Hot Seats: The History of 6 Iconic Chairs

Hot Seats: The History of 6 Iconic Chairs

Hot Seats: The History of 6 Iconic Chairs

You've seen them in so many spaces, but here's the history of Eames, Wegner, Bertoia and more superstars of seating. Brush up on your interior design facts in our own Game of Thrones.

There are a certain subset of chairs that have reach an icon status. They fit comfortably into a myriad of design styles from transitional to pure modern or eclectic. Revered and coveted, they appear in the chicest spaces—adding an elevated aura to an interior. Having one projects “I know something about design.”

But do you?

What do you actually know about Eames? Or Breuer? Let us teach you about the classics and why they are worth their prized status (and pricetags).

1. Charles and Ray Eames: The Eames Lounger

Design duo Charles and Ray Eames are oft called “The Most Influential Designers of the 20th Century” and they have the iconic output to show for it. The Eames lounge chair and ottoman is perhaps the most beloved by the interior set. The design was developed in 1956, and has been in continuous production by Herman Miller since. The shape was inspired by filmmaker Billy Wilder’s tendency to nap in a makeshift recliner between takes, with Charles insistent that it have “the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman’s mitt.” The chairs both wear and restore phenomenally—with classic leather developing a perfectly buttery patina, or reupholstered options adding new edge (see Jae Joo‘s stunning mohair restoration above). And we’re not the only ones who think so—the chair is in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

But of course, the Eames have more than one signature piece. Charles and Ray focused on form and function, which come together perfectly in their molded plastic or DSW chair. There are a lot of different variations in materials, base options, and colors (along with a slew of knockoffs). Designers adore them for both residential and commercial spaces because they are durable, easy to clean, customizable, and add a modernist bent to any interior.

2. EERO SAARINEN: The Womb Chair

Eero Saarinen was a Finnish architect and industrial designer who created futuristic furniture thanks to industrial innovations. His organic and curvy lines come alive in his Tulip collection developed in partnership with Knoll in 1956.

But we’re here to talk about his Womb Chair: Designed in 1946 at the request of Florence Knoll, the seat was meant to break out of the standard mold. “I told Eero I was sick and tired of the one-dimensional lounge chair…long and narrow,” Knoll said, “I want a chair I can sit in sideways or any other way I want to sit in it.”

The curvaceous result mimicked one of the most comfortable spaces a human has ever been in. “It was designed on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb,” Saarinen explained. To construct the chair out of a single piece of material he experimented with new materials and techniques drawn from the shipbuilding industry.

3. Harry Bertoia: The Diamond Chair

The furniture designer Harry Bertoia was entrenched in modern design—so much so that he’s also got some hands in one of the other icons on our list. Bertoia developed his initial chair design ideas while working with Charles Eames and others in California in the late 1940s. He was extremely instrumental in achieving the flexible plywood seat with tubular frame that eventually became the Eames chair, but ultimately received no credit for his work on the design.

Instead he became famous for the diamond chair, which became known as the Bertoia Collection by Knoll—a perfect marriage of sculpture and furniture. The chair’s design is meant to be light and airy, a collection of metal latticework, and is available as both a dining chair or bar stool. The first Bertoia chairs went into production in 1952 and Knoll continues to make them today.

4. Marcel Breuer: The Cesca Chair

Bauhaus master Marcel Breuer is equally celebrated as architecture and furniture innovator and master carpenter. The Bauhaus objective was to reconcile art and industry, and his work with tubular steel more than fits the bill. Inspired by bicycle construction and fabricated using the techniques of local plumbers, he brought an entirely new toolbox to the world of furniture design.

The Cesca Chair is the perfect marriage of modern innovation and classic materials. Named after his adopted daughter Francesca, it became the first mass-produced tubular steel frame caned chair in 1928. The idea was said to have originated after he purchased his first bicycle in 1925 and was impressed by its lightness and strength.

5. Pierre Jeanneret: Chandigarh Chair

Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret’s most iconic work was created for civil servants—and now is deeply coveted and in short supply. His teak-and-cane chair was created for Le Corbusier’s planned city of Chandigarh, India. The utopian ideal needed seating and so the designed was produced by the thousands in the 1950s. The teak made the chairs impervious to India’s humidity and bugs.

As the people favored more contemporary designs the chairs were destroyed, repurposed, or ended up as fuel for heating or cooking. But over the years the chair has become a collector’s item, perhaps because of the signature V-leg construction.

6. HANS WEGNER: The Wishbone Chair

If you love mid-century design, you can thank Danish furniture designer, Hans Wegner. He began his career as a cabinet maker, but went on to create over 500 different types of chairs, all with a focus on organic functionality.

Inspired by Danish merchants sitting in Ming-style chairs, the Wishbone Chair feels delightfully undesigned. Hans partnered with Danish firm Carl Hansen and Søn, who have produced the chairs since 1950. It’s lightweight, beautiful, and elegant from all angles, and the paper cord seating is durable enough to last generations. Each chair takes weeks to make. It’s made up of 14 separate components which require 100 individual processes to chisel, carve, sand, and shape, adding nearly three weeks of preparation time before the chair can even begin to be assembled. The seat itself is made of nearly 400 feet of paper cord woven into a geometric pattern, which is said to have a life cycle of approximately 50 years.

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