Czech Mate: František Jirák 1913 – 1998

Czech Mate: František Jirák 1913 – 1998

Mid-century modern interior design

Born in Prague in 1913, František Jirák was a Czech architect and designer who studied at both the School of Master Joiners (Mistrovská škola stolarská) and the Special School of Interior Design and Architecture (Specialna skola pre vnutornu architekturu). Under the guidance and leadership of Jindřich Halabalou, one of the most celebrated and influential designers to emerge from the Czech Republic, Jirak spent eleven years working at the renowned United Arts & Crafts Factory, or United UP (Spojene UP zavody), in Brno.

Durability and Distinctiveness

It is for this period for that his contributions to design are most well known. United UP was one of the most influential companies in Czech history. Admired for the simplicity of its designs, but also the durability and the distinctiveness of the furniture they produced, the company put the Bauhaus philosophy at the very centre of every piece they produced and its designers always sought to combine fine art aesthetics with everyday function.

Physical Integrity

At United UP, there was also an unfaltering commitment to high quality, most especially as far as the physical integrity of the products was concerned. An attention to quality might seem at odds with the fact that the pieces were also marketed to the masses, but even so, metal and solid woods were always used. This and the simplistic, minimal style of the furniture are reasons why they are still proving so popular as collectors’ items today.

Vision and Interior Styling

It might be surprising to learn that it wasn’t the Swedes who first started the trend of setting out their stores as if they were fully furnished interiors, but United UP. They understood that their customers had an inherent need to visualise what the furniture could look like in their own homes and they set up their shop interiors accordingly.

Craftsmanship and carpentry

As for Jirák, in 1948 he left United UP in order to relocate to the Slovakian part of what was then Czechoslovakia. As an expert in furniture design, especially one who favoured wood, he became the Head of the Development Department in the Regional Directorate of Woodworking Companies. His skills as both a designer and a carpenter were highly valuable in an industry that was rapidly evolving. From the end of the 1960s up until his eventual retirement, he also worked closely as a product designer for a national company called the New House (Nový domov) in Spisska Nova Ves. It was during this time that Jirák designed the Lollipop chair and it is for this iconic piece of furniture that he is certainly best known today. Vintage František Jirák Lollipop chairs covered in vintage taupe sheepskin AU Bespoke Given this nickname because their flat shape was said to resemble a lollipop, the 22 – 19 chair was manufactured by Tatra Nábytok Pravenec in the former Czechoslovakia. The factory was known for exporting about 60% of its chair production, but it was decided that this particular model should be sold domestically. Made of curved plywood, the backrest and seat of this chair are connected to each other with screws that remain visible. Normally upholstered in thick fabric, the chairs legs are tapered in a pin shape. It should be noted that there is a slight variation on the 22-19 model: the 22-19-1. Manufactured instead by Západoslov Bratislava, this model had an additional upholstered seat cushion and a marginally different backrest. For various reasons, not much is known about Jirák compared to other mid-century modern designers. As a designer who lived behind the iron curtain it is his designs themselves more than any formal record that provide testament to his innovation, his creativity and his dedication to carpentry. And luckily for us, the lollipop chair lives on and not just in the Czech Republic; a sweet reminder of the extraordinary talent and craftsmanship of one of a number of esteemed mid-century modern Czech designers. Continue reading