An iconic chair design represents more than the union of form and function, it embodies engineering, practicality, and imagination. Apart from providing a place to rest, a chair can demonstrate the very best in innovative design, indicate the most individual tastes, and can be the measure of wider artistic and cultural movements.
The 20th century was the golden age of the “modern chair.” In this period, technological innovation and rising flexibility of the masses drove the best of designers to take up the task of re-inventing a simple piece of furniture. This task is still going on, with amazing chair designs pouring into the furniture market.
Also Read: 100+ Modern Chair Design Ideas
Here are the 21 most famous chairs of all time, showcasing inspirational form and function.
Designer: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich
One of the most frequently used chairs in interior design, Barcelona Chair resulted from a collaboration between the famous Bauhaus architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his longtime partner-companion, architect, and designer Lilly Reich.
It is one of the most recognized objects of the last century and an icon of the modern movement. The Barcelona Chair displays a simple elegance that exemplifies Mies’ famous maxim – “less is more.”
The chair is supported on each side by two chrome-plated flat steel bars. Seen from the side, a single curve of the bar forming the chair’s back and front legs crosses the S-curve of the bar forming the seat and back legs, making an intersection of the two. The cantilevered seat and the back of the original chairs were upholstered in white kid leather with welt and button details.
Eames Lounge Chair
Designer: Charles and Ray Eames
Ray and Charles Eames were among the most influential furniture designers of their time. In 1956, they designed a Lounge Chair + Ottoman, which was way ahead of its time.
The furniture combo was made of black leather and laminate plywood. This unique chair incorporates a two-directional design and is composed of three curved plywood shells draped in leather cushioning. All parts of the chair – headrest, backrest, and seat are identical in proportion and so is the ottoman. This was a pioneering design and the chair is popular to this day.
Designer: Arne Jacobsen
The Jacobsen’s Egg Chair first appeared in the reception areas of the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. This chair was a culmination of a new technique that Jacobsen established with the Egg. Like a sculptor, Jacobsen first sculpted the Egg out of clay in his garage so he could perfect the shape. Then, he molded the Egg Chair out of a strong foam inner shell under the upholstery. It also includes a footrest to complement the sculptural armchair.
The result is an exclusively unique shape, through which Egg Chair affords privacy in otherwise public spaces. A testament of originality and timeless design; it’s the fabric finish and sculptural curves that provide the Egg Chair a classic appeal.
Louis Ghost Chair
Designer: Philippe Starck
Named so aptly, Louis Ghost Chair is the essence of baroque revisited to dazzle, excite and fascinate. It is a comfortable armchair in transparent and colored polycarbonate in the Louis XV style. This unique chair has great charm and considerable visual appeal and brings a touch of elegance and irony to any style of home or public area.
It is the most daring example in the world of injected polycarbonate in a single mold. Despite its fleeting and crystal-clear appearance, Louis Ghost is stable and durable, shock and weather-resistant and can also be stacked six chairs high.
This elegant chair was at the height of European sophistication in the early 18th century, by the turn of the 21st century, this easily reproduced rococo item is nothing short of chintzy.
Designer: Eero Saarinen
Regarded one of the icons of post-war American modernism, Womb Chair was designed in 1946 and manufactured by Knoll since 1948. This armchair is the first piece of mass-produced furniture in the history of design with an integrated seat shell made of fiber-reinforced plastic.
The expansive foam upholstered shell, which has two inset cushions for added comfort, is supported by a bent tubular steel frame. Saarinen developed the Womb Chair in close collaboration with a boat builder.
His motive was to design a chair that would allow a variety of sitting positions and create a special feeling of relaxation and coziness. The central design concept finds vivid expression in its name.
Papa Bear Chair
Designer: Hans J. Wegner
The gorgeous Papa Bear Chair, also known as the Teddy Bear Chair, has two outstretched arms with wood detailing that was once described by a critic as “great bear paws embracing you from behind”, hence the name.
It remains one of Wegner’s most exclusive designs due to intensive and exacting nature of its construction, carried out by skilled Danish craftsmen.
The solid wood frame is hand-joined to provide a base for the traditional upholstery. With the exception of the seat cushion, no foam is used in the upholstery. The back and armrests are stuffed with cotton, palm, and flax fiber and horsehair. The addition of springs creates a durable and enormously comfortable easy chair, which embraces the sitter in a warm hug.
