Le Corbusier designer chairs
When the subject of Le Corbusier designer chairs comes up it is actually about one chair in particular: the LC 7 swivel chair.
Like all LC design classics (except the sofa collection) introduced to the public in 1929 at the Salon d’Automne in Paris the chair is a product of the teamwork of Le Corbusier himself, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and the young designer Charlotte Perriand. One would be mistaken to underestimate the importance of the two less known collaborators.
The fruitful team play between the three turned into a vital influence for modern design history. Particularly because of the representative value the designs have for the Bauhaus style in general.
The Le Corbusier chair – in the shadows of the easy chairs
Although the Siège tournant, fauteuil leads an almost shadowy existence in comparison to the other LC furniture the unusual swivel chair is an excellent cast for a role that the other, more famous upholstered chairs, could not fulfil. While the easy chairs do an excellent job as lounge furniture in waiting and living rooms around the world only the swivel chair is versatile enough to serve as a dining room or conference chair. Both it does very well.
The upholstered seat as well as the semi circle that forms the backrest delivers excellent seating comfort. Thanks to the swivel function is qualifies even as an office chair, especially for those who are tired of the typical functional corporate look.
The tubular steel frame and the characteristic upholstery that reveals its heritage instantly almost seem like the reversal of the idea that brought forth the LC 1 chair. Instead of designing a version of a traditionally upholstered easy chair but without any upholstery we get a type of chair that could do without any of it but features an amply padded seat and back.
Le Corbusier’s furniture designs form a well-thought-out module of his complete works. Each of them had to serve a particular purpose, just like elements of a mechanism. Although only a selected few materials are being used the famous architect devised each design in such a way that it met its particular purpose perfectly. There is nothing to add to it and nothing redundant. Each furniture design owes its existence to the architects desire to have furniture that meets his overall vision for his projects.
The Le Corbusier chair LC 7 doesn’t survive trends and fashion since its introduction to the market in 1978.
Charles Eames Designer Chairs
Charles and Ray Eames are dazzling personalities in the world of furniture design. Modern and full of enthusiasm to explore they experimented with materials, shapes and production methods and almost always landed a hit.
There are many Charles Eames designer chairs, each a crowning achievement. Today the Eames Lounge Chair is probably the most popularly known but in terms of numbers its less glamorous cousins, the Plastic chairs and in pole position the Aluminium chairs, are far ahead. Together they cover every conceivable interior challenge as long as it can be tackled with a chair.
A Charles Eames chair for every taste
The Aluminium range itself offers a large selection, including a minimalist lounger with ottoman to an office chair for the executive floors. Depending on model and configuration an Eames Aluminium chair cuts a fine figure whether in a large open plan office or on the terrace at home. The Aluminium chair EA 117 serves as an entry model and that is not a minor task. Comfortable, light weight and with swivel and tilt feature it doesn’t lack anything. And it has the good looks of the family.
Those who prefer a bit more luxury go for the upholstered leather models. The Soft Pad Chair EA 217 heads the first league with upholstery that offers incredible seating comfort.
In between those two are plenty of options to satisfy any seating preference.
The Plastic chairs too offer a wide choice of configurations. Whether as conference chairs, at the home office, the dining table or in the living room, they are a delight not only as design objects but also thanks to their utilitarian value. They originate from the initial idea to design a single piece seat shell considering ergonomic basics. The Eames achieved not only that but a visually pleasing addition to any interior.
With their own approach to design tasks Charles and Ray Eames created practical, congenial furniture that are as contemporary today as the were the day they were introduced to the market.
There is no such thing as THE Charles Eames designer chair. Everyone will discover his own favourite just like the Eames discovered the world of furniture design.
Arne Jacobsen Designer Chairs
The Danish architect and designer experimented extensively before introducing a range of innovative plywood chairs in the 1950s. First came the Ant chair, a three legged, stackable chair with the seat seamlessly merging with the backrest. A seemingly normal feature this turned out to be a highly complex task for the manufacturer.
Jacobsen followed with a few more variations of designer chairs in different shapes, with or without rollers and armrests. All have one thing in common, the material: plywood.
