The modern chair is something that perhaps we take for granted, but its evolution and development is a direct reflection of the social and economic status of society. In the 60’s, lives began to change with scheduling and demands in the work environment and a relatively sudden realization of more disposable income. There was a feeling that a new era had been entered…the era of Modernism. Meanwhile, technology was advancing at breakneck speed with the discovery of new materials that made it entirely possible to turn dreams and concepts of products into reality. The humble or ornate chair had been displaced by a new piece of furniture designed amidst a general conceptualization that more is not better.
In this series, the designers and architects who brought these modern marvels into our homes and offices will be profiled, how their innovations became possible, as well as the designs that continue to evolve in the 21st century and what it has meant to our daily lives. So have a seat, and discover more about the development of our beloved modern chairs and posses a broader appreciation of this furniture that fulfills our desire to sit in style.
Modern Armchair Design – Pt. I - The Winds Of Change
The chair has come a long, long way since the earliest times when a flat rock with an animal skin thrown over it to afford marginal comfort was rudimentary “furniture”. From that level, there was only one direction for chair design to go and advance it did to even assuming the loftiest level in the heady days of emperors, kings and queens by being the most important chair in the kingdom – the throne.
For many centuries, the chair was designed as a reflection of times gone before it, an icon that revered in history. Today’s chair, specifically classed in the modern furniture category, shrugs the past and instead looks to the future. The public acceptance of this furniture has mushroomed over the past decades to having chains of stores that specialize in this niche so that everyone, from students to executives, from waiting rooms to five star hotels are able to access such pieces on a global scale.
If there was a hatchling period for this type of furniture, it could probably go back as far as the Industrial Revolution. Inasmuch that new materials were being developed and manipulated to produce designs, from ships to guns, that had never been seen before. Foundries with their steelworks stamped and bent metal in unprecedented shapes, and things that were thought impossible became reality. Eventually, even conventional wood was being taken to new levels with plywood bending and lamination to increase its strength, and the invention of plastic made anything possible and helped define this era as the Modernist period. As new materials continue to evolve, such as composite, modern furniture keeps pace with technology by introducing fresh designs.
The prototypes of today’s mass produced modern chair goes back to the first quarter of the 20th century, but it was in the ‘60s that new chair design saw its proliferation. It was a time when society began to envision a new dawn with a serious questioning of the status quo. Just because something was done that way before, was that sufficient merit to continue? This thinking began to reflect on commodities, including furniture. Visionary designers that had created revolutionary forms in the past were being revisited, with a rapid continuance of this thinking.
Wages and income rose, and consumers never had so much buying power before as they did in the middle part of the century, along with the added luxury of having more free time due to less work restraints through mechanization. The home had become more than a place to eat and sleep, it was rapidly becoming an entertainment and free-time center, and homeowners of all socio-economic levels began to invest in their residences to transform them into pleasure pits. With such an emphasis on the future, furniture needed a facelift to look the part, and new materials along with advancing technology were poised for this fresh thinking.
A number of designers and architects are credited with being founders of the modern chair. One of the earliest designs was created by Marcel Breuer in 1925-26, and called the Wassily chair, or Model B3. Even today, this chair has a very contemporary look owing to its minimalist design, analogous with Modernism, and is a prime example of a piece using new materials of its time, in this case bent tubular steel. A contemporary example is our sohoConcept Zara lounge chair that has lines reminiscent of the Wassily.
Marcel Lajos Breuer (1902-1981) was born in Hungary and became part of Germany’s Bauhaus concept that basically took design to a pioneering level. Breuer became enveloped with tubular steel while in Germany, and the Wassily chair was his most famous furniture creation. At the time, German artist Wassily Kandinsky was Breuer’s friend and it was thought that the chair was made for the painter, but is was not and only received this name in the 1960’s when it was re-released by an Italian manufacturer who decided to call it this after it was reported that Breuer had made a copy of the chair for the artist as he liked it so much. Prior to this it had been known by its lackluster Model B3 moniker.
Next time, a look at the Barcelona chair that has become synonymous with the Bauhaus design movement and furniture changes with one item in particular that revolutionized the workplace.
Source: 1-DWR.com; Marcel Breuer image--marcelbreuer.org