Designer: Jeffrey Bernett
The Metropolitan Chair collection was created in 2003. It has an inviting design with a high back that offers the comfort one looks for in a chair. The high back is a great touch and the neck rest is held in place with magnets, making the chair adjustable for people of all heights. The swivel armchair is both sophisticated and casual and it has a very simple design.
There are two different structures, the former in plate steel both chromed and varnished, the latter with a four-star brushed aluminum base. Malleable and easy to place alongside tables that differ in style, it allows to play with base and cover combinations: more serious in leather or colorful in fabric.
The matching ottoman is a perfect touch when you want some extra comfort and support. Moreover, the ottoman has a double function, it serves both as a comfortable seat or support for the legs and as an attractive addition for the home.
LC2 Poltrona Armchair
Designer: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand
The unique LC2 armchair has played a role in the history of furniture design. Created to enhance conversation, this armchair was displayed at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1929, as an archetype of the modern conception of furniture, dubbed “domestic equipment” by its creators.
Division of metal frame from upholstery conveys the Rationalist approach, this same separation responds to the logic of industrial manufacture, while also conjuring the architectural relationship between the load-bearing structure and the walls.
The balance between form and function derives from an in-depth study of human posture, human body, and through the use of the modular – a system based on the typical measurements of the male body and on a mathematical language informed by the proportions of universal harmony.
Designer: Arne Jacobsen
The Swan is a lounge chair designed by Arne Jacobsen in the Danish modern style in 1958 for the Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. The chair has been in production at Fritz Hansen ever since. Back then, the Swan was a technologically innovative chair, with no straight lines but only curves.
The Swan is built on a molded shell of synthetic material resting on an aluminum star base, with a layer of cold foam and upholstery covering the shell. The Swan is available in a wide range of leather and fabric upholstery. The star-shaped aluminum base is mounted to a satin-polished steel pedestal.
Designer: Verner Panton
The Panton Chair is a classic in the furniture market. Designed in 1960, the chair was developed for serial production in collaboration with Vitra in 1967. Since its inception, it has advanced through several production phases.
It was the first chair to be manufactured entirely out of plastic in one single piece. The comfort of this chair results from the combination of a cantilever structure with an anthropomorphic shape and a slightly flexible material.
The Panton Chair has received several international design awards and is characterized in the collections of many prominent museums. Due to its expressive form, it has become an icon of the 20th century.
Wegner Wishbone Chair
Designer: Hans Wegner
The Wishbone Chair was first of Wegner’s chairs for Carl Hansen & Son, debuting in 1949. This chair remains a classic to this day. The Wishbone Chair offers comfort and stability as well as satisfying aesthetic desires for distinctive, elegant form.
While designing this chair, Wegner chose to combine the back and armrest into a single piece. To give stability to the steam-bent top and ensure comfortable support, Wegner developed the characteristic Y-shaped back that the Wishbone hair is named after.
Designer: Verner Panton
Cone Chair was designed by Verner Pantone for Vitra in 1958. Originally designed for a Danish restaurant, the Cone Chair takes its shape from the classic geometric figure – the cone.
The padded shell forms the back and armrests and together with the soft seat cushion creates an exceptionally comfortable armchair, which is mounted on an elegant stainless steel swivel base.
Designer: Jaime Hayón
The Ro Chair is named after the Danish word for “tranquility.” It comes fully upholstered in a selection of unique Designer Selection colors with the option to select two fabrics: one for the shell and one for cushions. The four-legged base is made of brushed aluminum or solid oak with a clear lacquer finish. Ro is also available in a wide range of standard fabrics and leathers.
Since Spanish designer Jaime Hayón became part of the staff of designers with Fritz Hansen, he has shown humor and personality in all his designs – from the sheltered Ro Chair to the playful dining table.
Designer: Norman Cherner
Norman Cherner designed the 1959 molded plywood armchair – a midcentury icon found in design collections worldwide. The Cherner Chair Company has been manufacturing iconic designs that were made famous by Norman Cherner in the 1950s.
Cherner Chair is still in popularity; produced in thorough detail from the original drawings and molds, the armchair combines the best of both molded plywood and solid bent wood construction.
Designer: Marcel Breuer
Drawing inspiration from the frame of a bicycle and influenced by the constructivist theories of the De Stijl Movement, Marcel Breuer reduced the classic club chair to its elemental lines and planes, hence changing the course of furniture design. The Wassily Chair was much more simplistic and structurally exposed compared to other chairs in the 1920s. It was an abstract piece of art to say.