Not least because of Jacobsen’s extended production research molded plywood is a fairly common material in furniture construction today. But at that time shaping the plywood in such a way that it would result in a durable seat shell was a major challenge for all participants.
The Arne Jacobsen chair – likeable designer furniture
The highlight of this long-term design project came in 1955 with the Series 7 or to be more exact, the 3107 chair. It is believed to be one of the most sold chairs in the world. And not only that, this simplistic, unpretentious design, often celebrated as the ultimate kitchen chair, established a type. You would be hard-pressed to find a furniture store that gets away without a chair of this type. Of course mostly without bothering about the origins of the design.
The original itself is in production since its introduction in 1955, a fact that speaks for itself.
A kitchen chair with character
Whether as a dining room chair or, as mentioned earlier, a popular kitchen chair, the 3107 is easily associated with cheerful social gatherings. Looking at it standing around the table one can easily imagine a bunch of kids romping through the house or a group of old friends that finally managed to get together after a long time.
The social character of the 3107 does not only derive from its appearance but also the fact that the chair is stackable. For this reason even conference rooms and multi purpose halls are easily convinced by the many talents of this furniture design.
And last but not least one simply sits well in the Arne Jacobsen chair. That should be proof enough that the term Arne Jacobsen designer chair stands not for empty promises but a truly gifted designer chair.
Mies van der Rohe Designer Chairs
The renowned architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe created in both areas of expertise prime examples of ultimate Bauhaus classics.
Although the furniture served as accessories for his architecture it is designs like the Barcelona chair that seem to be as contemporary today as they were in the 20s and 30s while many of the buildings have gone out of fashion.
How can one decide for one of the Mies van der Rohe chairs?
Admittedly it is not easy to pick one of the Mies van der Rohe designer chairs. One thing can be said for sure, it is going to be a cantilever. A type of chair that fascinated many designers in the 20s, Mies van der Rohe at the front.
The first two models, the MR 10 cantilever as well as the MR 20 cantilever are fully committed to the material, tubular steel. Designed for the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart and introduced there to the public in 1927, they symbolise the development that furniture design underwent during those years. Metal, industrial production methods, practicability and minimalism were the keywords that kept designers preoccupied. The MR 10 and MR 20 perfectly embody this development. Both are hard to beat in terms of austerity.
The Brno chair seemed like an upgrade in comparison when it debuted shortly afterwards at the Villa Tugendhat in Brno. Although the design is anything but excessive it appears definitely more luxurious due to the upholstered seat and backrest. From the beginning this model was available in two versions.
A lighter tubular version for public areas like the dining room and library of the house as well as a heavier variant for the bedroom produced in the same material that made the Barcelona chair such a success: flat spring steel.
It is not surprising that even today the two versions are chosen for different purposes. The tubular chair is a popular conference chair, literally an easy choice. Similarly the flat steel version is more likely seen in a modern sanctum.
It is not so difficult to make a decision after all!
Eileen Gray Designer Chairs
The Irish born Eileen Gray amazed her contemporaries as well as us today with her ability for transformation in her work. At the one hand early pieces adorned with intricate lacquer work fetch millions at the most exclusive auctions around the world.
On the other hand the designer created a small but powerful collection of minimalist tubular furniture, which lives up to the theories of the Bauhaus in every respect without any traces of the drabness of some of her male colleagues. Eileen Gray always understood to add a humorous and personal touch to her designs making them joyful prime examples for Classic Design.
The Roquebrune Chair – A true Eileen Gray chair
Only few Eileen Gray designer chairs are still in production today. The most popular being the Roquebrune chair, a delicate appearance of chrome plated tubular steel and a minimalistic leather seat and backrest. The laced fastening on the backrest is the only embellishment reminding a bit of a corsage. Could this be Gray’s way to add a feminine touch to the otherwise strictly rectangular shape?
The Roquebrune chair, just like other minimalist design classics, is surprisingly comfortable. Similar to Le Corbusier’s LC 1 it is well-thought-through angles rather than upholstery that make for a pleasant seating experience.
