SPIROS ZAKAS is a designer who threatens to make a basic change in how we think about furniture. He is a small, compactly constructed man with dark curly hair cicling his face. He's 36 and looks 10 years younger in his blue jeans, wool shirt, orange and purple scarf, combat boots and aviator jacket. As he steps out of the long black limousine, he gives instructions to the chauffeur in a soft Atlanta drawl.
The juxtaposition of Zakas' easy-living clother and the luxurious car (albelt hired) is a good example of his theories of design. Zakas thinks people who have a lot of money should spend it on expensive hand-made furniture, preferably arranged according to an interior design by Zakas. He thinks that people who don't have much money should make furniture themselves, preferable according to designs by Zakas. Either way, Zakas picks up the profit.
His new book, "more Furniture in 24 Hours" (St. Martin's Press), which he did with his students at Parsons School of Design, is intended for the do-it-yourselfrs. His first book, "Furniture in 24 Hours," or how to learn to live with and love plywood, has already gone into its eighth printing, quite a phenomenon for a do-it-yourself furniture book.
Zakas' most innovative effort on behalf of the monaffluent is his latest attempt to design and market inexpensive furniture. This group of 35 to 40 pieces is made of what he calls a super-heavy corrugated paper, in some applications stronger than plastics. The buyer covers the corrugated paper (normally used as pallets to ship automobilies) with foam rubber and staples on a cover, all to a design by Zakas. Some pieces of the furniture tend to took more like fat sausages than opulent Art Deco, but he's aiming at the $50-a-chair market. He hopes to have the furniture, called Zoneycomb, on the market by fall. He's hired a big-time agent, Pearl Bedel, to see that it is. He hopes itis. He hopes it will be marketed in stores such as Hechinger's
"The Wall Street Journal three weeks ago said that by 1990, $48 billion would be spent on do-it-yourself items. Labour is so high that people are going to be forced to do it themselves."
Zakas believes that design needs humor as well as comfort. Among the bright (or dim, depending on how you feel about them) ideas in his current book are his lampshade made by melting a record in an oven and shaping it over an orange juice can. Or the stuffed shirt lamp made with a dress shirt and liquid fabric stiffener by student Katherine Pearson.
Some of the designs in the book are more practical. George Thomopoulos has a design for a plywood two-seater (with a wall between in case you aren't speaking to the person on the other side). It looks rather like a kite, but pleasantly so. It costs $19 to make, Zakas says, and should take four hours. Unlike some of the designs in the book, the "V" chair by Daniel J. Cohen ( $13 and five hours). the triangle folding chair by Sara Jo Stander ( $40, 15 hours) and the pillow sofa by William Sarbellow ( $85, 18 hours) look, if not comforable, at least possible to sit in.
The student designs are often derivative (as so often are professional designs). The Very Highback Chair owes a nod to Rennie Macintosh, and the Laplander Chair is a clear steal from the famous De Stiji "Z" chair of the '20s.
Some are very useful. The folding screen ( $60 and four hours) by Mark Nore uses hollowcore doors. In a class by itself is the chair called "Entanglement" by Daniel J. Cohen, who is pictured hanging himself in it. The chair, according to Zakas, costs $295 - "cheap in money but the psychic cost is incalculable. Time 87 hours, plus time spent cursing and kicking" even though the chair is just a frame webbed with clothesline.
Zakas does not neglect the rich among his audience, who so far have paid for his experiments. For them, he follows the maxim that if you're flexible you won't ever be lonely, or out of work.
He's perfectly willing to do a traditional English interior for you if youwant. After all, his family originally sent him to study at Parsons with the idea of his joining his uncle in the antique business. (The uncle, he says, wouldn't speak to him for two years after he decided to stay North.) On the other hand, he says, "I'd really rather work in the futuristic mode. But I believe the customer has the right to choose how he wants to live."
Zakas is one of the busier interior designers in the country. He expects to gross a half million dollars this year for the last few.
He is responsible for the remodeling of Chicago's well-known Pump Room, designer Georgio di Sant' Angelo's New York showroom, author David Halberstain's apartment, Fanny Brice's former house "and lots on Nantucket," to drop a few names. At the moment he is working on 17 restaurants, two hotels and 10 residences, all while teaching at Parsons.
Zakas could keep his design firm of 12 busy on his own homes alone - he has three: a loft in New York City, an 1833 house that is an hour and a half from New York City and an apartment in Chicago.
At one time he aspired to the "Captain's Paradise," a companion in every post a la the old Alec Guinness movie, but "the girls caught me at it." For the last month, he's lived alone. "My girlfriend was an airline stewardess. Between her flights and mine, we were never home at the same time."
Not only soes he have all those residences, but "I'm never through decorating them. They're always in progress because I change my mind when one shows signs of being finished."
After graduating from Parsons in 1965, Zakas worked for two (successively) architects for three years. With money he saved, he set himself up as a furniture designer in New York. "Only I hadn't saved enough, so 'I went cab.' One night when I drove the cab all night, I found people were lined up half way down the block in front of my show room. I thought it was a fire. Then I saw the story about my designs in The New York Times and Home Furnishings Daily."
Zakas started out making expensive Plexiglas furniture - when it wasn't as ubiquitous as it is today. From this, he designed a line of plastic furniture when he hoped could be sold cheaply. He was invited to submit work for a low-cost furniture competition sponsored by the federal government. Thesuccess of these designs (exhibited here at the National Collection of Fine Arts) led him to exhibit the furniture at the big market in High Point, N.C.
"It was heavy. In three days, we sold $2-million worth of furniture orders. Only when I went back to New York did I realize we couldn't possible fill them. Though we had done well with the earlier furniture, we couldn't get the bank loans to but the equipment and pay the staff for the $2-million orders."
Zakas sort of threw up his hands, went off to Europe for six-weeks, came back and closed the company. He lost $60,000 before he was 27.
To pay his debts, he went to work as a set designer for CBS. "It was so easy. I was bored.I worked on swveral soap operas." But his interior design business began to get underway "and now it's going like crazy." After the Pump Room job, he asys the restaurant did $2-million of business a year, "and we had all the restaurant redesign jobs we could handle."
In the future, besides corrugated furniture, Zakas sees " a new period of conservative decadence - wallpapers, curtains and other romantic ideas." Which give Zakas the idea to start his own wallpaper and fabric company. "Today people want to cheer up, spend money, entertain more. They're more interested in quality. That's why they buy big-label merchandise because they're unsure of themselves."
Zakas sees dark colors - "the hottest is a dark plum" - moving in on today's white walls. And, throwing cold water metaphorically on the jungle of indoor plants, he sees silk flowers blooming instead. (Now let me see, what about a new company to make avant-garde silk flowers?) CAPTION: Picture 1, From cover of Spiros Zakas' "More Furniture in 24 Hours", St. Martin's Press, Picture 2, Spiros Zakas