The chair, later known as the “Wassily,” was first manufactured in the late 1920s by Thonet, the German-Austrian furniture manufacturer most known for its bent-wood chair designs, under the name Model B3. It was first available in both folding and non-folding versions. In this early iteration, the straps were made of fabric, taut on the reverse side with the use of springs.
Designer: Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy
The Butterfly Chair – also known as the Hardoy Chair, Safari Chair, or Wing Chair – was designed in Buenos Aires. Knoll Associates acquired US production rights in the late 1940s and unsuccessfully pursued legal action against unauthorized copies, which continue to be produced to this day.
Thanks to the technological competence and fine craftsmanship of Knoll, today’s Butterfly has sinuous, dynamic lines, which are also made possible by the quality of the materials involved.
The structure is in chromium-plated or coated steel, in white or black, while the seat is made with thermoformed felt. The laser shaping of the fabric, without added stitching, permits the direct interlock of the seat and the steel framework, ensuring comfort and elegance.
Designer: Noboru Nakamura
Poäng Chair is a wooden armchair that has been sold by the Swedish furniture retailer IKEA since 1978. The Japanese designer, Noboru Nakamura created the chair in 1976 in collaboration with product manager Lars Engman.
Layer-glued bent birch frame provides the hair a comfortable resilience. The high back offers good support for your neck. It features thin upholstery, its molded plywood frame swings slightly when a person sits in it, giving the impression of a rocking chair; Nakamura intended this to evoke a relaxing feeling.
There have been tweaks to the upholstery color and pattern to keep the chair relevant to consumer tastes, but the biggest change happened in the early ’90s. The chair’s seat was originally made from tubular steel, but in 1992, the company switched to an all-wood frame and also narrowed the size.
Designer: Marcel Breuer
Marcel Breuer created the Cesca Chair in 1928, which is believed to be the first bent tubular steel chair design. Named in tribute to his daughter Francesca, the simple design pairs the industrial-age aesthetic of tubular steel with caning and wood.
The material was lightweight, sturdy, and malleable enough to create the modernist furniture he envisioned. Cesca Chairs are manufactured by Knoll according to the original and exacting specifications of the designer.
The Cesca Chair has a rare, almost mild, simplicity to its design, linearity balanced by subtle curves; wicker caning punctuated by a wooden frame; and a cantilevered form that seems to float in thin air.
Designer: Thomas Lee
The first Adirondack chair was created by Thomas Lee around 1903. The Adirondack chair is an outdoor lounge chair with wide armrests, and a tall slatted back, and a seat that is higher in the front than the back. It is named after the Adirondack Mountains.
The original design featured a small number of flat wooden boards, with the seat support combined with the rear legs. Adirondack chairs are now often made by injection molding and can take any form.
In the ensuing 105 years, the chair has been adapted repeatedly. The back is often raked, made out of between 3 and 7 slats of wood instead of the single plank of the original Westport chair. The chairs are typically now made out of pine and other inexpensive woods. Despite these adaptations, Adirondack Chairs are remarkably recognizable and unflaggingly popular.
Designer: Marco Zanuso
Considered an icon of the 1950s Italian design, the armchair-sofa Lady stands out for its extremely modern structure. A symbol of highest innovation, in terms of style, materials, and technology.
The Lady chair has a steel frame with poplar plywood armrests, padded in CFC-free polyurethane foam and polyester wadding. In addition to being the first armchair to include extended polyurethane and foam rubber, the armchair’s seat showcased a new system of springing, using reinforced elastic straps to ensure foremost comfort. Meanwhile, the slim-line metal legs exhibit the design’s lightness of touch.
The structure is contained in the seat, the back, and the arms, the outcome being a veritable masterpiece of Italian furniture design excellence; so much so that Lady was awarded the Gold Medal at the IX Milan Triennale, in 1951.
Designer: Gold Medal Camp Furniture Company
With design roots tracing back to the X-shaped Roman curule seat, the Director’s Chair received its present mark for its ubiquity on film sets. Its folding nature permits it to be transported effortlessly between locations.
It is a lightweight chair that folds side-to-side with a scissors action. The seat and back are made of canvas or a similar strong fabric that bears the full weight of the user and can be folded. The frame is made of wood, sometimes metal or plastic.
The seat and scissors members work together to support and distribute the sitter’s weight so that the seat is comfortably taut. The back is usually low and the chair usually has armrests.
These iconic chairs have stood the test of time, have come of age, and are continuing to impress and invade our lifestyle. These have also been an inspiration for years and years of chair designs, which we have used and learned to appreciate.