Culture

10 design icons and their incredible history!

From the Barcelona armchair to the Ball Chair, (re)discover with us 10 icons of 20th century design…

In this post we would like to evoke ten icons of contemporary design. Ten creations that have marked their time and continue to inspire today’s designers. They have become great classics of modern design, and they all have something unique that makes them timeless and allows them to be combined with contemporary furniture. They symbolise the societal evolution of the 20th century: from the research of the Bauhaus School to the radical fantasy of the Memphis movement of the 1980s, through the affirmation of a colourful and joyful design that bears witness to an era that was free to seek individual well-being.

In 1929, the German architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe (1886-1969), in collaboration with the interior designer Lilly Reich, designed the Barcelona armchair. A marvel of elegance and simplicity with its chromed X-shaped base, the Barcelona embodies a clear, pure and classy design inherited from the research of the Bauhaus School, of which Mies Van der Rohe was the last director. A singular history for this chair, which served as a throne for the King and Queen of Spain during the inauguration of the German pavilion at the Barcelona World Fair in 1929.

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Pair of Barcelona armchairs, design Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe & Lilly Reich, 1929. With its chrome frame and black leather upholstery and saddle stitching, the Barcelona is an incredibly elegant chair. Since 1953 Knoll has been the official publisher of the Barcelona chair.

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View of the interior of the German Pavilion in Barcelona, which was rebuilt in the same way as the original pavilion, with the famous armchairs designed for the occasion in 1929. The armchairs fit perfectly into a building with a fluid and transparent architecture designed with luxurious materials such as marble, travertine or redonyx.

Designing a chair with positions that allow you to sit and lie down: in 1948, the American couple Charles (1907-1978) & Ray (1912-1988) Eames answered this equation with The Chair. But make no mistake, in addition to being a functional piece of furniture, La Chaise is above all an aesthetic manifesto, which quickly made it an icon of international design. Inspired by a sculpture by Gaston Lachaise – Floating Figure – it is a work of art in its own right, poetic with its soft, rounded shape.

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The Chair, design by Charles & Ray Eames, 1948. A seat that allows multiple sitting or lying positions as shown here.

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The Chair, Charles & Ray Eames, 1948. The publisher Vitra continues to produce this design classic today. Vitra is the only company authorised to manufacture Eames products for Europe and the Middle East.

The French designer Serge Mouille (1922-1988), who has a lesser international reputation, is nevertheless at the origin of the ” Araignée ” lighting fixtures, pieces with stripped forms made of metal uniformly painted in black and celebrated as a must in modern design. In 1953, the man who was able to find in Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé a relay to promote his creations, developed the Araignée wall and ceiling lamp with 7 fixed arms. A sober, sculptural and clever design: each reflector can turn up to 270° and tilt up to 55°.

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Spider wall lamp with 7 fixed arms, designed by Serge Mouille, 1953. Part of the highly sculptural and biomorphic Spider series.

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The Araignée wall lamp with 7 fixed arms imposes a discreet presence that enhances an interior. The Serge Mouille lamps have been reissued since 1999 by ESM (Editions Serge Mouille®).

Attention, Scandinavian myth! The Tulip chair designed by the Finnish designer Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) in 1956 for the New York publisher Knoll is timeless. Designed with innovative materials for the time: the cast aluminium base and the fibreglass seat, it is a one-piece chair with an airy and graceful shape. The perfect combination of nature (the base is reminiscent of a flower stalk) and high technology, and it’s comfortable too!

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Pair of Tulip chairs, design Eero Saarinen for Knoll, 1956.

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Tulip chairs and table, design Eero Saarinen, 1956. The table designed by the Finnish designer has only one base. Its marble top gives it class and distinction. The whole set is a “must have” of Scandinavian organic design.

Fascinated by the potential of a new material, plastic, the Danish designer Verner Panton (1926-1988) developed the S or Panton ChairChair, a one-piece seat that was unusual at the time for its S-shape, lightness and flexibility. The first prototype of this chair was made of fibreglass-reinforced, injection-moulded polyester. The premise of an unbridled and joyful decade, the S Chair was available in a variety of colours, from flashy orange or yellow to a more sedate white. The model was regularly improved, with structural polyurethane foam and then polypropylene plastic replacing the ageing polyester. A symbol of Pop Art, the Panton Chair caused a sensation as soon as it was presented and has been a popular success ever since.

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S Chair or Panton Chair, designed by Verner Panton, 1959-1960. The S Chair was the first chair made of moulded plastic. It was designed in the late 1950s but began to be marketed in 1967 by Vitra.

In a society more open to change, design also evolved in the 1960s. The geometric shapes inherited from the Bauhaus were replaced by soft curves and elegant curves. In the mid-1960s, the French designer Olivier Mourgue (1939) created theDjinn armchairs . Made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the Djinn armchairs were upholstered in a new material for the time with elastic properties: jersey.

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Olivier Mourgue’s Djinn chairs designed for the publisher Airborne and filmed in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Cult!

At the same time, the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio (1932), who, like all good Nordic designers of the 20th century, began his career by creating furniture in natural materials, particularly wood, broke the current codes and thought of a round armchair. Thanks to the use of fibreglass, he designed a rounded shell that houses a seat. The Ball Chair was born. Like the Djinn armchairs, its futuristic side made it a star of the small and big screen.

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Ball Chair, design Eero Aarnio, 1966. Initially published by Asko from 1966 to 1980 and then from 1983 to 1987, it has been reissued since 1992 by the German-based furniture publisher Adelta.

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A variation of the Ball Chair, the Bubble Chair was created in 1968 by Eero Aarnio. An icon of modern design, the “Bubble Chair” offers a bubble of tranquillity to its user. Adelta.

Inspired by the large bags that farmers in northern Italy used to stuff with chestnut leaves to fill their mattresses, designers Piero Gatti (1940), Cesare Paolini (1937-1983) and Franco Teodoro (1939-2005) came up with a pear-shaped pouffe that has since become a universal design icon. Without a rigid structure, the Sacco pouffe follows the shape of the body thanks to its stuffing with polystyrene balls. A find in the image of the protest and non-conformist era!

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Sacco pouffe. Designed by Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini & Franco Teodoro for the Italian publisher Zanotta, 1968. This revolutionary seat is still published by Zanotta.

Modern and futuristic for its time, the incomparable Tube Chair by Italian designer Joe Colombo was produced in 1969 by the Italian company Flexform SpA. The structure consists of four cylindrical rollers of different diameters allowing its owner to carry it in a canvas bag. The innovative Tube Chair allows the four tubes to be arranged differently to create a new position for the user’s comfort. A bulimic designer, Joe Colombo used PVC, a relatively new material for the time, as well as polyurethane foam.

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Tube Chair, design by Joe Colombo, 1969 for Flexform SpA. The innovative Tube Chair allows the four tubes to be arranged differentlyto create a new position for the user’s comfort.

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The Tube Chair by Joe Colombo, designed in 1969, has been reissued since 2017 by Cappellini.

In the latter part of his life, Italian designer Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007), one of the most important figures in post-war Italian design, decided to have fun once again by creating the Memphis movement with others. Characterised by innovative shapes, bright and exotic colours and patterns combined with the use of cheap materials such as formica, Memphis marked the beginning of the 1980s. A few years of extraordinary adventure symbolised by the famous Carlton bookcase of the Italian maestro.

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Ettore Sottsass, Carlton Library, Memphis Milano, 1981. The Memphis company continues to handcraft the pieces of the cult Italian movement today.

François Boutard.