The Year In Chairs: Retrospect Roundup

Each week in the Retrospect column, we take a look at the history of a familiar and/or important design. I try to vary the subjects and offer a range of objects and designers, but looking over the last year’s selection of Retrospect columns, it looks like I’ve outed myself as the chair fanatic that I really am. Here’s a roundup of 10 chair-related Retrospects from 2010.

Chairs are simple, functional objects that nevertheless vary tremendously. A chair can serve as a kind of index for a designer’s work, for a particular style, or a moment in time.

These chairs are presented in chronological order, based on when they were first designed. For more information on each chair, click through to the original Retrospect piece.

Which of these is your favorite chair?

1 The earliest depictions of Klismos Chairs can be dated to around 430 BC, painted on terracotta vessels or carved into stone in ancient Greece. Although they fell out of fashion about a century later, they got trendy again in the 1770s, and have been a designer favorite ever since.

2 Chinese “Yoke-Back” chairs originated as early as the 11th century, but became especially popular among simplicity-loving elites during the late Ming Dynasty (17th century). Known in China as “lamp-hanger” chairs, surviving antiques are typically from the late Ming or early Qing Dynasty, and are made out of huanghuali, a hardwood that was newly available at the time thanks to the lifting of a ban on maritime trade — amazing how economic and political history shapes the way objects look.

3 Porter’s Chairs, now a Hollywood Regency staple, were developed in Northern Europe during the 16th century to protect invalids, the elderly and hall porters from chilly draughts.

4 Ironically, Queen Anne was not alive to see the style that was ultimately named for her. In this post, we look at the characteristics of the Queen Anne-style chair from the early-18th century in the American colonies. The form was related to the emerging Rococo style in Europe, and was also influenced by imported Chinese Yoke-back chairs (see above).

5 Michael Thonet designed his “No. 14” Chair in 1859, using the innovative process he had developed for steam-bending wood. The No. 14 was the first flat-packed furniture (a century before IKEA!) and shipped in only 6 pieces with a few screws.

6 The first Adirondack Chair was created in 1903 by Thomas Lee, who was searching for comfortable outdoor seating for his family’s country house. He then had his carpenter friend Harry Bunnell produce several more. Bunnell, looking for some off-season income, began making and selling the chairs, spawning a popular design for which he supposedly never compensated Lee …

7 The Butterfly Chair was first designed in 1938 by Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy (previously an assistant to Le Corbusier), and was based on military campaign chairs from the 1850s. These aren’t the chair’s only impressive antecedents: it was a favorite of MoMA’s Edgar Kaufman jr., was first produced by Alvar Aalto’s company, Artek, and subsequently by Knoll, who produced it until a court determined that Hardoy’s chair was itself too similar to earlier precedents to claim copyright protection.

8 Harry Bertoia was an Italian sculptor and metalworker, who created his famous steel mesh chairs for Knoll in 1952, after working uncredited for years alongside Ray and Charles Eames. His Knoll line was so successful that Bertoia was able to live off the royalties and focus solely on his fabulous metal sculptures, many of which played with sound, movement and vibration.

9 Arne Jacobsen’s famous Egg and Swan Chairs were originally designed in 1956 for the lobby of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. Jacobsen designed the hotel and all its contents, from the furniture to the silverware, as a total work of art. His foam-upholstered chairs, inspired by natural forms, provided a cozy and colorful contrast to the rigid modernist architecture, about which Jacobsen later joked, “At least it came in first when they held a competition for the ugliest building in Copenhagen.”

10 The drop-dead sexy Boom Boom Room at the Standard Hotel in New York, designed by Roman and Williams, pays homage to Warren Platner, whose interiors for Windows on the World and other destination restaurants helped define a certain kind of institutional glamor. But he is best known for his so-called Platner Chairs, which he designed for Knoll in 1966 using nickel-coated steel wires and shaping them into elegant forms that he likened to the “decorative, gentle, graceful” designs of the Louis XV era.

So that’s this year’s Retrospect in retrospect. What historical objects, designers, eras or styles would you like to see in 2011? Let me know in the comments.