By Stephen J. Kotz
However difficult it is to believe, this winter of discontent will come to an end in just two weeks. Soon thoughts will turn to storing the snowblower and pulling out the garden furniture from the shed in anticipation of another season of barbecuing, relaxing among the summer blooms, or watching the fireflies as darkness falls.
For those looking for a head start to summer, the Madoo Conservancy in Sagponack will present John Danzer, a man who has probably forgotten more about garden furniture than most of us will ever know, who will give an illustrated talk, “Garden Furniture: The Whole Story” starting at noon on Sunday.
“I’ll talk about how landscapes are changing and how our view of landscapes are changing. I’ll talk about placement. I’ll talk about materials selection,” said Mr. Danzer, the ideas firing out in all directions during a telephone interview from his office in Garrison, New York.
“There will be plenty of history in it,” he said, noting that he’ll touch on perhaps the earliest garden furniture of all—medieval “turf benches,” which were basically raised garden beds in which one could sit surrounded by herbs and medicinal plants to help ward off the plague, small pox or whatever else ailed you. Mr. Danzer said he’ll talk about modern design as well, how “the plastic chair is such a marvel of engineering and shows how egalitarian design has become.”
“The third section is really about trends and the meaning of landscape, of the social history of sitting outside, shading, the new fabrics,” he added.
It should be apparent that Mr. Danzer wears many hats. Besides being a garden furniture historian and a collector—he scours auctions for early Windsor chairs, Jeffersonian benches, Adirondack chairs and other finds—he is an award winning designer whose Taconic chair won the 1994 Roscoe Award as the Best American Chair, the first time a garden chair had been honored. He is also a manufacturer who through his company, Munder-Stiles, which he founded in 1991, will make to order furniture from among nearly 160 different designs.
If that is not enough, Mr. Danzer obtained a copyright over the term “exterior decorator,” which describes another aspect of his varied business life: doing for a client’s patio what an interior decorator does for their living room.
Despite his expertise and enthusiasm, Mr. Danzer came to his vocation relatively late in life. He was the head of Standard and Poor’s London office in the late 1980s when he simply grew weary of his work in finance. A friend sent him an article about a talk by the author Leo Lionni at Cooper Union called “The Irresistible Urge to Make Things,” and Mr. Danzer up and quit his job just a few days later.
At loose ends, he took some time off, traveling the world and sending hundreds of photos back to an old childhood friend who printed them for him and a left a post-it note on the prints: “All you do is take pictures of gardens and garden furniture” it read.
The note led Mr. Danzer to his new career, which he began by immersing himself in the history of garden furniture and soon becoming a sought after lecturer on the subject before launching a career as a designer.
“I was an art history major. I kind of got swept up” in the world of finance, Mr. Danzer said. “I kind of went back to my roots. I love to design furniture.”
Today, “we predominantly sell to high-end decorators and architects. We tend to not sell to the end user there is usually an intermediary,” he said of his business.
The furniture Munder-Skiles produces “is all built in Costa Rica, right next to one of the largest teak plantations,” he said. “I or my staff personally select the trees. We are unique in that we go from trees to chairs. We did that six and a half months ago for this season.”
“We make everything from Thomas Jefferson garden benches to very slick, ergonomic, slinky lounges,” he said.
His business continues to evolve. His mother, he joked, used to tell him, “this is the longest startup in the history of business.”
The Madoo Conservancy’s Winter Lecture Series will present garden furniture designer and historian John Danzer who will give the illustrated lecture, “Garden Furniture: The Whole Story,” at noon on Sunday, March 9, at the conservancy’s winter house. Tickets are $30 ($25 for members). Seating is limited. For more information, visit http://www.madoo.org/calendar.html#john.