10 legendary seats

In late 2018 and early 2019, the Vitra Design Museum offered a unique exhibition titled: “Chairs of Power.” It explored how approaches to political, social and economic power continue to be expressed in our seating. Chairs and armchairs have been an extraordinary field of experimentation for 20th century designers, often allowing them to achieve international recognition… and in turn to exert a power of attraction with major publishers… We have selected 10 legendary seats that continue to fascinate…

In addition to hosting temporary exhibitions, such as “Seats of power”, the Vitra Design Museum has arguably the finest collection of modern and contemporary chairs. Here, an image from the 90-minute film dedicated to 125 iconic chairs from the museum’s collection entitled “Titled Chair Times: A History of Seating.
© Hook Films, courtesy of Vitra

The chair is still astonishing and surprising with its geometric lines, austere, almost “military” appearance and colors reminiscent of a Mondrian painting… In 1918, the Dutch designer, architect and cabinetmaker Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) struck a blow with The Red and Blue Chair, or Rietveld Chair. A fellow traveler of the Dutch art movement De Stijl, Rietveld redefined modernity. The Rietveld chair is the symbol of the neoplastic aesthetic advocated by Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

Red and blue chair, design Gerrit Rietveld. To be exact, Rietveld designed a first version of the famous chair in 1917. It is only in 1923 that he will give it its primary colors, after having officially joined the De Stijl movement and met Piet Mondrian © Cassina

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Thus we could introduce the presentation of the cult LC4 chaise longue still called Chaise Longue. Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), with her famous chaise longue with continuous adjustment, made one of her first pieces for and with the great master Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. A masterpiece of ingenuity. Although officially signed by the 3 authors Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, it was not until the end of 2010 that the design of the seat is recognized as the work of Charlotte Perriand.

LC4 Lounge Chair, design & conception: Charlotte Perriand, 1928. To create this piece, Charlotte Perriand used modern materials for the time, proven in the aeronautics or automotive industry (chromed metal tubing). © Cassina
Charlotte Perriand comfortably installed on the Chaise longue LC4. Photo by Pierre Jeanneret. The frame of the seat was designed to vary the sitting position and stabilize it without having to use a locking system. © Pierre Jeanneret

History will remember that the great German architect Ludwig Mies van Der Rohe (1886-1967) designed the Barcelona lounge chair to gracefully dress the German pavilion at the Barcelona World’s Fair in 1929. But the famous and classy lounge chair was also designed with his most faithful collaborator: Lilly Reich (1885-1947). The “Barcelona”, still considered one of the most emblematic works of decorative arts of the 20th century, remains a model of timeless elegance.

Barcelona armchair, design: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe & Lilly Reich, 1929. The X-shaped base, the use of chromed steel and leather, make the Barcelona chair a distinguished model. Today the Barcelona is manufactured in Italy under license by the American company Knoll. © Knoll

Attention, cult model! So much so that the seat we are now presenting was awarded the title of “the most beautiful chair in the world” by American Interiors magazine in 1950. In 1949, the Danish designer Hans Wegner (1914-2007) designed the Round chair, a seat marked by the simplicity and elegance of functional forms, served by a perfect joinery. For Wegner: “A chair cannot be looked at from behind. It must be beautiful from every angle The Round chair, an icon of Scandinavian design, is opposed to the cold metal of the Bauhaus style.

the Round chair, design Hans Wegner, 1949. Soap-treated brake model. Photograph © Jens Mourits Sørensen
Pair of Round chairs, oak models © 1StDibs

They have become icons of American and world design. Charles & Ray Eames (1907-1978 / 1912-1988) influenced post-war design with their work on molded plywood. In 1956, they decided to modernize the famous English club chair, and created for the publisher Herman Miller the Lounge chair also called Eames Long Chair & Ottoman. Its success is due to its superb molded shell of rosewood plywood that blends beautifully with the leather. And what comfort!

Lounge chair and its ottoman, design Charles & Ray Eames for Herman Miller, 1956. The Eames did more than revisit the English club chair… More modern, light and elegant, the Lounge chair has become a great classic of vintage design. © Vitra
Incredible photograph of the Eames couple. Ray is comfortably lying on the Lounge chair whose seat, inclined, allows to relieve the spine. © Vitra

two years later, organic design triumphed with the Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) designed for the lobby and reception areas of the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. The Egg chair symbolizes the “coziness” that is intrinsic to Scandinavian design: a comfortable, enveloping seat that provides privacy for the user. Ideal for living rooms and waiting areas, as well as for the home where its poetic sculpturality is a wonder!

Egg chair, designed by Arne Jacobsen for the Danish publisher Fritz Hansen, 1958. In 2021, Fritz Hansen introduced 4 new finishes for the base, in addition to the classic satin aluminum. © Fritz Hansen

Another icon of Scandinavian design, the Ball chair (in French sometimes called “Chaise-Globe”) is an armchair designed in 1963 by the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio (1932). The Ball chair is emblematic of the wind of modernity that blows on the design of the 60s, in full triumph of Pop Art. Its futuristic look makes it a particularly sought-after collector’s item, a unique look!

Ball chair, design Eero Arnio, 1963, launched on the market by the publisher Asko in 1966. To design his chair, Aarnio used fiberglass which gives the seat a free and elastic shape © Dominidesign

In the middle of the 60’s, which saw the appearance of new materials such as plastic and its derivatives, but also polyurethane foam (synthetic foam rubber) which allowed designers of the time all the audacity in terms of shapes, the designer Olivier Mourgue (1939)

hit the nail on the head with his famous Djinn armchair. A silhouette so futuristic that it appears in several scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s cult film: 2001, A Space Odyssey, released in 1968.

Djinn armchair, design by Olivier Mourgue for Airborne, 1964-1965. The Djinn armchair is the archetype of the evolution of design in the 1960s with an internal steel tube frame, polyurethane foam padding and a removable textile cover in wool blend jersey. © artZoo

Closer to home, how about the delicate poetry of the Miss Blanche armchair by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata (1934-1991)? Artificial rose petals seem to float in space, more precisely in a block of acrylic (PMMA, transparent plastic) that has been cast in a mold. The high point in the career of a singular creator, precursor of transparency, combining humor and poetry in light and minimalist pieces …

Miss Blanche armchair, design Shiro Kuramata, 1988. For his seat, Shiro Kuramata was inspired by the interpretation of Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) in Elia Kazan’s film: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). © phaidon
Miss Blanche armchair, design Shiro Kuramata, 1988. A seat with an incredible presence! © tumblr

Finally, we selected the Louis Ghost chair by French designer Philippe Starck. Designed at the beginning of the new century, here is a seat that takes up the challenge of embodying the past, the present and the future at the same time: the baroque spirit in the 21st century! Directly inspired by the Louis XVI style, this chair is made of polycarbonate, a very resistant plastic. Light, stackable, solid and available in several colors, the Louis Ghost resurrects the ghosts of the past with an insolent modernity…

Louis Ghost chairs, design Philippe Starck for Kartell, 2002. © Kartell

François BOUTARD