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Design History 101

A Brief History of the Lazy Susan

October 30, 2013

With much excitement surrounding the debut of Kelly Behun’s new furniture line at SUITE New York, we here at the showroom found ourselves particularly interested in the origin of one of her products– the Lazy Suzi 66.  The name alone is enough to spark one’s curiosity.  Who is this “Susan” person, anyway?  Was her laziness really enough to warrant a piece of furniture to be named after her?

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While I’d love to tell you a scandalous story about a less-than-domestic goddess from way back in the day named Susan; truthfully, the exact creator and origin of the “Lazy Susan” is unknown.  There are, however, a handful of theories as to how the product acquired its unusual name.  One speculation is that the name derives from servants in the 1700′s who were referred to as “Susans.”  Another popular theory is that Thomas Jefferson invented them for his daughter, Susan, who often complained that she was always the last to be served at the dinner table.  Yet regardless of its maker, historians can date the actual product back to 18th Century England, where it was commonly referred to as a “dumbwaiter” at the time.  In America, it first appeared as the “Lazy Susan” in a Vanity Fair advertisement in 1917.

So now that you have a slightly better sense of its origin, you may be asking yourself, “What exactly is a Lazy Susan used for?”

Glad you asked.  That answer is a little more definitive.  A Lazy Susan is a turntable or rotating tray that can be placed on any type of tabletop to aid in the moving of food and/or other items.  (How about on a vanity, covered in beautiful perfume bottles?) They are typically circular and placed in the center of a table so that the contents may be easily shared.  The Lazy Susan can also be used to enhance the overall presentation of a tabletop, much like Kelly Behun’s spinning “Lazy Suzi 66.”  Not only is it a highly functional piece, it doubles as a work of art, which is precisely what her collection, Neo Laminati, is all about.

Behun’s Lazy Suzi 66 is a laminate tray that rotates to create a hypnotizing effect.  She pays homage to the Memphis Group design movement of the 1980′s with her bold design and use of laminate materials.  By taking a simple material that was invented a century ago and using it in a different design context, the Lazy Susan has completely been reinvented and modernized.  Available in black and white and in three different optical patterns, this is definitely not your grandmother’s Lazy Susan.

While Kelly Behun offers a unique and fresh perspective on this classic design, given its ambiguous history, one thing is for certain; the Lazy Susan will always remain a great mystery of product design.