Many of the most creative new designs in chairs were products of the mid-century modern school. These chairs, however, remain so popular and we’ve seen them so often that we are unaware of how unusual they really were when they first appeared.
The first truly iconic chair, still in production today, was Michael Thonet’s #214 designed in 1859. This classic chair with its bentwood back quickly became a favorite. It’s so common that we forget that Thonet’s patented methods for bending both wood and wood veneers were truly revolutionary in the furniture design business. His techniques were the gateway that allowed later designers to create their startlingly innovative designs.
Chairs two and three on the list both come from Arne Jacobsen, and they are similar in design. Jacobsen is best known for his egg chair, one of the early swiveling living room chairs. Comfortably upholstered, it hugs the sitter, and it still stands as a symbol of urban chic. Jacobsen’s second chair on the list is simply known as 3107. It has a similar shape to the egg, but is a little scaled back. Made of plain molded wood, 3107 is eminently stackable and can be seen everywhere.
The next entries would be two chairs from Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames lounge chair and ottoman grew from their belief that furniture should be designed for everyday living. This famous Eames chair is deeply cushioned, rounded and curved, and it is both luxurious and comfy. The second Eames chair is much more utilitarian and was, and is, mass-produced. Although it’s technically called the molded fiberglass armchair, it is better known as the bucket chair.
The Barcelona chair, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is next on our list of earth-changing designs. Its clean minimalist lines, the contrast of its smooth curvy legs with its square frame, and its modern combination of stainless and leather finishes has kept it in the public eye since its introduction in 1929.
Both Saarinen’s Tulip chair and Calligari’s Jam chair also have that fluid molded body-hugging shape that evokes the mid-century modern design aesthetic. The Tulip was made in classic white, and the Jam in translucent. These two chairs were both trendsetters that have since become ubiquitous designs.
Finally, our last two chairs that changed the world are a little more unusual. Philippe Starck reworked a classic historical design in translucent polycarbonate to create his Louis Ghost chair, and LeCorbusier moved the tubular steel framework to the outside of the chair for his famous LC2 armchair.
So there you have it, the top ten iconic mid-century design chairs! Look up pictures of every one of them and you’ll go “Oh, I’ve see that.” You will. Really.
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