This Eileen Gray chair definitely has personality. The combination of the Jean folding table and the Roquebrune in the role of a kitchen chair provides the perfect setting for an intimate breakfast on a sunny summer morning. Just like Eileen Gray probably imagined having with her partner Jean Badovici at her house E 1027 at the French Riviera. After all, the designer always had a personal attachment to her designs.
Alternatively the chair is an excellent choice for a dining room chair. In that case possibly with a large Le Corbusier glass table?
A chair for Maharajahs - The Transat chair
Another design is no less interesting although it is considered rather a case study than a common interior object today. The Transat chair reminds of the deck chairs of transatlantic ships of that time. Originally designed for the terrace of her coastal home it is said that the interior designer of the Maharajah of Indore too had a few of them brought to the palace.
Harry Bertoia Designer Chairs
To call Harry Bertoia a one-hit wonder does not do him justice even though many believe there exists just one commercially utilized design concept by him. But this one hit turned into such a successful design classic that many believe that is all there is.
Similar to Eero Saarinen Bertoia found a perfect partner to realize his ideas in the manufacturer Knoll. His preferred material was always metal. His subsequent career as an artist should confirm this. And so it is not surprising that his hugely successful furniture designs are made of steel wire, stainless steel wire chairs to be exact.
If one has never seen or tested one of the wire chairs it is admittedly hard to imagine how comfortable the Harry Bertoia chair actually is. To sit on steel wire seems more torture than pleasure but he always had a gift to bring forth the soothing, smooth side of his favourite material. Be it in the form of these chairs or his sculptures that he worked on for the rest of his life.
The Harry Bertoia Chair – Utilitarian art
Harry Bertoia designer chairs or sculptures, the permeability of his objects is deliberate, even the essence of his designs. The artist frequently spoke about air and space as they pass through his chairs and other objects.
The Wire chair, a popular dining and kitchen chair consists of a uniform wire seat shell and a slender stainless steel base. While the wire composition ensures lightweight the rounded corners visually reduce the hardness expected of the material.
The Diamond chair is another wire chair design with armrests and a declined backrest. The three dimensional shape of the seat shell creates beautiful effects since the concentration of the wire seems to change according to angle resulting in different patterns. In the right atmosphere the entire chair can resemble a piece of cloth floating in the air.
They are pieces of art for every home for which Bertoia truly deserves the commercial success that they brought him.
Philippe Starck Designer Chairs
The French design insurgent Philippe Starck can proudly look back at many design hits. 114 designer chairs alone are presented on his website. To accuse him of randomness or lack of significance however would be unjust. Commerce is a tool for Starck, one of his tricks.
Even though Starck worked on many high-end projects he gained most popularity with his programmatic democratisation of design. And so it happens that it is possible to get an exclusive chair design for the discount giant Target for a handful of dollars. Cheap Chic isn’t just the name of one of his design chairs but also a motto.
But back in the extravaganza of the 80’s socially critical messages still hadn’t become popular culture. In an overview of Philippe Starck designer chairs of the last 45 years one can follow the journey.
The Costes Chair – Just a Philippe Starck chair amongst many?
The Costes chair was part of the interior of the legendary Café Costes in Paris. Not only Starck’s interior design also the design furniture of the café added to his fast growing popularity. Not without reason.
Today one most likely comes across the Costes chair in a sophisticated dining room. It is not a chair that you pick without a sense for understated drama. You can’t miss this design classic and it definitely doesn’t hurt the eye.
At first sight the elegantly moulded plywood backrest dominates the picture. The part forms the armrests as well and covers the prominent chair from three sides. A tubular steel frame with only three legs holds the seat. This was designed to prevent the waiters of the popular and crowded café to trip while the leather-upholstered chair was designed to seat guests well.
Philippe Starck designer furniture comes in all shapes and colours; in plastic and sugary shades or in polished wood and sober colours. The Costes Chair belongs to the second category and is most certainly not a disposable but an investment for years.
Marcel Breuer Designer Chairs
Even though Marcel Breuer never became as celebrated an architect as his colleague Mies van der Rohe, his qualities as furniture designer are undoubtedly equal. His development from traditional craftsmanship towards industrial methods and ultimately the merger of both, stands exemplary for the paradigm shift at the Bauhaus itself.
