More than just a place to rest our bones, a great chair can demonstrate the very best in innovative design, indicate the most individual tastes and can even be the measure of wider artistic and cultural movements. It is also one of the most difficult pieces of furniture to make, with the most complex designs requiring careful and considered engineering. Here we’ve collected our favourite ten designs from all over the world, showcasing inspirational form and function. So pull up the proverbial and find your favourite…
1. Wassily / B3 – Marcel Breuer
Revolutionary in its use of materials and the methods of manufacture, the B3 chair is now commonly known as the Wassily chair after the artist Wassily Kandinsky declared himself a fan of its design. Like van der Rohe , Breuer was determined to reconcile art with industry, and was the first to introduce new lightweight steel tubing to furniture design. The legend goes that he was inspired by the handlebar of his ‘Adler’ bicycle to use the tubing–a totally unthinkable furniture material up until this point. Despite its somewhat industrial aesthetic the Wassily chair is supremely comfortable owing to Breuer’s approach: to make sitters feel as though they were sitting on “springy columns of air” by ensuring the fabric remained so taut that the sitter never came into direct contact with the hard tube frame. A truly iconic chair, responsible for inspiring all subsequent metal furniture.
2. MR10 – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Like many of his Bauhaus contemporaries, the architect Mies van der Rohe sought to establish a complete aesthetic style, moving into furniture design to realise total environments without compromise. Henceforth a close connection between architecture and chair design was formed, with iconic chairs designed by many Bauhaus architects including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and of course Mies van der Rohe. The MR10 is one of van der Rohe’s purest designs and truly one of the most famous cantilever chair designs in existence. The origin of the cantilevered chair is disputed, but it is said that it was Marcel Breuer who first investigated steel as a material for furniture, that it was Mart Stam who conceived a chair “without back legs” but it was Mies van der Rohe who made it beautiful. Mies had seen Mart Stam’s revolutionary chair, but found it too angular with awkward and ugly joints. He decided to bend the tubular steel front legs into beautifully balanced semi-circular curves. This signature ‘less-is-more’ approach earned his cantilever chair its enduring fame and acclaim.
3. Brno chair – Mies van der Rohe
Although obviously a direct cousin of the MR10, the Brno is a leaner and somewhat slicker design, due to the metal frame being made of a flat bar instead of tube. In 1928, Mies met with Fritz and Grete Tugendhat, a Czech couple who wanted him to build them a house in Brno, and among the many beautiful pieces Mies created for the now legendary Villa Tugendhat, the Brno was conceived. Originally intended for Villa Tugendhat’s elegant bedroom, the Brno is now an iconic dining chair choice.
4. Standard Chair – Jean Prouvé
Although Prouvé preferred to use folded sheet metal rather than the steel tubes of his Bauhaus contemporaries, the Standard still manages to make use of this hugely popular material. Identifying that chairs take the most stress on their back legs, the engineer, architect and designer incorporated this simple insight in his design for the Standard Chair: while steel tubing serves well enough for the front legs, Prouvé’s folded back legs create voluminous hollow sections, transferring the bulk of the sitter’s weight to the ground. Available in several different finishes, the Standard is endlessly versatile and manages to remain contemporary as evidenced by its frequent appearance in the very best modern, classic and often famous interiors.
5. Butterfly stool – Sori Yanagi
A graceful and captivating design, the story of Yanagi’s Butterfly stool is a fascinating one. Despite the widespread adoption of Western design and technology in Japan during and after the wartime occupation, Yanagi managed to resist Western design influence when conceiving the Butterfly, borrowing only Western technique from Charles and Ray Eames’s newly developed plywood moulding. It’s curious that Yanagi even created a seat, considering the Japanese tend to not use furniture for seating. We’re very glad he did however, the result being a stunning and innovative silhouette, reminiscent of a butterfly’s wings and the perfect meeting of Eastern form and Western innovation.
6. Panton – Verner Panton
Breaking with the established Scandinavian tradition of producing teak furniture, Panton was a true innovator, dreaming up and engineering the very first moulded plastic chair–the eponymous Panton. Inspired by the new and versatile plastics available, Panton set about designing an ambitious unbroken S-curve chair with an aim for it to be stackable, durable and weatherproof. After years of tweaking materials, production technique and design, the Panton chair went into production at Vitra in 1968 and quickly became a Pop Art icon, since then gracing many a magazine cover including British Vogue alongside Kate Moss.
7. LCW – Ray and Charles Eames
In 1999, Time magazine declared the LCW the greatest design of the 20th century. Quite an accolade and well deserved in our opinion. Totally distinctive in silhouette and yet supremely simple, the LCW chair provides an excellent example of the moulded plywood technique pioneered by Charles and Ray the Eames. In fact, the technique seems to be the key to its success – it’s doubtful that such organic yet refined lines could be achieved by carving or metalwork. It’s also worth noting that the LCW, like the Panton, was a quick success despite the Eames being uninterested in making vast amounts of money from it, even worrying that they should make it available at a lower retail cost than the modest $32.50 it originally sold for.
8. PK22 Wicker – Poul Kjærholm
“The important thing is to express the personality of the material–not mine.” 31. With this as a design ethos, there’s no wonder Kjærholm was the creator of this superb example of modern Danish design. With every line considered, each material–in this case steel and wicker–is showcased simply and effectively. It is clear to see that Kjærholm loved both steel and natural materials as each is given its moment. In a time when Scandinavian design was concerned primarily with wood, Panton Kjærholm was breaking with tradition by exploring the potential of steel. We adore the outcome–the discrete lines of Scandinavian design meeting the innovation and industrial aesthetics of steel.
9. Zig Zag – Gerrit Rietveld
The Zig Zag, a design so radical it could have only been conceived to furnish a house with an overall design brief of complete abstraction – Rietveld’s client asked for a house preferably without walls! A clear descendant of Stam’s cantilevered chair, at first glance the Zig Zag may appear to lack the same stability owing to its rigidity. One might imagine you would fall straight over backwards. Therein lies the ‘designer joke’ as Rietveld put it, the discrepancy between the simple form and its complex engineering. Surprisingly it’s a very comfortable, versatile and stackable chair and ultimately a wonderful representative of the De Stijl movement’s creative output.
10. Bibendum – Eileen Gray
38. The only chair in our top 10 designed in its entirety by a woman and also designed with a sense of humour. Named after the brand with the rotund Michelin man for its logo, Gray’s design brings joviality to the serious world of furniture – and not at the expense of her design. We love its sumptuous, cocoon-like warmth and its ability to be both impressive and enticing. Finally we love that Gray christened it her “feminist answer to Le Corbusier’s Grand Confort armchair”–just as comfy but “softer, rounder, and more feminine”.
Image credits: All images sourced from Pinterest. Please get in touch if any images belong to you.