2005/04b: Ask Me
Q&A 15 years ago No Comments

How do you account for the strong psychological overtones attached to chairs and their fascination for designers”


(submitted by Tysana F.)

In our long-standing history of furniture and furniture design, the chair holds a unique position as one of only a pieces of furniture designed to support a person. And is it just a coincidence that the parts of a chair echo the human anatomy” It has arms, legs, feet, back and a seat. It”s an interesting relationship.

The vast variety of chairs that have been designed over the past 4000 years supports the importance of this piece of furniture. Chairs represent social history, the most common indicator of social status. The range of chair styles seems to be endless. Chairs represent many things and hold a variety of purposes: dining, sleeping, rocking, reading, praying, reclining, etc. And then the methods of construction (not to mention the diverse materials) further extend the complexity of the chair: folding, rocking, wheeled, fixed.

Chairs developed from stools indicating the seated to be a high-ranking official, or perhaps royalty. Throughout the ages, the chair remained the sign of rank, and the style of the chair reflected its occupant”s position within society.

In the 16th century, the chair morphed into a greater number of variations. Moving into the 17th century the chair proliferated with innovations, scale and chair types. The development of fancy chairs came about in the late 18th century at which time chairs incorporated the history of the past with new technology. During the late 19th century, the chair became a symbol of style and design movements. Later in the 20th Century, chairs were often employed to introduce new materials and to reinforce the importance and effect of material introduced into a sculptural form.

Many architects and interior designers have designed chairs to complement their architecture and interiors. Their sculptural value in an interior becomes as important as their function. As furniture items, chairs occupy a given space and often remain unoccupied for much of their life. Designers of chairs have in various ways acknowledged the role of the chair: to evaluate a space, to define relationships in a space, to exhibit sculptural possibilities of a space. Numerous designers have been credited with various chair styles.

Chairs, as they relate to the history of interiors, are the one category of furniture that easily captures the elements of style and the definition of a certain period of furniture. They are easy icons for a course in visual representation of period styles. Chairs are our social history. They tell us a lot about social morays, the current fashions, and life as it was lived, and how rooms were actually used.

On the more fashionable side, chairs are the epitome of accessorizing. Chairs come in all categories from costume jewelry to crown jewels. The small scale of the chair makes it a great accent piece. There are some many things one can do with a chair. One can easily morph a space by manipulating the chairs in a room. And think how easy it is to change not only the look of a chair but also the look of a room with just the right chair.

Chairs are contagious; people collect them as they would other collectibles. Chairs are space fillers, portable, elegant, useful, character builders, and conversation pieces. Chairs in the modern age are for everyone, not just the royalty and the design mavens. All hail the uncompromising chair.