In the Hot Seat: Iconic Chair Designs

Utilitarian is what immediately comes to our minds when the word chair is mentioned. Not to some of the world’s most creative designers, though. See for yourself in the following selection of swoon-worthy dining, working, lounge and accent chairs, each one an exquisite work of art.

Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971), Egg chair, 1958. Created for the SAS Royal Copenhagan Hote, Denmark.

Famed Danish designer, Arne Jacobsen (1902-71) designed “The Egg” in 1958, as part of a commission for the SAS Royal Copenhagen Hotel in Denmark. Working like a sculptor, Jacobsen first sculpted the “egg” out of clay in his garage so he could perfect the shape. He then molded the Egg Chair out of a strong foam inner shell under the upholstery. Today, this icon of modern design has been trademarked as the Egg™ Chair, to differentiate it from the many mid-century lookalikes. It’s still produced in Denmark, by the original manufacturer, Fritz Hansen.

Bowl chair by Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992)

The modern look of this chair belies the fact that it was produced more than 70 years ago in a collaboration between the Italian furniture brand Arper and the Brazilian-Italian architect, Lina Bo Bardi. The genius of the chair is in its simple execution. Consisting of two loose parts – an upholstered shell on a metal structure, the seat remains free to move in all directions. It is a chair for living, not just for sitting, and (as with all of Bo Bardi’s works) places the human at the center of the design.

Bo Badi is recognizable for the unique style of the many architectural illustrations she created over her lifetime, along with her tendency to leave poignant notes to herself. She is also known for her furniture and jewelry designs, all of which sports a modernist vibe.

Filoferru chair by Robby Cantarutti (b. 1966)

This outdoor chair is constructed using a single material: steel rod bent to yield both functionality and an elegant sculptural aesthetic inspired by the contours of complex organic shapes found in nature. The production of this chair began and ended in 2015.

Günter Beltzig, Early ‘Floris’ Chair, moulded fibreglass-reinforced polyester.

Günter Beltzig (b. 1941) is a German industrial product designer.  In the early years of his career he was primarily involved with designing revolutionary plastic furniture. His most recognized design, the Floris chair, was designed in 1967 and first shown at the Cologne furniture fair the following year. The chair’s futuristic form attracted the attention of American manufacturers, but due to technological difficulties only about 50 copies were produced. With its ergonomic form, supported on three legs, the chair is both lightweight and stable and seems to emerge from the ground beneath it.

Papa Bear Chair with Ottoman, Hans Wegner for AP Stolen, Denmark, 1951.
Side view of the Papa Bear chair in a beautiful Scandi yellow color.

The wingback Papa Bear chair, also known as the Teddy Bear chair was designed by Hans Wegner (1914–2007), a pioneer of Danish modernism who crafted nearly 500 chairs over the course of his long career. Not many of them, however, have the anthropomorphic qualities that this one does.

Marc Held, Culbuto high back armchair and ottoman (1967). White fibreglass and black leather. Designed for Knoll.
Maarten Baas_Chair] Maarten Baas, “Hey Chair Be a Bookshelf!” bookcase, assemblage of various furniture pieces, musical instruments, polyurethane coating, 2005.

Dutch furniture designer, Maarteen Baas (b. 1978) belongs to a new generation of radical furniture designers trained at the famous designed academy at Eindhoven. Baas’ work is highly intuitive: he assembles seemingly random objects in dramatic surrealistic compositions and then unites the ensemble with a black polyurethane coating. The design is at times ironical, strange, and unsettling. In this totally unexpected bookcase, titled, “Hey Chair Be a Bookshelf!”, Baas breaks all expectations of what we expect a chair to be, imbuing it with a new aesthetic. His works remind viewers that the line between fine art and design can often produce fresh perspectives on form and function.

George Nelson, Catenary chair. Produced by Herman Miller 1963-1968.

George Nelson (1908-86) was a visionary designer and writer. He was a creative director at furniture company, Herman Miller where he oversaw the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, Noguchi and Alexander Girard. His own creations reflected his independent spirit and forged new typographies. Inspired by the architectural work of his friend, Buckminster Fuller, the Catenary chair was designed with an elegance that is characteristic of Nelson’s work. The chair ignored traditional leg structures and the seat appears slung and weightless within a structure of steel rods. The seat pads are upholstered in (original) black vinyl and backed with pressed steel panels, and the whole structure suspended with a cross-braced supporting base construction.  

The One Flo armchair, designed by R&S Desiree & Edoardo Gherardi, is inspired by the floral world with special stitching that evokes the shape of enveloping soft petals.

Parastoo chair designed by Ali Alavi (b. 1978).

The idea of the unique Parastoo chair comes from a swallow or tern. Ali Alavi (b. 1978) is a Tehran based architect, designer and photographer and founder of Ali Alavi Design. He started his artistic career as a teenager in graphic designing and ventured into photography a few years after he graduated from Tehran University in 2008. Today he continues to combine his aesthetic interest in all three fields of architecture, design and photography.

Shell Chair – Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007)

The Shell Lounge Chair was created in 1963 and was reintroduced in 1998 by Carl Hansen & Søn’s, winning broad public admiration almost immediately due to the interest of a new generation. It is considered as one of Hans J. Wegner’s most iconic and ground-breaking designs. The design’s floating lightness is achieved through its wing-like seat and curved backrest held by a frame with three arched legs. The chair’s signature seat and backrest are created from upholstered form-pressed veneer, cradling the user in generous comfort.

Fabricius and Kastholm – Skater Chair in cognac leather.

Preben Fabricius (1931-1984) and Jørgen Kastholm (1931-2007) founded a design studio, Fabricius & Kastholm in 1961 that created timeless functional designs that were simple and had the aesthetic of minimalism. The Skater Chair made its debut in 1968.

Stephen Burks (b. 1969), Grasso armchair and footstool.

Burks is the first African American to win the National Design Award and is one of the most recognized American industrial designers of his generation. A professor of architecture at Columbia University, his studio Stephen Burks Man Made has been commissioned by many of the world’s leading design-driven brands to develop collections that engage hand production as a strategy for innovation. With a mission to “bring the hand to industry,” Burks has become known for collaborating with Third World artisans to incorporate elements of craft into his designs. Here, luxurious leather oozes over the bare iron frame of his tubular Grasso armchair and footstool.

Warren Platner (1919-2006), Wide Armchair, designed for Knoll.

Warren Platner was an American architect and interior designer who produced a furniture collection that has proved to be a continuing icon of 1960s modernism. This wide armchair was designed in 1966 to capture the “decorative, gentle, graceful” shapes that were beginning to infiltrate the modern vocabulary. The iconic pieces are created by welding hundreds of curved steel rods to circular frames, simultaneously serving as structure and ornament.

Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964), Zig Zag Chair, c. 1937-40. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Gerrit Rietveld was an important member of the Dutch group de Stijl, which included Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Vilmos Huszar, and J.J.P. Oud. From 1917 until the early 1930s, the avant-garde painting and architecture of de Stijl flourished in the Netherlands. The group espoused abstraction as the representation of pure spirit. The straight line was supreme. They also believed in the unity of the arts and incorporated fine arts, decorative arts, and architecture into their program. From 1918 on, Rietveld created a radically new sort of furniture based on an open construction of geometrically shaped wood components. After experimenting with steel tubing and molded plywood, he arrived at the stark lines of the Zig Zag Chair.

A number of features that Rietveld had tried in earlier designs converge in this chair. The shape, for example, derives from a cantilevered chair that was a particular development of tubular furniture. The Zig Zag Chair epitomizes the de Stijl ideals. It has become one of the most recognizable icon of the 20th century.

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