Chair as a Design Icon

I have chosen three chairs for my essay. All three of these chairs have been designed by different designers. The names of the chairs, their designers and the movement they belong to are as follows:

  1. The Hill House Chair: Designer: Charles Rene Mackintosh. Movement: Art Noveau, Modernism. Year: 1904-08.
  2. Wassily Chair: Designer: Marcel Breuer. Movement: Modernism. Year: 1925-26.
  3. Red Blue Chair: Designer: Gerrit Retvield. Movement: Modernism. Year: 1918-21.

These three chairs were some of the most famous chairs of that time. These chairs reflect the development of design at that time. These can be recognized for their style, movement and point in history from which they were designed. These chairs are considered as design icons and help understand their design context.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

The 3 Chairs:

1. Hill House Chair: Similar to Wright’s prairie chairs, but more light and delicate, this chair can be seen as a modern version of gothic furniture principles. Originally painted white, Mackintosh’s high, narrow Hill House chair was meant to be decorative – not to be actually sat on. This chair was designed for The Hill House designed by Mackintosh in Helensburgh, Scotland. “Its reductive simplicity renders it timeless in many ways, and yet it belongs unequivocally to this period when a number of young architects and designers in Britain, Europe and the United States were striving to go beyond the historicism and stylistic eclecticism of the previous century” Penny Spark, Icons of Design, The 20th Century, Prestel: p16

Description of the Chair: This sculptural chair’s spidery appearance acts as a stark contrast to the pretty white Art feminine décor of the main bedroom. It was however originally designed in white color but is found in black and brown these days. The chair is made up of ash-wood. The elegant Ladder Back chair is extremely delicate with its sole purpose of decoration. The slender back legs are elliptical in shape with a series of ladder rails linking them together. The seat pad is also very small to emphasize the chair’s fragility.

The Life and Work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in 1868 in the Town head area of Glasgow. He trained as an architect with John Hutchison and studied art and design at evening classes at Glasgow School of Art. After completing his apprenticeship he moved to Honeyman and Keppie in 1889. In 1900, Charles Rennie Mackintosh married Margaret Macdonald and by 1901 Mackintosh had become a partner of Honeyman and Keppie. In 1902 Mackintosh received a significant commission when he was asked to design. The Hill House in Helens burgh for Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie.

Mackintosh designed not only the house and garden, which was completed in 1904, but also much of the furniture and all the interior fittings and decorative schemes. Margaret contributed fabric designs and a unique gesso over mantel. The Hill House is perhaps Mackintosh’s most polished interior since he experimented with – and fine tuned – his aesthetic not only with the Windy hill commission, but also with his own homes at 120 Mains Street and then at 78 South park Avenue, Glasgow. At Mains Street in 1900, in collaboration with his wife Margaret, Mackintosh installed his first all-white sitting room and experimented with the contrast of light and dark rooms and ‘male’ and ‘female’ environments.

This chair can be seen as the link between the curved and organic lines of Art Nouveau and the geometric simplicity of the Modern movement. This chair was perhaps Mackintosh’s seminal domestic design project. The house demonstrates many of Mackintosh’s design influences such as the Scottish Baronial Tradition, organic forms and a concern for the total work of art where every detail in the house was designed to harmonize. The chair itself was designed for the bedroom and can be seen as a counterpoint to the white and more organic forms used in that room. This was a continuous feature in Macintosh’s work where a grid would be used in opposition to the more natural free flowing forms more associated with Art Nouveau, which often appeared in his work. It is devices such as the grid which anticipate the geometric forms which were to become so familiar within the Modern movement.

The narrow Hill House Chair was meant by Charles Rennie Mackintosh to be a decoration, and not a functional piece of furniture. The Hill House Chair still resides at the Hill House in Helensburgh, Scotland. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the creator of the Hill House Chair, was a skilled interior designer, painter and decorator who renown for his inventive interpretation of Art Nouveau. His “Spook School” did not gain immediate notoriety due to his unconformity to the standards of French and Belgium Art Nouveau.

2. Wassily Chair: Revolutions in design are most often driven by advancements in material and technology. The famous Wassily chair by Marcel Breuer is precisely one of these, the first ever chair to feature a bent steel frame. While it was first created in 1926, it marked the beginning of a new era in modern furniture with a design that maintains a progressive look even today. The Wassily Chair was first built by Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus institution in Dessau, Germany. Breuer found inspiration for the chair in the bent form of a bicycle handlebar, available for the first time in steel due to a development in technology. The German steel manufacturer Mannesmann had developed a process to produce seamless steel tubing, the first to allow tubes to be bent without breaking at the seam. Breuer’s Adler bicycle featured such tubing, which inspired the designer to employ this material in furniture.

Description of the chair: The original Wassily chair was made from tubular steel bent to create a framework, and canvas strips which created the back, seat, and armrest. The shape and style are evocative of a club chair, but the Wassily chair has been distilled down to simple, clean lines, rather than the traditionally overstuffed club chair. Tubular steel continues to be used in the production of these chairs, with manufacturers often using leather instead of canvas.

The Life and Works of Marcel Breuer: Marcel Lajos Breuer was born in Pécs, Hungary in 1902, and became on of the greatest architects and furniture designers of the 20th century.Breuer used new technologies and new materials in order to develop his ‘International Style’ of work. Breuer first studied art in Vienna after winning a scholarship. Marcel was unhappy with the institution and found work instead at a Viennese architecture office. From 1920 to 1928 he was a student and teacher at Germany’s Bauhaus, a school of design where modern principles, technologies and the application of new materials were encouraged in both the industrial and fine arts. During his time spent there Marcel completed the carpentry apprenticeship.

