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Noel Mercado uses salvaged car parts to modify Marcel Breuer chairs

A Cesca Chair decked out with hundreds of air fresheners and Spoleto Chair adorned with speakers are among American artist Noel Mercado’s modification of classic Knoll chairs using salvaged chair parts.

The Chicago-based artist was commissioned by Pennsylvania furniture company Knoll to modify three classic chairs using found objects.

Mercado visited Chicago junkyards, car washes and body shops to collect objects used to modify the chairs, a method Mercado has used before and at times with Knoll chairs specifically.

Noel Mercado on hood of junk car
Artist Noel Mercado used salvaged car parts and Knoll chairs to create art pieces

“I’ve watched and read a lot on the history of these designs and have done many deep dives on the brand and their designers,” Mercado told Dezeen.

“When it came time to work on the chair frames it helped that I had experience with Knoll furniture from past work so I was prepared when I took them to my studio.”

The decision to use car parts came from Mercado’s ongoing fascination with automobiles as objects that lend themselves to self-expression. After Knoll gifted the designer three chairs for the works, he formulated new ideas based on this aspect of cars and drew from his past work and notebooks for ideas.

Wassily chair with air fresheners
Little Trees is a Cesca Chair inlaid with air fresheners

“The story I wanted to tell here was the mundane process of getting in your car, putting on your seatbelt, turning on your music, and adjusting your rearview before shifting into drive,” said the artist.

“Highlighting these aspects of a car that can often go unnoticed, the things we might look past due to repetition.”

The first of the works is called Junkyard Dogs and uses a Wassily Chair, created by Hungarian-American designer Marcel Breuer in the 1920s.

Mercado deconstructed the classic metal-and-leather chair, reupholstering it with seat belts garnered from a junkyard in Chicago.

“[It is] supposed to be a bit more chaotic and layered while still retaining its function,” said Mercado of the work.

Wassily chair held together by seat belts
Junkyard Dogs comprises a Wassily chair held together by salvaged seat belts

Next Mercado took a Cesca Chair, also designed by Breuer, and created Little Trees.

Using hundreds of tree-shaped air fresheners bought from a local car wash, Mercado filled see-through boxes placed where the cushion should be on the chair to reference the collection of used air fresheners that accumulate on the rearview mirrors of his friends’ cars.

Car speakers on Spoleto chair
Noise violation is a Spoleto Chair with car speakers

“The attendant pulling them was definitely curious why I was buying these by the hundreds,” said Mercado, who noted that being “intentionally playful” is a component of his work.

“You could say it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, playful in delivery but very intentional in craft and process.”

For the third and final work, Mercado used a Spoleto Chair – a version of the cantilever chair type, a popular and widely used modern chair design.

Called Noise Violation, the work features speakers placed in the seat and backrest of the chair, laid in grey upholstery used in many older vehicles. The speakers were hooked up to a radio that sits alongside the chair.

Constructing the air freshener filled chair
The artist mixes intentional details with humour

“In the Noise Violation Spoleto chair the goal was to show the speakers in action when usually they are hidden as much as possible inside our car doors, it was important to me that the speakers were salvaged from cars and were still able to play music,” explained the artist.

Knoll was founded in New York in 1938 and in 2021 merged with other American furniture giant Herman Miller, creating a joint company called MillerKnoll.

The photography is by Jason Cohen.

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