasn't, otherwise she'd have put me through to them.

"Well, is it alright for me to come in and take some measurements?" I asked, trying to push the incredulous tone out of my voice.

"Oh, certainly," she responded.

"Thank you for your... help," I said, and hung up.

Ironically enough, I'm sure that if I did stand on the foyer and start snapping away with my zoomed camera, exactly as she suggested, I'd get thrown out by the security guards anyway. Obviously she was hired on the strength of her ability to produce rounded vowel sounds, not on any sort of competence.

But at least I could take measurements without getting hassled, so on Saturday morning I went to the Art Gallery with a pencil, a tape measure, some rough initial CAD drawings from my friend, and my pocket camera, just in case I was feeling particularly rebellious.

I found one of the benches in a quiet part of the gallery and began measuring it up - the size of the leather panels, the height of the legs, the points at which they attached to the frame, and so on. The security guards wandered by every couple of minutes, but I made a point of not acknowledging them, and they didn't disturb me.

After half an hour I had every conceivable measurement of the bench, so I went off to find the matching couch. I'd seen one earlier, but it had been occupied by an emo girl noisily playing with the ringtones on her mobile. By this stage, however, she'd moved on, so I could measure that couch in peace. I figured that if the security guards tolerated an obnoxious teenager playing screechy polyphonic versions of Dashboard Confessional songs, they'd tolerate me and my quiet measuring tape.

Of course, I was wrong.

The security guard who eventually confronted me was all smiles and friendly conversation, since he hadn't yet established whether or not he could reasonably throw me out. "Well, this is something I don't see every day", he said, with bright, passive-aggressive jollity.

"No, I expect it isn't," I replied, with a comradely little chuckle.

"What's all this for, then?"

"I'm having copies of these couches made, and to do that I need detailed measurements."

"Oh. And you're doing this on a Saturday?"

"Well, the rest of the week I'm at work."

"You have your own furniture business, do you?"

"No, these are just for me. I've already found a contractor to do the construction, once I give him the measurements."

"Most people just buy a couch from a furniture store", he observed.

"Yes", I said, with a little sigh. "But I'm not most people. My life would be a lot simpler if I were."

"Well, I guess I can't stop you measuring," he said, wistfully, perhaps envisioning a perfect world in which he could.

It occurred to me to ask him why he should want to stop me, but I was determined to keep these exchanges bright and friendly, so I just smiled and continued with my work.

Every few minutes thereafter he would swing by me again, to test out some new avenue of discouragement. My favourite was a suggestion that I might be violating copyright.

"I sincerely doubt that the Art Gallery gained permission from the designer when they had these copies made in 1979," I pointed out, still with my best disarmingly genial tone of voice.

Whenever one of his gambits failed, he would engage me in a few harmless exchanges of cheerful, interested conversation before inserting some subtly veiled threat, just in case the power relationship had become diluted by all this friendly banter. As a member of the public, albeit one who was acting weirdly, he couldn't be rude to me, but neither could he allow my actions to escape without disapproval. If I'd thought to bring a psychologist with me we could have a written a fascinating article about it for a professional journal.

Note to self: always take a psychologist with you wherever you go.

After an hour and a half I had as many measurements as I could get, and although my camera was in my pocket I was being watched too closely to use it. However on my way out I surreptitiously snapped a picture of a bench with the camera in my mobile phone. Of course it was too blurry and low-res to be of any use, but after all the crap I'd put up with, I needed a meaningless little act of rebellion.


Blogger mgk1969 said...

Did it look like this?

I am interested to know since you have gone to such an effort to find one.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Very similar, mgk1969. The ones in the Art Gallery have solid arms, and the corners are rounded, and the legs are tubular steel rather than wood. But they're definitely cousins.

9:43 AM  
Blogger mgk1969 said...

This might be it!

7:03 PM  
Blogger MC Etcher said...

It's awful they gave you such a hard time, especially for such a simple request.

If someone ever decides to steal the couch in a midnight heist, you're going to be the prime suspect.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Sorry mgk1969, but the other one was closer. The seat is flat and hard like a futon, the leather panels are only a foot or so square, and the legs are tubular steel about as thick as a tennis racquet handle, and curved to run along the bottom of the couch and around the sides.

Once I get the CAD drawings, I'll see if I can post them on the blog.

MC, I must admit that the idea of just paying a gang of toughs to "procure" a couple of couches, no questions asked, occured to me.

9:53 AM  
Blogger phaedrus said...

Sounds like a great plot outline for "Oceans 14"!

Seriously though, I can't wait to see how this turns out. I've been trying to find the perfect lamp for my dining room, scouring sites like '' and fantasizing about homemade duplicates since I just can't afford most of them.

But a couch! Wow. (And what the hassle!)

12:00 PM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Phaedrus, ceiling lights are the Devil's invention. The simple ones look cheap and the fancy ones look ridiculous. My main living room light is broken but I can't find anything to replace it, mainly because my ceilings are too low for anything three dimensional.

I've decided that the only answer is to install recessed lighting, which is boring but inoffensive.

1:35 PM  
Blogger mgk1969 said...

How about this one!

5:54 PM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Now you're just being silly.

10:24 AM  
Blogger mgk1969 said...

It had steel legs ...

See if you can see it here:

(the next page thing is a bit hard to spot, it's the little dashes with the arrow at the top right).

Maybe if you see it there it might help the people you want to build it (possibly more than a blurry photo on your phone and your measurements).

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

If it were me, I'd try the 'precedent' route. Both the Oz National Gallery and Art Gallery of NSW have entrance signs advising photography is permitted, so long as you don't use a flash. I'd Google the email of the gallery director, tell him or her of my plight, and ask for permission. They're usually more obliging higher up the kicking order.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

The Art Gallery is way ahead of you, Ross. Their listed reason for disallowing photography has nothing to do with flashes. They claim it contravenes copyright on the pictures. Presumably they also throw out art students who copy the painting into their sketch pads a little too accurately.

They also forbid the use of charcoals, because theoretically the charcoal dust can get sucked into the airconditioning and be deposited on the artworks. This is the level of anal retentiveness I'm having to deal with.

10:12 AM  
Blogger an9ie said...

Hm, I covet those couches myself. Will make it my mission next time I am in the gallery to sneakily take a couch photo.

I believe they also have those couches at the Lawrence Wilson Gallery at UWA, who would also probably care less about photos and measurements being taken.

9:38 PM  

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