The increasingly flexible and adaptable nature of office work means that furnishings need to follow suit. Multipurpose chairs fulfil various roles, whether in a waiting room, a meeting space, a break out area, or as temporary task chairs. This incredible versatility of use has attracted the most renowned architects and designers, setting an extremely high bar for this product group.
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 on the quintessential bentwood furniture of his time. Mart Stam, the designer of the world’s first cantilever chair, designed the stacking ‘S 43 ST’, a combination of tubular steel and colourful plywood backrest and seat, in 1931. This classic modernist design is produced by Thonet.
Alvar Aalto, the leading, Finnish, modernist architect, applied modernist formal theories to wood and plywood, and produced a series of influential designs, such as his understated ‘Hallway Chair 403’, a stacking armchair designed for the seminal, 1932 Paimio Sanatorium building.
The selection from mid century multipurpose chairs is just as broad, with Charles and Ray Eames’s 1950 ‘Eames Plastic Side Chair DSX’, an organically shaped plastic shell on interchangeable metal bases; 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 1955 ‘Model 3107’ for Fritz Hansen is an iconic, stackable, moulded veneer multipurpose chair.
Contemporary designers are just as imaginative, and continue to deliver daring designs: such Philippe Starck’s and Eugeni Quillet’s futuristic, glossy, polycarbonate ‘Mr Impossible’ multipurpose chair for Kartell, or architect Norman Foster’s understated, lightweight, aluminium ‘20-26™ Stacking chair’ for emeco.
Konstantin Grcic’s organically-shaped ‘Chair_One’ for Magis is also made from aluminium, but its organically shaped seat is constructed as a triangulated web. Jean Nouvel’s ‘400 Oxymore’ for FIGUERAS, on the other hand, is a wholly orthogonal, stacking multipurpose chair, with generous, comfortable, rectangular padding. Finally, Maarten van Severen’s ‘.03’ for Vitra is a severe, minimalist, slender design, whose comfort is provided by its yielding, polyurethane foam seat.