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Classic Chair Design

Written by Lisa Williams

One of my favorite things I learned in my field of study was classic chair design and their designers. Some of the chairs will be recognized because they are indeed famous chair designs. But some will be recognized because they are still popular today. I love having the ability to walk into a space, see a classic chair and being able to identify either the name of the chair or the designer’s name. Below are several (definitely not all) classic chair designs.


Thonet’s Bentwood Chairs:

No. 14 Chair aka the bistro chair

             Year: 1859. Bentwood chairs are one of the most recognizable and one of the most established chairs that have ever been produced. In fact, if you’ve been to any café or restaurant, you have probably even sat on one. This is one of the first mass-produced chairs and was sold at a reasonable price and is still in production today.

No. 209 Bentwood Armchair aka Le Corbusier Chair

                 Year: 1900. This chair was selected by Le Corbusier for many of his buildings, but became a favorite to other architects including Poul Henningsen and Mart Stam. This was a go-to chair for Le Corbusier when he was doing his avant-garde early architecture. It was the only chair he felt was as modern as his architecture.


Gerrit Rietveld:

Red-blue chair

              Year: 1917. It represents one of the first explorations by the De Stijl movement which had its home in the Netherlands. Originally it was an unpainted armchair that was composed of sticks and planes.  Later he painted it in black and primary colors.

Zigzag Chair

            Year: 1934. This chair was designed for the Schroder House and is another iconic chair. The design plays off Mies Van der Rohe and Breuer’s cantilevered chairs.


Marcel Breuer:

Wassily Chair aka model B3

              Year: 1927. Designed while Breuer was the head of the cabinet-making workshop at the Bauhaus in Germany. The use of tubular steel was the most important innovation in furniture design in the twentieth century. The late Dick Morse, one of the original founders of MMLP, actually had a Wassily chair near his entry way!


Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe:

Barcelona Chair

              Year: 1929. An icon of the modern movement, this chair was designed for his German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exhibition of 1929.


Le Corbusier:

Grand Confort Grand

              Year: 1928. This was designed as a modernist response to the traditional club chair. It also has been featured in a variety of media including the Maxell “blown away” advertisement. This was my chair of choice during my early design years for an office reception area.

Le Corbusier Chaise Lounge

              Year: 1928. Dubbed the “relaxing machine” because of the way it mirrors the body’s natural curves while appearing to float above its supports.


Charles and Ray Eames:

Plastic Shell Chair

             Year: 1950. Another chair that is still used today. The molded plastic and fiberglass chair comes with or without arms. It also comes in a variety of colors and bases.  There have been many inexpensive knock-offs of this classic modernist design.

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman

             Year: 1956. This is another widely used chair in residential and commercial design and one that I have been wanting in my own home for the past year. This was designed for Herman Miller and was inspired by the traditional English club chair. It became an icon of Modern style design.


Eero Saarinen:

Womb Chair

                Year: 1948. Saarinen designed the revolutionary Womb Chair at Florence Knoll’s request. This is a mid-century classic and another personal favorite.

Tulip Chair

              Year: 1956. The Collections were designed to “clear up the slum of legs in the U.S. home”. It started with the Pedestal Table Collection, followed by his Tulip Chair Collection. It is a timeless design and became emblematic of “space-age” aesthetics.


Arne Jacobsen:

Egg Chair

                Year: 1958. Designed to furnish the SAS Royal Copenhagen Hotel, this chair is perhaps the most popular among modernism fans. Jacobsen actually sculpted the design using clay before executing the actual chair.


Harry Bertoia:

Diamond Lounge Seating

                Year: 1952. Bertoia found awe-inspiring grace in an industrial material. His wire chairs are among the most recognized achievements in mid-century modern design.


These are not all the famous chairs of our time, but a taste of several. You can buy a lot of these styles through Knoll, Herman Miller, Vitra or Design Within Reach, among others. Interested in a collection of famous chairs, but don’t have the space? Vitra even sells miniature versions of the famous classic chairs and more than what is listed above. It would be a really noteworthy and distinctive collection to have in your home or office. How many of these chairs were you able to recognize?




Michael Thonet. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.dwr.com/designer-michael-thonet?lang=en_US

No. B9 Le Corbusier. (2019). Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://thonet.com.au/products/le-corbusier/

209 The Favorite Chair of Architects. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from http://en.thonet.de/inspirations/magazine/thonet-the-story/209-the-favorite-chair-of-architects.html

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 86. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.moma.org/collection/works/4044

280 Zig Zag. (2014). Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/495195

Martin, H. (March 24, 2018). The Story Behind The Iconic Zig-Zag Chair. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/the-story-behind-the-iconic-zig-zag-chair

Wassily Chair. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.knoll.com/product/wassily-chair

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 128. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.moma.org/collection/works/2851

Barcelona Chair. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.knoll.com/product/barcelona-chair

Barcelona Chair.  Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.dwr.com/living-lounge-chairs/barcelona-chair/1318.html?lang=en_US

Grand Confort. (2019, May 6). Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Confort

LC4 Chaise Lounge. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://www.dwr.com/living-lounge-chairs/lc4-chaise-longue/6515.html?lang=en_US

Eames Shell Chairs. Retrieved July 2, 2019 from https://store.hermanmiller.com/eames-shell-chairs?lang=en_US

Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://www.hermanmiller.com/products/seating/lounge-seating/eames-lounge-chair-and-ottoman/

Womb Chair. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://www.knoll.com/product/womb-chair

Womb Chair. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://www.dwr.com/living-lounge-chairs/womb-chair/7876.html?lang=en_US

Tulip Chair. (2018, December 28). Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_chair

Egg Lounge Chair. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://fritzhansen.com/en/egg

Egg Chair. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://www.dwr.com/living-lounge-chairs/egg-chair/1390.html?lang=en_US

Bertoia Diamond Chair. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://www.knoll.com/product/bertoia-diamond-chair

Bertoia Diamond Lounge Chair. Retrieved July 3, 2019 from https://www.dwr.com/living-lounge-chairs/bertoia-diamond-lounge-chair/463.html?lang=en_US

Interior Architecture & Design