What Is the History of Modern Chair Design?
Let's face it. Chairs aren't just for sitting. In fact, most people select chairs for their homes for a variety of reasons, including the aesthetic appeal and ergonomic qualities they provide. However, many people fail to appreciate just how much chair design has changed over the last century.
So where exactly do these modern chair designs come from? Here is a brief history of modern chairs and the American and international designers that made the movement possible.
Prior to the late 19th century, the value of furniture had been based on the amount of time that an artisan spent on the piece and how ornate it was. However, as new technologies emerged and industrial manufacturing methods began to make furniture production cheaper and easier, furniture design began to change. As a result, modern furniture designers began to design furniture that was intended to reach the masses, rather than creating furniture solely for the elite.
With the advent of modern furniture also arose the concept of creating pieces for functional, practical reasons, a concept that was heavily influenced by the simplicity of Japanese design and the spread of Japonism across Europe.
With this change in focus, modern furniture designs were created to be more practical with regard to style and color choices. The materials used to design furniture also began to evolve with more pieces using plastics, steel, molded plywood, and glass in order to lighten the footprint of the furniture, which was actually a working philosophy of the Deutscher Werkbund school.
At the same time, the Bauhaus school emerged and became highly influential as the members of Bauhaus worked to combine intellectual, practical, commercial, and aesthetic concerns through art and technology in furniture design and all other aspects.
As all of these influences came together, many furniture designers made significant contributions to the development of modern furniture, especially the following designers whose works are highly recognizable even today.
Le Corbusier (1887-1965)
Swiss-French architect, urban planner, writer and furniture designer, Le Corbusier, who is credited as one of the pioneers of modern architecture, his architectural works span Europe.
Japan, India, and North and South America. However, these projects have faced significant criticisms for being too authoritarian in their designs. Despite this, his work as a furniture designer remains highly recognizable today as the creator of the revolutionary LC4 Chaise, a chaise lounge.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe creator of the Barcelona Chair and Ottoman is recognized as a leader of the German modern movement. Mies, also served as the Vice President of the Deutsher Werkbund and the Director of the Bauhaus from 1930 until its closing. The Bauhaus closed in 1933 as a result of pressure from the Nazi regime. Mies then immigrated to the United States in 1938.
After forming an architecture practice based in Chicago, he designed the Illinois Institute of Technology. He later met Florence Knoll to whom he granted exclusive rights to produce his furniture, including the Brno chair, MR series, and Barcelona collection. Replica versions of Mies' furniture are still being produced by Knoll even today.
Charles & Ray Eames (Charles, 1907-1978; Ray, 1912-1988)
The Eames were a husband and wife team of American furniture designers who became recognized for the Eames chair. Combined bent plywood, along with molded fiberglass, the pair created some of the 20th century's most influential modern furniture designs. These chairs remain highly prized even today for their sleek looks combined with simple functionality.
Eero Saarinen (1910-1961)
Eero Saarinen, a Finnish architect and furniture designer, is most well-known as the designer the Tulip chairs and tables and the Womb Chair. Saarinen was also a friend of Charles Eames and Florence Knoll, two individuals whom he grew close with after meeting them at Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Saarinen pushed the boundaries of modern furniture at the time by incorporating curvilinear forms which had not been seen previously in the work of the furniture designers that came before him. His other most well-known projects include Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. and The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.
Isamu Nogchi (1904–1988)
Isamu Nogchi was a Japanese-American sculptor and architect. After coming to New York in the 1930's, he began to make a name for himself with large public sculptures. His famous furniture designs include the Noguchi Free Form Sofa and Ottoman, which he developed while working for Herman Miller beginning in 1947. Throughout his life, he retained a deep connection to Japanese culture which helped to fuel his diverse and eclectic work.
Arne Jacobsen (1902–1971)
Jacobsen was a Danish architect and designer who got his start as a mason. He later studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, where he won a silver medal for a chair he designed at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
He was the one of the first to introduce modernist ideas to Demark, helping to create the industrial furniture that influences Scandinavian design even today. His most well-known furniture designs are the Swan and Egg Chairs. His architectural works include the SAS Air Terminal and Royal Hotel Copenhagen.
George Nelson (1908-1986)
George Nelson, an American industrial designer, was the director of design at Herman Miller for nearly 30 years from 1945 to 1972. While there he was responsible for recruiting other well-known designers, including Isamu Noguchi and Charles Eames. He also designed a number of his own furniture items for which he is still widely recognized for, such as the Coconut Chair and Marshmallow Sofa. As an early environmentalist, his goal as a designer was “to do much more with much less.”
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