Multipurpose chairs respond to increasingly flexible nature of today’s offices. They can be used in waiting rooms, meeting spaces, break out areas, or as temporary task chairs. The sheer scope of possibilities has attracted the most renowned architects and designers to design multipurpose chairs, producing an incredible variety.
For example, Viennese avant-garde modernist Adolf Loos designed the sinuous, bentwood ‘Loos Café Museum’ multipurpose chair in 1899 for Gebrüder Thonet Vienna as a variation of the quintessential furniture of his time. Mart Stam, the inventor of the cantilever chair, conceived the stacking ‘S 43 ST’, a combination of tubular steel and colourful plywood backrest and seat, in 1931. This classic is produced by Thonet.
Alvar Aalto, the leading Finnish architect at the time, applied modernist formal theories to wood, and produced a series of influential designs, such as his understated ‘Hallway Chair 403’, a stacking armchair designed for his seminal Paimio Sanatorium building.
More relaxed and playful forms dominated midcentury multipurpouse chairs, evident in Charles and Ray Eames’ 1950 ‘Plywood Group DCM’, composed of two organically shaped plywood shells on a metal base; and Verner Panton’s 1959 ‘Panton chair’, a sculptural multipurpose chair from a single piece of moulded polypropylene. Both are produced by Vitra. Arne Jacobsen’s 1952 ‘Ant™ | 3101’ for Fritz Hansen is an iconic, stackable, moulded veneer multipurpose chair with an instantly recognisable, rounded, silhouette.
Contemporary designers are just as imaginative, and continue to deliver formally and conceptually daring designs: Philippe Starck’s and Eugeni Quillet’s ‘Mr Impossible’ is futuristic and glossy, while Starck’s ‘La Marie’ has a traditional, albeit transparent form. Both multipurpose chairs are made by Kartell from polycarbonate. All the while, architect Norman Foster’s aluminium ‘20-26™ Stacking chair’ for emeco is understated, lightweight and almost anonymous.
Konstantin Grcic’s ‘Chair_One’ for Magis is also made from aluminium, but its organically shaped seat is constructed as a triangulated web. Conversely, 400 Oxymore’, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel for for FIGUERAS, is a strictly orthogonal, stacking multipurpose chair, with generous padding. Finally, Maarten van Severen’s ‘.03’ for Vitra is a severe, slender design, whose yielding polyurethane seat provides the necessary comfort.