Chair by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (7 June 1868 – 10 December 1928)
Sunday, November 10, 2013

Have a Seat - The Story of the Chair

Today there are literally thousands of chair forms to choose from. Each is tailored to meet intended functional, cultural and stylistic design criteria. However, with the needs of spines, pelvises and knees that bend in certain directions, the ergonomic formula for chair design remains prescriptive. And so, to understand the multitude of forms, we should take a look at the evolution of the chair.

Evidence of Early Egyptian Stools

Evidence of Early Egyptian Stools

Man has been sitting since, well, the beginning of man. And while he no doubt found rocks and logs to perch his hind end on, it is not until around 3000 BC that we find evidence of a built chair. The Greeks were the first to address the issue of the seated form by crafting simple stools. By the Second Dynasty, however, lower back support was added to provide relief to the sacrum and pelvis.

Depiction of an Early Egyptian Chair

Depiction of an Early Egyptian Chair

By around 400 BC, the Greeks had taken the basic geometry of the Egyptian chair, and contoured the form to create the first chair to exhibit a ‘Western’ comfort. The curved upper back support suggested a more relaxed posture. The Klismos Chair has an iconic profile that has endured the test of time.

Traditional Greek Klismos Chair

Traditional Greek Klismos Chair

Modern Klismos Chair

Modern Klismos Chair

Neoclassical Chair Inspired by Greek Klismos Designs

Neoclassical Chair Inspired by Greek Klismos Designs

The earliest wing chairs: the Ham House sleeping chair (1670); an English baroque wingchair (1680)*; and an American Queen Anne chair (1730).

The earliest wing chairs: the Ham House sleeping chair (1670); an English baroque wingchair (1680)*; and an American Queen Anne chair (1730).

While the chair adapted to different needs and uses, it did not change much until the mid 17th century, when, as a reaction to cold, drafty environments, the English added padded panels, or “wings” to the chair, giving us what we know today as the Wing Chair.

A modern Wing Chair from the Charles Stewart Company

A modern Wing Chair from the Charles Stewart Company

An Early

An Early

The Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century brought many changes to the production and distribution of all sorts of goods. Furniture was no exception.

A Contemporary

A Contemporary

With the efficiency of mass-produced, decoratively adorned pieces by the likes of Charles Eastlake and others, a whole labor force of craftsmen became free to pursue other trades. Here we find the birth of the Upholsterer Era. Soft pieces with rounded edges and no apparent skeletal structure suggested a passive posture associated with leisure. Contemporary club chairs and lounge furniture evoke the spirit of these “comfortables” of history.

Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1929

Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1929

Today’s designers are challenged with creating inventive solutions to the age old challenge of providing a place to rest. Each variation points back to human needs, proportions and cultural preferences.

 

In the end, we find that there truly is little new under the sun. The primary criteria I use to make seating selections are use, comfort, scale and proportion. I’d rather stand than spend time in an uncomfortable chair!