If you’ve ever looked at –or more accurately—through—a piece of acrylic furniture, you have one person in particular to thank. That man is Charles Hollis Jones, American artist and furniture designer. Jones has worked with many high-profile clients including Sylvester Stallone, Arthur Elrod, the Kardashians, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross, architect John Lautner, Tennessee Williams Paul László and Lucille Ball. Ball was an ardent fan of Charles Hollis Jones furniture and throughout the years ordered several items, including many pieces for her dressing room at Desilu Studios where her sitcom was filmed. He has created over 1,000 designs over his fifty-year career, and has brought to life a unique aesthetic that is part modernism, part over the top opulence, and part Midwest apple pie.
Charles Hollis Jones
Charles Hollis Jones was born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1945. His mother was a quilt maker and his father was in the lumber business and sold house designs—“a ranch, a split level and a two story”. Apparently watching his father remove and replace the roofs and walls while restoring one of Indiana’s many covered bridges gave Jones the idea to design a lampshade. “I saw so many bridges exposed to the bones of their frames,” Jones recalls. It gave him an understanding of the underlying structural and an appreciation of the stark beauty and strength revealed in a bridge’s complex, uncovered forms.
What came after is history. He moved to Los Angeles at the age of 16 after previously meeting Roide on a vacation there. At that time, plastic and acrylic were not commonly thought of as materials for upscale furniture, but Hollis Jones was about to change all that. He saw great potential in the material. After several years of a job as driver and delivery boy for Hudson-Rissman, he eventually began creating pieces for the firm, and designing furniture and domestic goods for Roide Enterprises, a Los Angeles acrylic business that retailed its designs at high-end department stores such as Bullock’s Wilshire, as well as some of the world’s most renowned showrooms. In the mid 1970s he opened his atelier CHJ Designs on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles’ fashionable design district.
Admiring the optical qualities of glass but finding the material too fragile, he developed a signature style recognized for its elemental and elegant geometric shapes—circles, squares, and rectangles—in precise and refined combinations. Years of research, experimentation, and innovation resulted in proprietary manufacturing processes in which he mastered the art of bending, stretching, twisting, joining, and casting acrylic into illusionistic furniture and accessories. By exploiting the optical properties of clear acrylic and by outlining the contours of his transparent constructions in reflective polished nickel, chrome, or brass frames he created furniture and accessories that were at home in both domestic and public spaces.
Notable art critics, with whom he was well received, and Hollywood celebrities began to take notice of his work. He had a revolutionary, conceptual approach to designing furniture: to never think of the accepted word for a piece, ie “table”. If one did not have in mind what had already been built, then the mind was free to come up with an innovative solution. One that may or may not include four legs.
Lucite Rocker, 1970
Playwright Tennessee Williams was not only a loyal client of Hollis Jones, he also provided him with inspiration and a bit of Hollywood insider gossip. Jones tells the story about getting inspiration for his Wisteria chair from the author. Williams told him “Charles, take a look at my play to get inspired!” referring to The Glass Menagerie”. In it, a character is obsessed with the type of glass swizzle stick one uses to stir drinks. Jones translated that obsession to a Lucite chair with edges which were dyed green, and then polished. The Wisteria chair was born. In another concept, the Harlow chair, the sometimes-used metal frame was eliminated, making the chair entirely see-through: in a room setting its physical structure seems to dissolve and become points of light.
Wisteria Chairs (1968), commissioned by Tennessee Williams, upon which the author purportedly spent much time
Hollis Jones observing the manufacture of one of his pieces of furniture
Using original Thomas Edison light bulbs, Jones created a lamp of steel and Lucite® to show the inner
workings of Edison’s original technology. It won him the California Design 11 Competition
The Los Angeles Times has referred to Hollis Jones as “a pioneer in acrylic design”. He has been recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, and his work featured in a number of museums. In 2005, the Museum of California Design (MOCAD) presented the Distinguished Designer Award to Mr. Jones, ”who is renowned for his innovative Lucite® furniture and accessories”. Jones’ work was exhibited in several of the California Design exhibitions held at the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art (now the Norton Simon Museum) in the 1970s, the Palm Springs Desert Museum in 2003 and numerous galleries across the country. In 2004 he received the Pacific Design Center’s “Star of Design Award.”
In Mike Nichols’ seminal 1967 film “The Graduate,” a newly-minted college grad played by Dustin Hoffman is given a word of advice by one of his father’s colleagues, a word meant to launch him on the road to riches: “Plastics.” It was sound counsel.
Jones resides in the Burbank area of Los Angeles and continues to design furniture and accessories.