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10 Iconic Chairs of the Modern Era

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For centuries intricately carved chairs inlayed with ivory, mother of pearl and marble were items of high prestige. But the birth of a new industrial society in the last quarter of 19th century started to ring in massive changes. Stylistic experiments influenced by constructivism followed by Bauhaus brought completely transformed the interior of our houses. From delicate and florid styles of the past,

- the chairs became more geometric in form.

- Use of acrylic, moulded plywood, fibreglass, rubber, varnished steel wire etc increased substantially.

- Priority was given to the production of lightweight and space saving chairs.

- Design and production became two fundamentally separate processes. This also resulted in undermining handcrafted designs. 

- Traditional ornamental approach started to decline.

A whole new set of chairs started to embellish modern homes. Both architects and independent designers became involved in producing some of the most noteworthy chairs of modern time. Today, we will review some of these museum quality pieces that still grace the interior of our modern homes.

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman

Charles and Ray Eames’ ingenuity helped to develop several iconic designs including the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. They were officially released in 1956 with a title of Eames Lounge 670 and Ottoman 671. A combination of plywood and rosewood veneer, which was discontinued later, was used in the original design. These two items became a prized possesion of many homes and were included in the permanent collection of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York. From the very beginning Herman Miller shouldered the responsibilities of marketing the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.

Schwan Sessel

The Schwan Sessel or The Swan Armchair is a legendary Arne Jacobsen creation. It boasts of an organic and curvy look. The chair makes use of a polyurethane shell reinforced with fibreglass, die-cast aluminium foot and leather or fabric upholstery. A cooperation between Arne Jacobsen and Fritz Hansen from early 1930s brought fruition to a series of very successful projects. The Schwan Sessel which made its appearance in late 1950s happened to be one of them. It is a design classic proudly owned by many householders and also preserved in MoMA and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Barcelona Chair

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich designed these chairs to furnish the German Pavilion at 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona. It was designed to serve as a seat for the Spanish royalty. For more than half a century now, Knoll Inc is manufacturing the Barcelona Chairs. Still available in original specifications, the chair makes use of chromed steel frame, aluminium rivets, urethane foam, fibrefill cushions and premium quality leather upholstery. Villa Tugendhat, a van der Rohe architectural masterpiece, preserves two original Barcelona Chairs.

BKF Hardoy Chair

Also known as a butterfly chair, BKF Hardoy Chair produced by Grupo Austral was a brainchild of Bonet, Ferrari-Hardoy, and Kurchan. In its current avatar, these chairs came into existence in 1938. The design became an instant hit, because the chair is lightweight, easy to transport and is also fit for the indoors. It is generally believed that the designers took inspirations from the folding Paragon chairs patented in England in 1877.

Panton Chair

Verner Panton wanted to completely break away from traditional Scandiavian teak furniture. He conceived not one but several revolutionary design ideals in mid 20th century including the slightly eccentric Living Tower. The S-shaped Panton Chair, in production since 1968, became the first completely molded “plastic” chair made of varnished high resistance foam. The design quickly became a Pop Art icon and was included in the prestigious collection of Design Museum of London, German Historical Museum in Berlin, Danish Museum of Art & Design in Copenhagen and MoMA.

Wiggle Side Chair

In 1960s, cardboard furniture became in vogue as a lightweight and affordable alternative to traditional articles of decor. By introducing Wiggle Side Chair in 1972, architect and designer Frank O Gehry gave cardboard furniture a whole new dimension. Gehry named the series “Easy Edges.” These chairs turned out to be extremely sturdy and, due to their unusual shape, had capabilities of absorbing noise. But they did not remain as pocket friendly as Gehry preferred them to be so he stopped designing them. Since 1986, Vitra AG produced four different versions of Wiggle Side Chair.

Ant Chair

Ant Chair is another Arne Jacobsen masterpiece. Made of plywood, tubular steel and rubber, this design first made an appearance in 1952. This was followed up with another even trendier version named No 3100, Ant. The Ant Chair is an appropriate representative of mid-century Danish design that was instrumental in reducing design complexities and decluttering modern homes.

Le Corbusier Chaise Lounge

Le Corbusier often regarded “a house” as “a machine for living in.” So it is not surprising that he called this chaise lounge a “relaxing machine”. The first one was built in 1928 for a library followed by another slightly modified design for Villa La Roche the same year. Le Corbusier then exhibited it at the 1929 Paris autumn salon. Since 1965, Cassina is handling the responsibilities of producing these chairs.

La Donna

La Donna, inspired by the Pop Art style of 1960s, shows Gaetano Pesce’s fondness for anthropomorphic shapes. Donna’s freestanding structure was first designed in 1969. Officially known as UP5 and UP6 Donna, these two pieces of furniture make use of moulded monoblock foam. Once finished, the completed piece of furniture is reduced to about one tenth of its original size in a vacuum chamber. It is then wrapped up in an airtight foil. Once installed at its destined place, Donna quickly retains its original shape thanks to the flow of air in the capillaries of the polyurethane foam.

Dining Armchair with X-Base (DAX)

Eames Molded Plastic Chairs by Herman Miller
Herman Miller

Eames Molded Plastic Chairs

Herman Miller

Charles and Ray Eames produced DAX in 1948. They submitted the design for the international competition of “Low Cost Furniture Design” at MoMA, New York. The show opened in March, 1950 with a jury that included the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The prototype earned second position in the competition. However, once the commercial production began it quickly became a prized possession of many a living room decked up in contemporary style. It became the first unupholstered fibreglass chair mass produced by Herman Miller and Vitra AG. After brief period of interruption from 1989, the design was brought back in the limelight in 2004 by Vitra.

We shared tidbits of the history about some of the most iconic chairs of modern time. Which of these designs enthuse you most and why? Do not forge...
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