The best chairs in history are the perfect blend of form and function, combining the practicality of a humble place to sit with the structure and style that elevates the seat to a full-blown work of art. And some of the greatest minds in design have dedicated immense time, passion, and effort to the task of creating a beautiful chair. In fact, many internationally-revered architects designed chairs throughout history that were just as iconic as the buildings they created.
From the Wishbone to the Navy chair, let’s take a look back at some of the most iconic chair designs in history.
Emeco Navy Chair
Aptly named, the Emeco Navy Chair was designed by engineer Wilton C. Dinges in 1944 in response to the Navy’s call for a chair that could withstand the trials of war. The lightweight waterproof and fireproof chair can literally endure a torpedo blast, and look great doing it. Composed of soft recycled aluminum, the deceptively simply-looking chair is actually made using a 77-step process that converts the aluminum to a material three times stronger than steel.
Another highly recognizable design, the Wishbone Chair was designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1949. The stunning Y-shaped back removes the need for back slats while allowing the back and armrests to function as one piece. Meanwhile, the woven paper-cord seat is as comfortable as it is sturdy, made from 120 meters of hand-woven paper cord. All in all, the chair takes 100 steps to make, but you’d never know it by its elegant simple design.
Widely beloved for his pioneering architectural work, Eero Saarinen is also a famed furniture designer. Displeased with the state of postwar design in general, Saarinen designed the Tulip Chair in 1957 as a response. According to Saarinen, “The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again."
Arne Jacobsen designed the Swan Chair in 1958 as part of his commission for the SAS Royal Hotel complex in Copenhagen. Jacobsen created the chair using molded foam, a then-new material that removed the pliability constraints that limited the shapes that furniture designers could make at the time. The result is a sleek, futuristic chair completely void of straight lines and bursting with sumptuous curves.
The Diamond Chair was designed by sculptor Harry Bertoia in 1952. And given the chair’s unique look, it’s easy to see that a master sculptor was behind its creation. “If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture," Bertoia said, "Space passes right through them.”
Finnish designer Eero Aarnio designed the Ball Chair for himself in 1963. "We had a home but no proper big chair, so I decided to make one, but some way a really new one,” he said. The chair has appeared in several movies, often used to evoke the Mod style of the 1960s, including The Prisoner, Tommy, and Mars Attacks! Not long after debuting the Ball Chair, Aarnio designed the Bubble Chair, which featured a similar shape but a uniquely clear design.
Eames Side Chair
Iconic design duo Charles and Ray Eames created many chairs throughout their career, with this side chair being among the most popular. Made from molded plastic and fiberglass, the chair first appeared on the market in 1950 and was designed for the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design sponsored by The Museum of Modern Art. The chair is still commonly found in homes across the world, beloved for its universally appealing design.
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