Marcel Breuer designer chairs are the kind of designer chairs that are not only pretty and practical but also tell the story of an era during which innovation was still innovative and the word designer furniture was more than a buzzword.
The Marcel Breuer chair unites tradition and modern trends
The Cesca chairs B32 and B64 are not only design classics but also prime examples in more than one category.
They belong to the first successfully realized designs of cantilevers, a concept that caught the fancy of quite a few designers in the late 1920s. In 1927 Mark Stam’s innovative but still raw designs unleashed a series of developments, partly due to the fact that a new material had become a viable resource for furniture construction.
Tubular steel allowed robust designs with minimal material usage. Marcel Breuer became a pioneer in this field and a critical contributor to the worldwide success of German tubular steel furniture.
Material and structure form a perfect team. The unique features of the material only made the lightweight cantilever possible. On the other hand the novelty of the chairs quickly made the material a popular choice.
Last but not least the Cesca chair is a formidable representative for the successful realization of Bauhaus theories.
The Cesca cantilever B64 is identical with the B32 except it features armrests. While the tubular steel frame is minimalist in nature as expected, seat and backrest form a pleasant contrast. The beech wood frames in black or natural colour with Viennese netting, famously used by Thonet, make for the homelike quality of the chairs. The organic material not only increases the comfort level but also visually adds a warm touch that many other Bauhaus classics tend to lack.
The Marcel Breuer chair typically serves as a dining room chair and, especially in open layouts, as a kitchen chair.
These designer chairs are far more than educational material for design students.
Nearly a century after its inception the Bauhaus legacy still inspires artists of all disciplines.
Today the term defines an entire style with functionalism at the core. Revolving around this central theme throughout its existence, the most modern and disputed art school of its time, the Bauhaus established a new understanding of art, craft and architecture.
A matter of course today, a novelty then, it united the traditionally divided fine, performing and applied arts. The former hotbed of the avant-garde has an impact on followers and critics till this day.
The revolutionary teaching mission was to nurture the understanding of art in context with craft and later technology, away from its existence in self-purpose. The school encouraged fresh ideas, the exploration of new materials, technologies or simply a fresh angle to a known challenge resulting in some sensational innovations.
Walter Gropius organized his brainchild in a novel way and established workshops for ceramics, metal, wood, stone sculpting and more. Each of them headed by two masters, a master of form, the artist and a master of the craft. Each workshop had a productivity department, comparable to modern research departments. Their task was to develop prototypes based on functional analyses. This approach not only changed what would be designed in the future but also how it would be developed.
The manifesto from 1919 explicitly prescribes, “The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building! To embellish buildings was once the noblest function of the fine arts; they were the indispensable components of great architecture…Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist!"
After moving to Berlin the Bauhaus dispersed itself 1933 due to the increasing pressure form the Nazis and many of those who were active at and around the Bauhaus emigrated in the 30s. Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and others contributed to the international circulation of Bauhaus design through their teaching assignments and commissions.
Mies van der Rohe, last director of the school is often quoted with the famous line “less is more” and couldn’t be clearer. The driving themes of the design school are straightforwardness, functionality and minimalism. There should be no art for art’s sake rather it should evolve from functionality.
Indeed only few of the designs originating at the Bauhaus itself are still in production today but many nowadays produced furniture designs are influenced by the Bauhaus. Thus the term Bauhaus furniture describes an entire category of functional, modern furniture.
Marcel Breuer’s club chair B3, after its resurrection in the 60s nicknamed Wassily, must be one of the most spectacular Bauhaus designs. Not only had Breuer applied the school of thought without compromise but combined it with technological innovation. The chair initiated the triumphal procession of tubular furniture.
The tubular cantilever, created around the same time made history as well. Cantilevers occupied a few designers who were intrigued by Mark Stam’s work. Some were commercially successful, amongst them Breuer’s Cesca chair or Mies van der Rohe’s interpretation which led to a legal dispute over copy rights that should go on over many years and involve several designers and companies.
