Rocking chairs, whose invention is often credited to the great American statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin, have actually been around since the early 18th century, originating in North America. Initially, these were ordinary wooden chairs with rockers attached to them, often for outdoor usage.
The next major advancement occurred in 1860, when Michael Thonet turned his attention to the type, and crafted a rocking chair from bentwood. TON’s ‘Dondolo rocking chair’ refers to these early designs that created a market for high-end rocking chairs, which today is catered for by some of the most prolific designers and high-quality manufacturers.
The postwar designers in particular embraced the comfort and playfulness offered to them by the rocking chair. The ‘Rapson Greenbelt® Rocker’, designed by the visionary architect Ralph Rapson in 1945, and the highly successful ‘Eames Plastic Armchair’ of 1950 (which can be ordered with a rocking base, manufactured by Vitra) are both classics and a testimony to the creativity and vitality of mid-century American modernism.
Meanwhile in Finland, Ilmari Tapiovaara, under the auspices of Artek, designed the timeless and endearing ‘Mademoiselle Rocking Chair’. In Brazil, the architectural master Oscar Niemeyer designed the ‘Rio’ model, a highly sophisticated marriage between the luxury of a chaise longue and the comfort of a rocking motion, manufactured by Fasem International.
Typological and material innovation continues to this day: Philippe Starck’s ‘Heritage’ rocking chair for emeco is formally similar to its earliest predecessors, but is cast in aluminium, while manufacturer Inno’s ‘Kola rocking’ chair, designed by Mikko Lakkonen, or PeLi Design’s ‘CLICKFURNITURE bamboo’, designed by Alexander Pelikan, address environmental and material concerns without sacrificing aesthetic value or comfort.
On the more experimental end of the spectrum, Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘Spun’ for Magis combines a rocking and a spinning motion with its highly unique form, derived from an unusual manufacturing method; ‘Satala’ by Aqua Creations is a one-legged cross between a hammock and a chair; and Mut Design’s ‘Ulah’ for Expormim is a low, multipurpose seesaw.