Innovation & Design

Bottoms Up! It's Champagne Chair Time


Design Within Reach's annual contest invites enthusiasts to make chairs from champagne bottle wrappings. Three (life sized) Morgans chairs are up for grabs

In the waning hours of a New Year's Eve party in 2002, Rob Forbes, the founder of the modern furniture retailer Design Within Reach (DWRI), and the remaining guests started playing with champagne corks. They used leftover cork, foil, and wire cage to build miniature chairs with results that were whimsical, fun, and compelling. Thus was born the company's annual Champagne Chair competition, now in its sixth year.

Anyone can enter the contest by designing an original chair and e-mailing a digital photo of it to champagnechair@dwr.com. The competition now draws close to 1,000 entries. No doubt it has been helped by the rising popularity of champagne in the U.S. But after selling a record 338 million bottles in the U.S. last year, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and other makers of the French bubbly saw sales slump by 17% in the first nine months of 2008 and expect lackluster sales over the holidays, typically the industry's best season. Domestic producers such as Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger may not be hit as hard as budget-conscious consumers shift to their less expensive offerings, but they will doubtless feel the pinch. With the economy now officially in a recession, consumers plagued by falling home values and shrinking 401Ks just don't have much to celebrate this year.

At stake: Three Morgan's Chairs

Yet as we contemplate a year in which companies and families alike will have to do more with less, it's worth remembering that—even with fewer resources—we can still be innovative, even ingenious. There's no better reminder of this than the Champagne Chair competition. Using the cork, foil, wire, and label from no more than two bottles (and adding glue), entrants craft armchairs, loungers, rockers, and stools of astounding variety. Some are minimalist, others verge on the ornate. There will be chairs composed only of cork and others just of foil. The wire can show up as the legs of an Eames-like stool or the structure of a rocking chair. Pillows and cushions can come upholstered in Veuve Clicquot labels.

"We look for creativity, craftsmanship, and innovative use of materials," says Erin Brown, the Design Within Reach public relations manager who runs the competition. There are fifty finalists and three winners—one selected by the judges, one by the DWR staff, and one by the public (you will be able to cast your vote at www.designwithinreach.com during the first week in February). Each of the three winners will receive a Morgans Chair, designed by Andrée Putnam for the Morgans Hotel (MHGC) in New York and manufactured by the Hannover (Pa.)-based furniture company Emeco. Here, see some of the best designs from previous years. If you feel inspired, submit your own design by January 9. Cheers.

Jessie Scanlon is the senior writer for Innovation Design on BusinessWeek.com.

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