Mies van der Rohe created some true Bauhaus classics for the pavilion at the world exhibition in Barcelona 1929 and the Weissenhof estate in Stuttgart 1927. Innovative technology and distinct forms merge with characteristic elegance. He understood to transfer the functionalist thought into comfortable, highly aesthetic designs without the at times forbidding vibe of functionalism. His cantilevers MR10 and MR20 are not the only design icons by his hand that are often referred to in context with the Bauhaus.
The Bauhaus itself and projects revolving around it encouraged the international exchange between artists and architects.
In France Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray worked on their own interpretations of functionalism and selected metal for their work although their designs turned out far more luxurious then those of their German peers.
Many architects pick up theories of the Bauhaus and designers and develop them further thus creating exciting variations of the common factor functionality.
Mies van der Rohe adds a cool layer of elegance. Le Corbusier creates a machine-like aesthetic. The chaise longue LC4 is a perfect example.
Marcel Breuer approaches the task like a craftsman and Eileen Gray makes an imaginative attempt full of humour and phantasy.
George Nelson who should later become creative director at Herman Miller Furniture interviewed Mies van der Rohe 1931 during his explorative travels through Europe’s design scene and published the article in the magazine Pencil Points. This and other accounts made the Bauhaus popular in the US as well and further inspired the industrial furniture production.
A few years later Hermann Miller would systematically target designs that were practical as well as aesthetic and suitable for mass production and collaborated with designers such as Charles & Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia and Isamo Noguchi thus connecting art and technology in the best possible manner true to the Bauhaus philosophy.
Till today Bauhaus designs depict a modern lifestyle. The marketing strategy for the Bauhaus classics nowadays revives the contradiction of offering luxury goods rather than commodities, which was the social pretence on which the Bauhaus was built. Or as Gropius put it “The creation of standard types for all practical commodities of everyday use is a social necessity.”
The pretence to find new ways to solve social challenges adequately ultimately democratised design.
That Eames chairs epitomize the era of their creation is evident when watching the hit series Mad Men. Set in the 60’s, the story revolves around the charismatic Don Draper, an advertising executive on Madison Avenue. Many scenes show the corporate hotshots finalizing deals with their aviation and liquor clients sitting on Eames Aluminium or Soft Pad Chairs as silent witnesses. One can easily imagine Charles and Ray entering one of those scenes.
The story following the lead characters career also depicts the changes of the social mood at the time. Economic success draws attention to corporate life style and an increasing number of people are invited to be part of it. Eames designs meet the demand for new solutions and transport their own positive message to society through their egalitarian creative work as well as with their exhibitions and films.
There is no shortage of Eames ‘spottings’, particularly of the aluminum range in modern settings either, proving the timelessness of Eames’ designs. They evoke the atmosphere of their time without the limitations of a trend. Looking at the Aluminum Group of chairs there is no indication that the designs are more than 50 years old and yet they are in production since 1958. They seem like old acquaintances so often do we spot them in commercials, movies and day-to-day life.
The US Vogue shot the Prada resort collection 2012 setting the scene solely with a classic Eames aluminum chair, and the models. What more validation can a design nowadays get than an approving nod from Anne Wintour, editor in chief and known to screen every detail before it goes to print.
Initially the aluminum group of chairs was designed as part of the interior for the Irwin Miller residence in Indiana, a project of Eeero Saarinen with Alexander Girard responsible for the interior design. The Eameses had been asked to create high quality outdoor seating but went beyond the brief and for a one-for-all solution. The chairs should be suitable for outdoors as well as indoor, obviously durable in all weather conditions and through a variation of models adaptable to almost any seating requirement.
The aluminum chairs stand apart from the other three core groups of Eames chairs. Charles Eames abandoned the idea for a single shell seating that he had pursued with the plywood, fiberglass and wire mesh chairs. Aluminum and other metals, too costly and elusive during the war, were available again and along with technical advancements of the seat-back-suspension this meant new possibilities to create comfortable, lightweight and - as always - adaptable furniture.