While there he designed and made the African chair and the Slatted chair. After completing his studies at the Bauhaus Marcel traveled to Paris, where he worked in an architects office. After a year he was appointed as head of the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus. Breuer was given the title of ‘young master’. In 1941 Breuer decided to set up his own architectural practice, which he moved to New York in 1946. This proved to be one of Breuer’s most productive periods. Between 1940 and 1950 he designed seventy private houses, one of which included his own house in 1947.

This modernist creation is perhaps one of the most iconic furniture designs of all times. The Wassily Chair, also known as the Model B3 chair is most interesting in that it is a symmetrical abstraction of wafer thin, geometric planes that appears to be suspended in space. The magic of this sublime design is to be primarily attributed to Breuer’s ingenious use of lightweight tubular steel and minimalist leather straps.

Breuer made this comfortable chair for his friend, the painter Wassily Kandinsky, while he was teaching at the Bauhaus Academy. Hence the name! As daring and fresh as Kandinsky’s paintings, the Wassily Chair remains an astonishing work. Its strong, spare lines express all the industrial heroism and engineering invention of the new architecture.

I have one of this chair at home and now when I think about it, this chair has many qualities that make it highly desirable to designers and clients alike. Personally, I find the chair very comfortable and can sit in it for hours. It is light weight and easily moved, which only adds to its appeal. The chair always blends with its surroundings, and unlike overstuffed furniture easily augments a setting but can dominate the room with a subtlety that is often unnoticed.

3. Red Blue Chair: The Red Blue Chair was a chair designed in 1917 by Gerrit Rietveld. In the Red Blue Chair, Rietveld manipulated rectilinear volumes and examined the interaction of vertical and horizontal planes, much as he did in his architecture. Although the chair was originally designed in 1918, its color scheme of primary colors (red, yellow, blue) plus black—so closely associated with the de Stijl group and its most famous theorist and practitioner Piet Mondrian—was applied to it around 1923.

Description of the chair: This chair was made from lacquered wood and by research it has been found out that the chair never had any fixed dimensions as Reitveld was more intuitive and preferred the results of a “good eye” ,it was constantly changing and the version produced now is not definitive as there never were fixed dimensions. The original chair was painted in the familiar De Stijl palette of primary colors – that is, black, grey, and white. However, it was later changed to resemble the paintings of Piet Mondrian when Rietveld came into contact with this artist’s work in 1918.

Life and Works of Gerrit Rietveld: Gerrit Rietveld (24 June 1888–25 June 1964) was a Dutch furniture designer and architect. One of the principal members of the Dutch artistic movement called De Stijl, Rietveld is famous for his Red and Blue Chair and for the Rietveld Schröder House, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rietveld broke with ‘De Stijl’ in 1928 and became associated with a more functionalist style of architecture, known as either Nieuwe Zakelijkheid or Nieuwe Bouwen.

The same year he joined the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne. He designed the “Zig-Zag” chair in 1934 and started the design of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was finished after his death. He built hundreds of homes, many of them in the city of Utrecht. His work was neglected when rationalism came into vogue, but he later benefited from a revival of the style of the 1920s thirty years later. The Red Blue Chair belongs to the De Stijl movement. It represents one of the first explorations by the De Stijl art movement in three dimensions.

“I am constantly concerned,” Rietveld said, “with this extraordinary idea of the awakening of the consciousness.” That is why he came to design the most influential chair of the 20th century–and even he was surprised at the big effect his Red and Blue chair had.

In his book, De Stijl, Paul Overy writes: “One of the functions of Rietveld’s chairs, with their hard seats and backs, is to focus our senses, to make us alert and aware. Rietveld was not interested in conventional ideas of comfort (the 19th century armchair that relaxes you so much that you spill your coffee or fall asleep over your book). He wished to keep the sitter physically and mentally ‘toned up’.”

While looking at the Red Blue Chair, it gives me a very lively and happy feeling. I appreciate abstract art and the chair is a good example of the De Stijl movement. This chair is like a Mondrian, painting in 3 dimensional form. I also really like classic modern architecture and this chair is closely associated with an important early landmark from the period, the Schroder house.

Conclusion: What do we feel as we sit in our favorite chair? Do we like it because it supports us, or because it consoles us? Do we feel alert or sleepy? By looking at these chairs, these questions come to my mind. These chairs help us in understanding that a chair is not just for sitting but is much more than that. A chair can be a decorative element in a room and can add color and functionality to the space at the same time. The Hill House Chair is a decorative chair which can also be used for sitting but it is designed in such a manner that a person cannot sit on it for a long while and maybe that is what the purpose of the chair was.

The design of the Wassily chair is quite comfortable, making it a functional furniture piece as well as a point of aesthetic interest in a design scheme. Did Rietveld want people to feel the abstract–what we can’t touch–is as real as the chair we are sitting on? I think the answer is Yes. His Red and Blue chair is kind as well as beautiful–it helps us be at ease and alert at once. While against complacency, the Red and Blue is for true composure. The sober stability of the black verticals and horizontals is given unexpected jazzy motion by the bright yellow squares and rectangles–even while they make you more aware of that stable structure. And the glossiness of the black finish adds liveliness and a sense of depth. Mondrian and the artists of the De Stijl movement worked on the principle that all art has to have “dynamic equilibrium.”