At a first glance, conference chairs might give the impression of being a slightly less exuberant product group. It would be true to say that designers of conference chairs pay a great deal of attention to functionality and comfort, while keeping in mind that these furnishings are often present in large numbers, and thus necessitate some formal restraint.
Needless to say, there is an incredibly varied selection of conference chairs, from modern classics to exciting, contemporary designs. The first tubular steel, cantilever chair, ‘S 33’, designed by Mart Stam in 1926 and produced by Thonet, is well-suited to furnishing smaller, more luxurious conference rooms, as is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s expressive ‘MR Side Chair’, manufactured by Knoll International.
Post war designers continued material experimentation, but introduced a more informal, playful approach, as is seen in Alvar Aalto’s 1947 ‘Armchair 46’ for Artek, a combination of an upholstered seating and laminated birch legs. The sinuous, sober, 1958 ‘Aluminium Group EA 105’ conference chair, designed by Charles and Ray Eames and today produced by Vitra, combines a stretched fabric seat with a cast aluminium construction and a swiveling base.
Jasper Morrison revisits Eames’ formal concept in his 2007 ‘Lotus’ conference chair for Cappellini, but uses moulded, upholstered plywood seat instead. Pierre Paulin’s 1965 ‘Little Tulip’ is dignified in its posture, but playful in its form of two upholstered petals balancing on a single metal foot.
Such lavish conference chairs are more suited to smaller meeting spaces, and larger events tend to feature more straightforward designs. Consider Gunnar Asplund’s 1937 ‘501 Gotenborg 1’ by Cassina, an almost archetypal wooden chair with an upholstered cushion. Arne Jacobsen’s iconic, 1955 ‘Model 2107’ conference chair is a stackable, moulded plywood seat with slender steel legs.
Stackable conference chairs, often with armrests, are still a popular choice, with products such as ‘RF1’, designed by architect Norman Foster for Randers+Radius, or Naoto Fukasawa’s ‘Soho chair’ for Magis, becoming typical for large conference spaces, being practical to store and to set up, comfortable, simple and, as ever, aesthetically pleasing.