Eames and Hermann Miller Inc. worked three years on the development. Instead of the single shell a textile seat is suspended between top, bottom and side frames out of elegantly shaped cast aluminum. At the top and bottom the material is tightly rolled in which prevents the material from sagging and displays the aesthetically accomplished finish.
Ironically the Leisure group, as the aluminum chairs were called during the development phase, initially conceived for the leisurely enjoyment of the home garden made a steep career as office chairs. They prove that Charles & Ray Eames had successfully taken the ever-present demand for multifunctional furniture to a new level without the product looking misplaced in either setting. The original synthetic mesh seat for outdoor use has been discontinued since then; the textile and leather options available nowadays are indicators for the transition from outdoor to office furniture.
The Aluminum chairs are a wonderful example of the way the Eameses liked to view their role as designers. They offered the technical sound quality framework, possible solutions for various needs. How they are used, in which setting they shine is out of the designer’s hand yet part of the creative process that always excited Charles & Ray Eames.
The success of the Aluminum chairs launched 1958 with Hermann Miller led Charles Eames to other variations of the idea. The designer-manufacturer team recognized the potential of the concept for the institutional and corporate sector and developed it further more specifically adapting the aluminum base and frame for the respective purpose.
The Soft Pad chairs remain very close to their forerunners and many features. Although they feature the same functionality the chairs emit a distinctively more luxurious flair. The additional padding gives them the sensationally comfortable seating experience of a lounger, only in an upright and – any board of directors can only hope - executively productive position.
Except for the Soft Pad Chaise. It proves that the Soft Pad Range is for executives with fast pacing jobs who can demand something of their surroundings.
The idea for the lounger was motivated by a conversation in 1955 with long-term friend Billy Wilder about his habit of taking short naps during film shootings. It is not the first iconic lounge seating that we owe the input of the director of Some like it Hot. He had described the kind of furniture that would suit him shooting on location and surely the Eameses took him up on the challenge. They delivered years later in 1968.
Wilder was asking for a narrow seating that would be relaxing but not lull him to doze off. After all it was for the work place. He specifically wanted to be able to jump up quickly and get back to work. Thus the lounger has a natural alarm built in.
Due to the striking narrowness one is inclined to fold the arms over the chest but should you fall a sleep your arms would slip of you chest and startle you enough to wake you. The power lounger features a somewhat untypical look for an Eames Design. It is as if Eames has created a Soft Pad variation with the Bauhaus looking over his shoulder.
Sharing the frame and base with their cousins of the aluminum group they are as neat and elegantly unobtrusive. Both are most commonly used in an office setting but adaptable to other interiors as well. The sophisticated padding is like an upgrade to the already very comfortable aluminum chairs. The separated back cushions support the body perfectly and make these chairs a very popular choice for high end workplaces.
Marketed under the name Eames Executive Chair the chair originates back to a favor Charles Eames owed the chairmen of Time-Life, Henry Luce. Time-Life had opened its expansive image archive to Eames for his contribution to the pavilion for the world exhibition in Moscow in 1959; a great success. In return Luce asked Eames to design a chair for the new executive floors.
The Time-Life chairs are a slightly more liberal interpretation of the aluminum concept. They seem more grounded, solid then their airier relatives.
A more distant relative of the aluminum group, the Tandem Sling Seating, was introduced at Chicago’s O’Hare and Washington’s Dulles Airport, facilitated by Eero Saarinen, and is a popular and hip choice for public seating till today. They are in production since 1961 and show no signs of fatigue.
Apple chose the Sling Seats as a backdrop for its store in Santa Monica, California. Intel advertised the gaming experience of their laptops on Tandem Sling Seats.
The Aluminum chairs and its variations proved to be extremely versatile companions for a myriad of different uses and settings. From a comfortable living room scenario to a buzzing airport terminal, Eames chairs never seem misplaced.
Eero Saarinen Designer Chairs
Eero Saarinen, primarily active as an architect, also gained recognition as a furniture designer. In collaboration with the manufacturer Knoll he designed a range of designer chairs. The familiar and creative environment at the company enabled Saarinen and other fellow designers to experiment with material and shapes and to put their ideas into practice.
