There is probably no product group in the world of design that captures the imagination of both designers and the public as much as chairs. Far from being mere objects on which we sit, chairs are an integral part of the domestic and office interior, and reveal our relationship to aesthetics and technology.
Modernist architects, designers and artists at the beginning of the 20th century who sought to create a new visual language for everyday life often turned to chairs as a laboratory for their ground-breaking ideas and this trend still continues. Today, the market for high-quality designer chairs offers a wide variety of choices, with established manufacturers such as Vitra, Artek, Cassina, Knoll or Thonet, as well smaller, specialised firms, producing both design classics that have found their way into New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) permanent collection and new, innovative products from up-and-coming designers.
In 1918, Dutch furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld created the famous ‘635 Red and Blue’ chair, an exercise in precision craftsmanship and in the dissolution of space into planes and lines of pure primary colour, indicating a new direction for architecture and the applied arts.
After World War I, the Bauhaus school in Germany facilitated Marcel Breuer’s experimentation with tubular steel, resulting in his iconic 1925 ‘Wassily Lounge Chair’ and in Mart Stam’s creation of the first cantilevered chair in 1926. This in turn inspired Breuer’s elegant ‘S 32’ chair of 1928, as well as Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe’s luxurious ‘Brno tubular Side Chair’ of 1930, plus countless others since then.
In France, the architect Le Corbusier, the industrial designer Jean Prouvé, and the Irish-born interior designer Eileen Gray designed chairs in line with the Bauhaus philosophy, with their respective designs ‘LC1’, ‘Standard Chair’ and ‘Roquebrune’ becoming classics in their own right.
In the 1930s, the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto experimented with high-quality laminated wood, introducing warmth and sensuality to the modernist formal language. After the Second World War, the Californian designer couple Charles and Ray Eames enthusiastically embraced industrial production and materials, producing a raft of modern classics that includes their ‘Eames Plastic Side Chair’, ‘Wire Chair DKR’ and ‘Aluminium Group EA 105’.
A new crop of designers and artists, including Verner Panton, Harry Bertoia and George Nelson, carried on in this optimistic spirit. The sculptural moulded plastic ‘Panton Chair Classic’, the delicate ‘Bertoia Side Chair’, and Nelson’s bold ‘Coconut Chair’ have since become timeless icons of the second half of the 20th century.
The innovation continues to this day. Prominent designer Philippe Starck looks to the future with ‘Mr. Impossible’, but refers to the past with his aluminium ‘Hudson Chair’. Architect Frank Gehry uses laminated cardboard in his ‘Wiggle Side Chair’ and thin strips of woven maple veneer in the ‘Gehry High Sticking Chair’. Jasper Morrison and Maarten van Severen continue the modernist quest for simplicity with the former’s ‘SIM’ and ‘Easy Chair’ and the latter’s ‘.03’, ‘.04’ and ‘.05’ chairs.