Chairs come in a variety of forms, sizes, hues, and finishes; some are utilitarian, while others are just for decorative purposes. Since the dawn of time, chairs have existed. Every design era in history has been captured in chairs. Not only have chairs’ looks changed over time but also their comfort and requirements, which have enriched each design’s history. This article will focus on ten chairs whose materiality and manufacturing techniques have changed the course of design.
Thonet Chair (1859)
The majority of chairs used to be built by hand up until the late nineteenth century. The Austrian furniture maker Thonet, established by Michael Thonet in the 1830s, constructed a chair using only six pieces of wood that had been steam bent, ten screws and used two washers. Lightweight, quick and inexpensive to produce enduring, simple to disassemble, and portable a side chair The number 14, quickly rose to the top of the list of the most popular industrial goods period of the nineteenth century. The chair has not moved from laid-back cafe culture. Today, variations of the form are being produced, though frequently using materials, like welded metal, that have little to do with the idea behind what was arguably the first piece of flatpack furniture.
Red Blue Chair (1917)
The Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888–1964) Red/Blue chair was at the vanguard of the experiments carried out by several members of the Dutch De Stijl movement. The group, founded in 1917, aimed to incorporate Neoplatonic ideas into the design by producing ideal things that embodied the perfection and spiritual harmony of geometry and primary colour. The Red/Blue chair, a strict structure of straight lines and flat planes of primary colour, was one of the first attempts to apply the De Stijl philosophy to 3D form. The three-dimensional shape transformed into an elemental statement of pure abstraction. The shocking aesthetic of this piece of furniture generated a stir, and just like Mondrian’s paintings with their grid-like compositions, the chair has persisted in conjuring the appearance of abstract modernity up to the present. Although the chair was designed by Rietveld to be produced in large quantities (it was constructed using standard wood lengths and required no technical ability), this never happened. The Red/Blue chair, a realised notion for a chair, is still an iconic one-of-a-kind today.
B3/Wassily Chair (1925)
One of the first items to come out of the Dessau Bauhaus was the Model B3, which helped solidify the institution’s position as an influential player in practical design. It was also one of the first designs to make use of tubular steel, a material whose structural stability, lightweight, and angular, modern appearance allowed the development of innovative, eye-catching furniture forms. Its creator, Bauhaus cabinetmaking workshop head Marcel Breuer (1902–81), is credited with drawing some of his inspiration from the tubular steel handlebars of his favoured Adler bicycle. Model B3 was an answer to the technical problem of rethinking the design and construction of a chair. The perfect chair is created in large volume and straightforward style of this sophisticated chair, even though its refined structure and thin nickel-plated metal pipes give it the appearance of a technical line drawing.
Transat Chair (1927)
Created by Eileen Gray, The Transat chair, with its meticulous attention to detail and diagrammatic composition of structure and shape, is a significant antecedent of the aesthetic of mass production and mechanical process. Its deckchair design emphasises the opulent comfort of transatlantic travel, which is where its name comes from. The Transat, which merged her expertise in finely crafted and finished wood with a geometric framework now more commonly associated with extruded and welded steel, became one of Gray’s trademark works. Gray has been recognised as a visionary who contributed to redefining how things should seem and be produced in the Machine Age through her pursuit of innovation and formal perfection.
Barcelona Chair (1929)
German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the German Pavilion at the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition in Barcelona in partnership with his own country’s interior designer Lilly Reich. The Barcelona chairs and matching ottomans assumed a massive presence in the cold, tranquil interior, which included exquisite uses of marble, travertine, brass, and plate glass. The seats were elegant and contemporary, mixing ivory pigskin leather with shimmering chrome. The chair’s low, broad, and subtle tilt conveys both formality and comfort, luxury and simplicity. Mies van der Rohe openly pursued the high end of the market, unlike many other Modernist designers. Only in 1953, when Mies van der Rohe sold the rights to Knoll, the Barcelona chair entered mass production, and the American company still produces it today.
Paimio Chair (1930)
The Paimio Sanatorium, a tuberculosis hospital in western Finland, was built in the late 1920s by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and finished in 1932. Aalto was adamant that each element should aid in the healing process and came to the commission with a strong compassion for the sanatorium’s future patients. For instance, the structural layout was carefully planned, the paint colour for the walls was cheerful and bright, and the furniture was sturdy and cosy. According to him, the hospital would serve as a “medical tool.”As part of their therapy, patients were encouraged to spend most of their time on the sanatorium’s expansive sun terraces. After three years of testing, the Paimio lounge chair resulted from efforts to design a chair that would be relaxing to sit in for extended periods while also facilitating patients’ breathing. The scroll-shaped seat is manufactured from a single piece of birch plywood and has a cosy, “soft” feel because of its flexing structure.
LAR, DAR, and RAR Chair(1948)
Charles and Ray Eames’ furniture design aimed to accommodate the owner’s changing needs. Brilliant examples of how to do this were the “mix and match” LAR (Lounge Armchair Rod), DAR (Dining Armchair Rod), and RAR (Rocker Armchair Rod) created for the Low-Cost Furniture Design Competition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1948. Three different parts—an attractive “Eiffel Tower”-shaped base, tapering metal rod legs, or two curved bands of wood, or rockers—could be used to attach the fibreglass-reinforced plastic seats. The two fundamental parts joined using an inventive welded shock mound created by the automobile behemoth Chrysler, allowing for some flexibility between the seat and legs. At first, just beige, grey, and a very depressing shade of grey were offered for the seats, but this selection gradually expanded. The first mass-produced plastic chairs were the LAR, DAR, and RAR, which Herman Miller produced in conjunction with Zenith Plastics. The whimsical, innovative designs of The Eames served as forerunners of the new “Contemporary” interior design aesthetic, which emphasised fluidity, lightness, and open-concept living.
Tulip Chair (1955)
Designed by Eero Saarinen in 1955, the Tulip chair is a piece of white plastic that resembles a flower growing from the ground and blooming into a cup that envelops the body. However, despite organic imagery, this design is not handmade. The chair was born amid an uncomfortable new society that was profoundly ambivalent about new technology through the scientific process of chemicals being cast in moulds and evolving.
Universale Chair (1966)
Joe Colombo, an industrial designer and former artist from Italy, got fixated on the issue of creating a single-form, mass-produced chair in the early 1960s. He first tried working with aluminium but eventually found success with the robust and tough plastic known as ABS.
The Universale had a futuristic, Space Age atmosphere. Colombo loved to refer to himself as a “designer of the environment of the future.” It shared characteristics with the Pop art of the time because of its vibrantly bold colours and playful rounded forms.
Variability was another issue; the Universal’s system of interchangeable screw-on legs could adjust the chair’s height and, consequently, its function—from towering bar stool to dining-room chair.
UP5 Donna (1969)
The moment the vacuum package was opened, the Up5 instantly grew to its full size in front of your eyes. This rethinking of construction and assemblage was referred to as “transformation furniture” by the avant-garde Italian architect Gaetano Pesce, who created the chair for B&B Italia as part of the seven-model Up series. To the hard plastic chairs that had become widely used up to that point, the Up5 was the ideal counterpunch. The Donna (‘lady’) had a connected ball-shaped ottoman and was overtly, voluptuously feminine. It had the comfort and texture of upholstered furniture while keeping a sense of the poppiest modernity of the moment, thanks to the combination of moulded polyurethane foam and stretch cloth.
Czerwinski, M. (2010). Fifty chairs that changed the world (2nd ed.)London. Conran.