Originating from the idea to get rid of the mess of legs under tables and chairs a five-year development phase began. After countless material tests Saarinen acknowledged that the lone pedestal that should carry each of the chairs and tables of the collection would have to be made of cast metal rather than plastic. The initial plan was to produce the Tulip chair, often simply called Saarinen chair, entirely in plastic.
But in order to assure stability and durability of the furniture the base had to be heavier and cast aluminium was the most elegant option to achieve that while the seat shell could be manufactured in plastic as planned. This remains unchanged till today.
The Eero Saarinen chair in action
Due to the comforting uniformity of the Tulip chairs they are not only very popular in the privacy of the home. One often finds them deployed as conference chairs in meeting rooms. Their organic design appeal adds a certain feel good factor that works well in a professional setting as well as at home.
The chairs can easily be combined with tables of all sizes and dimensions. The swivel feature makes them particularly useful in cramped and narrow spaces.
The Tulip chair actually constitutes a chair type that, just like the cantilevers few decades earlier, offer another approach to what the base of a chair has to be like.
The broad base opens out into a slender cervix out of which the seat shell emerges similar to a calyx. Thus the catchy name for these Eero Saarinen designer chairs.
The Tulip series encompasses a small collection of designer furniture. Amongst them the chair itself in two versions, with and without armrests. Along with it come various tables in different sizes and dimensions.
But the Saarinen chair is far from being bound to its namesakes and can be mixed and matched to ones liking. Even in home offices the designer chair finds a spot. The great seating comfort makes it possible.
The range of fiberglass reinforced plastic chairs is a wonderful example for the ability of Charles and Ray Eames to adapt their ideas to the latest available technology and absorb industrial innovations into the furniture world. With this material they could finally unfold the versatile collection of chairs they had imagined.
The task was once again to create a seat out of a single shell for a chair that was to be lightweight, versatile and inexpensive to produce.
With plywood the journey began at the same point but experiments and expertise not only with furniture led them to give up the idea of a single shell and rather employ innovative ways to connect seat and back to combine maximum comfort and freedom of form with feasible production methods.
The development of the plastic chairs started – who would have guessed – with a design that was to be stamped out of sheet metal. The industrial technique was successfully applied in the automobile industry and adapted for the production of seat shells. Similar to the plywood chairs in 1940 once again a competition by the Museum of Modern Art explicitly scouting designs suitable for mass production should become a launch pad. For the plastic chair series that would be successfully in production for decades even though the initial designs for the competition turned out to be too expensive in mass production. The same fate had met the winning plywood chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen for the Organic Design competition in 1940.
The initial designs for the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design in 1948 were intended to be made of varnished or coated metal sheets but by the time realistic prototypes for mass production were to be presented Eames realized that fiberglass reinforced plastics were better suited for mass production and decided to abandon the idea to work with metal sheets for the shell. He should be right in the long run but placed second in the competition. The jury believed in the use of sheet metal for mass production and accordingly a metal sheet chair placed first.
While metal stamping proved to be too expensive for low cost production fiberglass caught the attention of the Eames office and with Zenith Plastics a competent partner was found to develop the prototype and commence production. The Plastic Chairs were born. Fiberglass had been used extensively during the war, was moldable and made it possible for Charles Eames and Hermann Miller to launch a chair based on a shell that allowed a variety of bases and functions and made the design extremely versatile in practice.
As if to point out that everything is possible the modern shell was even coupled with a rocking chair base. The Eames Plastic Armchair RAR or Rocking Armchair with Rod base as it is known, is unusually light and simple for a rocking chair and a charming piece of furniture. For some time after its addition to the fiberglass series Hermann Miller gave the padded RAR to employees who had just become parents.
The more common versions of the Eames plastic chair can be adapted for any kind of usage by choosing between different base options:
DAX or DSX (Dining Armchair or Side Chair with X-base)
DAW or DSW (Dining Armchair or Side Chair with Wood base)
DAR or DSR (Dining Armchair or Side Chair with Rod base)
Add to this a selection of colors and optional upholstery and the possible configurations are unlimited.
