book review | Nov 2, 2020 |
Take a seat: The stories behind design’s most beloved chairs

The humble chair is one of design’s longest-standing pieces of furniture, a tradition that reaches to 2300 B.C., the time of the Ancient Egyptians. Across thousands of years, chairs have become icons of pop culture, power and design. The BOH editors sat down with Jesús Llinares, CEO of contemporary furniture company Andreu World, for a deep dive into the brand’s recent book, a compendium of all things sittable and seatworthy. Published to commemorate the company’s 65th anniversary, Chairpedia features 101 illustrated stories from curators, designers and historians, combining fact and fiction, past and present together in one patchwork history of the chair.

Take a seat: The stories behind design’s most beloved chairs
ChairpediaCourtesy of Andreu World

The project began to take shape about five years ago to bridge the gap between academic writing on the history of chair design with a broader audience of design enthusiasts. “This book talks about our collective history while reviewing the history of some of the most famous chairs, the most avant-garde designs and also the humblest,” Llinares says. “[It’s] an exercise of humility: Often we do not notice chairs, [but] they are nevertheless a real luxury, and a tremendously valuable object not for their price or exclusivity, but for being part of our life more than we are able to see.”

For the countless ways designers think about the role of chairs on a daily basis, whether a sculptural number in the corner of a living room, or the hardworking desk chair, Chairpedia shares some neat stories behind this essential furniture category—below are four of BOH’s favorites.

Sizable Adjustment

César Ritz, the Swiss hotelier behind the worldwide hospitality empire, would instruct the decorators to order furniture to be made smaller for intimate settings, as was the case in the bar on Rue Cambon in Paris, which neighbored the original Hôtel Ritz. “The venue would look and feel larger than it actually was” (page 15).

Wartime Savvy
While the Eames Lounge Chair Wood is an emblem of midcentury design, what many don’t know is that its development was born of World War II restrictions. Charles and Ray Eames challenged themselves to design a chair made entirely of plywood, as traditional building materials were being conserved for the war effort. After several experiments, the duo determined that a single piece of plywood would not withstand the stress of a sitter, thus was born the iconic split seat and seat back (pages 54–55).

Personal Touch
Much of the history surrounding Catalonian architect and designer Antoni Gaudí is made up of stitched sound bites—in one account, Gaudí was said to have had a female client sit in a mound of fresh plaster, which he then used to sculpt a custom chair. If true, this would make him one of the first to pioneer personal ergonomic chairs (pages 78–79).

vip Seating
The Navy Chair, known for its lightweight design and durability, was designed under tight practical constraints. It had to be fireproof, it had to withstand corrosion from sea salt air, and it couldn’t be magnetic. Using recycled aluminum, Wilton C. Dinges, founder of Emeco, created a 77-step manufacturing process for the chair, guaranteeing a 155-year warranty. A lesser known detail about its design? Rumor has it that the curved seat of the 1006 Navy Chair was modeled on Betty Grable’s derriere, a legend spread to encourage sailors to be gentler with the chairs (pages 56–57).

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