In the 20th century, modernism dominated aesthetic interests. In addition to fine art and everyday architecture, the modernist movement also transformed interior design, with furniture at the forefront. While most home furnishings received modern makeovers, it was the humble chair that had the most avant-garde transformation.
From the 1920s through the 1960s, a selection of the world’s top designers and architects turned their attention toward seating. Inspired by modern art and aiming for affordability, many of them experimented with new materials and forms that could be easily mass produced. This innovative approach to product design culminated in a collection of chairs fit for cozy and contemporary homes and modern art museums alike.
These are some of the world’s most well-known modern chairs that have shaped interior design today.
The Eames Molded Plastic & Fiberglass Armchair
Intended as an entry for the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design in 1950, the Eames Molded Plastic & Fiberglass Armchair is a customizable chair that comes in a variety of colors and silhouettes. While the base is available in either wood or metal, the seat’s shell is always made of Zenaloy, a durable yet flexible fiberglass-fortified polyester. The use of Zenaloy made mass production of the chair both easy and affordable, resulting in a low-cost, high quality product.
The Egg Chair
In the 1950s, Danish architect Arne Jacobsen was commissioned to design Copenhagen’s Radisson SAS Royal Hotel. In addition to its rooms, façade, and other architectural elements, Jacobsen also designed special seating—including his iconic steel, foam, and fabric Egg Chairs—for the lobby. Renowned for its rounded shape, the Egg Chair is celebrated for its sculptural sensibility, undoubtedly inspired by Jacobsen’s experience as an architect.
The Standard Chair by Jean Prouvé (1934)
Designed in 1934, Jean Prouvé’s steel and wood Standard Chair showcases the power of simplicity. The innovative chair features pairs of legs that vary in size and shape; thick back legs handle the weight of the individual, while slender steel front legs put a stylish spin on the practical design. The legs are available in a range of colors, while the seat can be customized with wood, plastic, or upholstery.
The Eames Lounge Chair
Perhaps the most well-known modern chair, the Eames Lounge (670) was designed in 1956 by American architects and married couple Charles and Ray Eames. Showcasing the Eames’ interest in experimenting with different materials, the Lounge is composed of plywood shells, an aluminum base, and plastic-backed cushions.
While the Eames’ other creations were designed with efficiency and mass production in mind, the Lounge was conceived as a luxury item. Still, with its low seat, permanent recline, and cushioned headrest, the high-end chair puts comfort first—especially when paired with the Eames Ottoman (671)!
The Wassily Chair
In 1925, Bauhaus designer and architect Marcel Breuer created the Wassily Chair (Model B3), a piece of furniture celebrated for its bent tubular steel frame and Eisengarn upholstery. As a Mid-Century Modern architect, Breuer incorporated elements of the movement into the Wassily Chair, including a minimalist aesthetic and the use of angles and geometry.
The chair received its unique name after abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky shared his admiration for its experimental design.
The Chaise Longue
Swiss-French creative Le Corbusier is praised for his distinctive works. These groundbreaking creations range from iconic homes to avant-garde furniture, like the Chaise Longue (LC 4). The Chaise Longue is composed of a steel frame and polyester cushions covered in either animal skin or canvas. Designed in 1928, Le Corbusier combined form with function to produce a piece of furniture that is as artistic as it is comfortable.
The Ball Chair
Finnish interior designer Eero Aarnio is known for a unique aesthetic characterized by his use of sleek materials and unconventional shapes. A key example of his eccentric work is the Ball Chair, a mod, orb-shaped seat designed in 1963. The Ball Chair is made of plywood, fiberglass, and upholstery, and offers a quirky and cozy place to perch in peace.
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