Since 2004 Hermann Miller offers the shell in an updated polypropylene version that replaced the fiberglass due to environmental and health risks related to fiberglass. Fiberglass itself replaced asbestos in the 1950’s but the chemical similarities gave reason to assume the same health issues might occur and the use of fiberglass was discontinued. Recently the company launched a retro edition in fiberglass applying a monomer free binding process, thus eliminating the health concerns related to the material. The models available at steelform apply the same technique so you can enjoy your palstic chairs today with the same feel and look as in the 50s.
And the evolutionary process is not over. The latest addition pays homage to Eames early trials with three-dimensional shapes in plywood. With the latest 3-D veneer technology the leap from plastic to wood, from the once low cost chair back to a high design icon, is made. In 2013 the elite wood model arrived.
Not only those labelled designer chairs, every chair is a challenge for a furniture designer. More than any other type of furniture a chair requires engineering skills of the designer. The most beautiful design is meaningless if it isn’t to the purpose. What is the use of a chair that doesn’t allow you to sit comfortably?
Angles, surfaces and load need to be considered particularly if the design is to be unconventional. Ergonomically speaking a chair is a demanding object. Not only does it need to carry our weight but provide optimal support to our body. Most of us don’t just sit briefly. We often spend the major part of our days seated. Particularly modern office chairs have to meet high expectations.
Can chairs designed in the first half of the last century meet these demands? Yes, they can. The era had a series of designers in and around the Bauhaus school devoted to develop new concepts for furniture and particularly seating furniture, some of them unmatched till today.
Charles Eames & Co: Classic Designer chairs from the USA
Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen pushed the evolution of designer chairs by experimenting with fresh shapes. Essentially made possible by tapping new material resources that opened up new possibilities to develop unconventional forms and methods.
Eames was successful in this regard not only once. He began early to experiment with moulded plywood. He and his wife Ray worked intensively around ergonomic forms and worked meticulously on a single piece seat shell that should give optimal support to the body when seated. The Plastic chairs finally struck home.
Ergonomics stayed, the idea of a single seat shell was abandoned resulting in the hugely successful Aluminium Chairs. Rather than a seat shell the aluminium frame holds the stretched leather or textile seat and back in place.
Many found themselves the perfect office chair amongst these Eames designer chairs since their introduction to the market in 1958.
Bertoia deserves credit for the innovative use of metal for his chair designs. The Diamond wire chairs are proof of the artistic quality of his work. They are unmistakably designer chairs and make an unconventional easy chair or side chair.
Eero Saarinen gained major recognition as furniture designer for his one-legged Tulip designs. Owing to his determination to put an end to the multi-legged mess under chairs and tables we can enjoy this charming dining chair that does well in living rooms and offices as well.
Mies van der Rohe & Co: Classic designer chairs from Europe
Mies van der Rohe’s cantilevers are infamous and very popular. They belong to the first successfully introduced and manufactured designs of cantilevers. The common four legs of a chair, irreplaceable until then, had become obsolete. Cantilevers are one of the few really revolutionary developments concerning the construction of a chair.
Apart from that Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer established the foundation of the triumphal success of German tubular furniture. Many designers of the 20s and 30s were mesmerized with this newly discovered material and the possibilities it offered for furniture design. It allowed the concept of a cantilever to be realized with minimal material usage and yet with aesthetic sophistication.
While the MR 10 and MR 20 are hard to beat when it comes to minimalism, the Brno chair shows off a bit more. The upholstered seat and back promise a pleasant seating experience. Both models are perfectly suited as dining chairs.
Le Corbusier approached the subject differently. The LC 7 is a swivel chair with an upholstered seat and a padded ring supporting the back. But he too went with tubular steel to materialize the typical machine inspired look.
Not to mention Eileen Gray’s Roquebrune chair, an almost delicate design classic that impresses with fine simplicity.
Around the same time as Eames Arne Jacobsen started experimenting with plywood. The results are immensely successful designs such as the Ant chair and particularly the Series 7 chairs. By all accounts the 3107 is the most sold designer chair in the world. Most certainly they are amongst the most congenial furniture designs.