Modern Classics: The Bertoia Side Chair

Modern Classics: The Bertoia Side Chair

Nancy Mitchell
Sep 24, 2012

The wire chairs he designed for Knoll show Harry Bertoia at the top of his game — his love of sculpture and knowledge of metalworking and ergonomics came together to create a chair that is lovely from every angle (and even quite comfortable, if you're willing to shell out a little extra for seat pads).

The first versions of Bertoia's wire chairs were made with the edges comprised of two thin wires, welded together on either side of the mesh seat. Unfortunately, this design had already been patented by Herman Miller for their Eames wire side chair. Herman Miller successfully sued Knoll, so subsequent generations of the Bertoia chair were made with a single thick wire on the edge of the chair. The wires of the seat rest on top of the edge wire, and are ground down at the edges so they won't poke you while you sit (although you may still get a distinctive 'waffle butt" pattern if you sit in one of the unpadded chairs).

60 years after their introduction (in 1952), these chairs are positively everywhere, from the sculpture garden at the MoMA to Jonathan Adler's Parker Palm Springs hotel to this writer's dining room. They go inside and out; they are lovely to look upon; and their wire mesh construction gives them a certain quality of being lighter than air. Harry Bertoia himself said of his work: "If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them."

1. The Bertoia chair's visual lightness makes it the perfect choice for this airy beach house by designer Alexandra Angle.
2. In a rustic loft from Jaklitsch Gardner via The Kitchn.
3. In a luxe bedroom from Lonny.
4. White Bertoia chairs, with a traditional table and an accompanying wishbone chair, make for a mix that's light and lovely, with a wonderful texture. Mikel Irastorza via Houzz.
5. Lovely outside, too. From JL Designs.

6. Bertoia chairs and a tulip table? Perfect. I love the texture of the chairs and the texture of the concrete block juxtaposed against one another. House and Garden via Habitually Chic.
7. With cobalt blue covers, in a beachy interior from Marie Claire Maison.
8. In the sculpture garden at NYC's MoMA.
9. Black and white from Chris and Jenna's Collection in the Castro.
10. Bertoia barstools in a modern kitchen from Cultivate.

11. Baby Bertoias and a Moroccan rug in a kids' space. From Lonny.
12. Jonathan Adler chose these for the patio of the Parker Palm Springs hotel. From the Sunday Times Market.
13. In a workspace from Style at Home.
14. In the modern mix — the airy chair is a nice counterpart to a heavy, traditional desk. Home of interior designer Marie Olsson Nylander, via Desire to Inspire.
15. Perfect in a funky, black and white interior. Domino via Habitually Chic.

Classic in Any Setting: Bertoia Side Chairs
Man of Steel (Mesh): Harry Bertoia's Famous Chairs

(Images: as linked above)

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