CHAIRS: 1,000 Masterpieces of Modern Design, 1800 to the Present Day;
Charlotte & Peter Fiell;
Published in Hardback by Carlton, April 2013, £30.00;
Review by Sophie Christie
There are very few objects that reflect the history of modern design as expressively as the chair. Artistic trends, emerging technologies, and social and cultural developments are all demonstrated through the evolution of chair design. Exploring this unique item of furniture, authors Charlotte and Peter Fiell have released a follow-up to their 1997 survey, 1000 Chairs with Chairs: 1,000 Masterpieces of Modern Design, 1800 to the Present Day. The pair provide a fascinating and comprehensive catalogue detailing the history of the chair, from the 1800s to present day, with more than a thousand images accompanying detailed descriptions.
The authors argue that chairs are unique in that they allow distinctive interaction with the user, as their body moulds to the design of the chair, giving the sitter a sense of 'territoriality'. In addition, the authors explain how chairs are uniquely representative of the cultural phenomena of the time. This is exemplified with Charles and Ray Eames' Model No. 670 lounge chair (1956), which embodied the emerging television culture of the Fifties, with leather upholstery and a detached footrest for more comfort over extended periods of time.
One of the earliest designs given in the book is the pre-Raphaelite Rossetti chair, designed by Dante Gabrielle Rossetti and William Morris. Often in 19th century society, wealth and social status were conveyed through personal possessions, and the throne-like Rossetti chair is a particularly good example of this.
In 1958 Danish brothers Ib and Jorgen Rasmussen revolutionised chair design when they created multi-purpose office chairs and, by adding wheels seven years later, established the now familiar office chair used worldwide.
By the mid-20th century, spatial design had became progressively desirable, and in 1962 Robin Day created his Polypropylene chair. Not only were these stackable space-savers, the injection-molded polypropylene used to manufacture the chairs was inexpensive, making them particularly well suited to schools, with more than 14 million being sold to educational institutions worldwide. It is, to this day, the bestselling chair of all time.
In the post-modern era, chair design became evidently more playful with designers such as Ueli and Susi Berger creating the Boxing Glove chair. Produced in 1970, it challenged the concept of what a chair actually is. Now, in the 21st century, chair designers are still innovating, with designers such as the Campana brothers producing artistically outlandish chairs in basic materials, including strips of carpet (Sushi chair, 2002) and woven steel wire (Corallo armchair, 2004).
This book, useful for designers, specifiers and collectors alike, showcases the evolution of the chair from its humble origins to the more contemporarily extrovert designs of today. From the Pre-Raphealite era, through art deco, modernism, and post-modernism, Chairs explores the iconic designs and their designers, revealing the fascinating history of this modest piece of furniture.