December 15, 1986 12:00 PM

Tom Musorafita and his buddies had a good laugh when they looked out on the main floor of New York’s just-opened International Design Center a couple of weeks ago. There, lined up with 386 elegant, carefully crafted entries in a prestigious chair-design contest, stood a makeshift seat that Musorafita had concocted in five minutes just that morning. “I went to the Dumpster,” recalls the burly carpentry foreman, 49, who was helping to complete the center, “and got out an empty cardboard container, a piece of Sheet-rock and a can top. I screwed them together real fast and waited until the security man looked in the other direction. Then I snuck my chair out there and ran back off the floor. I did it on a lark. I was sure it would be taken out that night.”

Well, he was almost right. “Get that thing out of here!” gasped one contest organizer when she discovered the illicit entry. But Christopher Flacke, director of the New York Architectural League’s Chair Fair, took a liking to the perch and decided to display it, even if it didn’t have an official leg to stand on. Next, an anonymous admirer paid the $25 fee required to enter it properly. Most startlingly, the judges then bestowed a special ad hoc award on the rubbish roost, making it one of five big winners. “Like a jazz performance, for sheer wit on the spot it’s hard to beat,” said judge Tim Prentice, a sculptor. Designer Milton Glaser, even more aptly, dubbed Musorafita “the Mel Brooks of chair design.”

The award didn’t sit well with everybody. “I spent weeks working on my wood laminate,” complained one frustrated competitor, “and now this.” But no one was more surprised than Musorafita when he heard he had won a trophy. “I had to look up ‘ad hoc’ in the dictionary just to make sure they weren’t yanking me around,” he says. “I can’t believe this piece of s—won anything.” Still, if anyone wants to pay Tom to repeat the feat, the scrappy designer is sitting pretty. “The materials,” he says, “are available.”

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