From the mid 1920s to the late 1950s, a revolution in furniture design was happening from the US to Europe. Considered art in their own right, these 10 modern chairs revolutionized the way we sit– and turned the act of rest into a thing of beauty.
The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Chair
Starting out strong, the Barcelona Chair by Mies van der Rohe is one of the most iconic chairs of the modern movement, a Bauhaus-era classic that is cherished the world over. The Barcelona Chair was designed in 1929 by Mies van der Rohe for display at the German Pavilion in Barcelona, then part of the International Exposition. Today, nearly 80 years later, an official Barcelona Chair produced by Knoll will run you around $6,300 at retail, making it a pricey piece of art for your living room or office.
The Eames Molded Plywood Chair
The duo of Charles and Ray Eames is among the most revered names in the world of modern furniture, having perfected a Dutch-inspired signature of fine, molded wood furniture. Their Molded Plywood Lounge Chair is arguably the greatest pure wood piece of the modern movement, having maintained popularity to this day since its creation in 1946. Charles and Ray-Bernice Eames married in 1941, spending the better part of their partnership creating a body of work respected as legendary in the world of furniture.
The Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair
Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair was the first ever to be built from bent metal tubing. The curving chrome frame on the Wassily is strapped with sleek leather seat, back and arm rests, giving it a near-illusory appearance of hard, angular lines. Breuer designed the Wassily chair in 1925, then the head of the cabinet-making workshop at the famed Bauhaus design studio in Germany. When Breuer completed the chair in 1926, Bauhaus colleague and painter Wassily Kandinsky admired the chair greatly, prompting Breuer to build a pair of duplicates for the artist. Decades later, Marcel Breuer’s bent-metal chair would be known as the “Wassily Chair” in honor of that Bauhaus connection.
The Adelta Ball Chair
The Adelta Ball Chair, as designed in 1966 by Eero Aarnio, is a fiberglass sphere with a comfortable lounge seat in its center. Strikingly contemporary, the Ball Chair is among the more rare pieces on this list. While still produced today by Finnish manufacturer Adelta, the fiberglass has not always stood the test of time. When treated like the work of modern art that it is, this chair certainly justifies its price in contemporary homes– running for $6,500 on the market today.
The Le Corbusier LC2 Petit Modele Armchair
A common (although mis-guided) knock on much modern furniture is that it focuses far too much on form and too little on function– specifically comfort. The Le Corbusier LC2 Petit Modele Armchair is what Le Corbusier called a “cushion basket”, and comfortable is probably the best word to describe it. The leather-lined cushions sink under your weight, molding around you while providing plenty of support. Designed in 1928, the LC2 has earned itself a spot around the table of the most iconic modern chairs in the last century. You can get one today, reproduced by Cassina Italy for around $3,500.
The Bertoia Diamond Chair
Italian sculptor and furniture designer Harry Bertoia created a collection of welded metal chairs that made him an icon in the world of contemporary furniture. In 1955, Bertoia delivered the Diamond Chair to Knoll, a woven metal-framed chair with soft, knit cushioning. The Diamond Chair was released in many colors, shapes and iterations, including a full chaise lounge and other pieces. Still popular today, this indoor-outdoor chair starts at around $1,100 without the full, removeable cover.
The Eames Lounge and Ottoman
52 years ago, the Eames duo struck again with their Eames Lounge and Ottoman. This striking wood and leather lounge brings a sense of natural warmth to modern furniture, a common characteristic of Eames designs. The Eames Lounge features black, white or brown leather and a dark wood veneer on its base, back and headrest. Together with a matching ottoman, the Eames Lounge is among the more accessible pieces on this list- running for around $3,500 on the market today.
The Arne Jacobsen Swan Chair
50 years ago, Arne Jacobsen designed the famous Swan Chair, a piece that was technically innovative for its time. Its seat was built without straight lines, only curves. While that may not seem progressive today, Jacobsen’s accomplishment was well-respected in the world of contemporary furniture. Jacobsen’s Swan Chair has been re-released and is available in stores for around $3,400.
The Le Corbusier Chaise Longue
Following the bent-metal work of Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier developed its famous Chaise Longue in 1928. Now a part of Cassina Italy’s masters collection, the Le Corbusier Chaise is the centerpiece, the staple of modern homes and businesses throughout the world. Its back is available in basic leather, black or brown, and also the cowhide version above. Like the others listed here, this Chaise Longue is still produced today, 80 years later.
The Risom Lounge Chair
Designer Jens Risom’s work was far ahead of its time, including his 1941 work the Risom Lounge Chair. Distributed by Knoll, the Risom Lounge features a woven cotton webbing around a dark maple frame. An instant classic, the Risom was later spun into several other versions, some of different sizes, others with arms, all with the stylish web-on-wood design. Jens Risom’s lounge is still produced by Knoll today, running for around $770 in stores.
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