Chairs are mankind's greatest invention
The most important thing about a chair is that you sit comfortably on it. What is taken for granted by modern humans and, in the opinion of health experts, is practiced far too extensively, was once a privilege of the rulers.
The beginnings of a seat
Whether throne, bishopric or judge's seat - for a long time it was true that whoever sits on a chair always enjoys the dignity of a high office. The oldest known chairs were very low, with curved backrests and often legs in carved animal shapes. The rulers were enthroned literally over the common people, who often just crouched on the ground.
At first, nobody sat in a chair just for the sake of comfort; like the ancient Romans, people preferred to lie around casually. In Europe, a chair or armchair remained an exclusive piece of furniture for centuries that only people from the mobility or clergy could afford.
It was not until the 16th century that the chair caught on in large circles of the population and was then part of common furniture. The transformation of the chair from a symbol of power to an everyday object was achieved. Most of the chairs were made by carpenters from solid oak and mostly upholstered. It was not until the Baroque era that the mobility wanted to sit more comfortably, so seat cushions with velvet or leather upholstery prevailed.
Above all, the French kings, who ruled during the period of absolutism, attached great importance to design and had a decisive influence on European furniture taste. A century later, English cabinet makers changed the seating. The most famous of them was Thomas Chippendale, who pierced the solid back of the chairs and made it lighter.
The classic seating furniture of the bourgeoisie in Germany in the 19th century was the Biedermeier chair, which was of high quality. The high upholstery of the seating furniture shows that the buyers attached great importance to convenience and comfort. The upholstery was mostly made of horsehair.
The backrest was mostly unpadded, which is primarily due to the stiff sitting posture at the time. It is possible that the unpadded backrests also caused the stiff sitting posture or even triggered it.
The pioneer of modernity - Thonet
Series factory production of chairs began around 1850. The Thonet brothers took on the pioneering role. Michael Thonet, the company's founder, made industrially manufactured mass products out of joiner's pieces. His new technique consisted of steam bending wood boiled in glue and using it to make bentwood furniture.
A new era in chair design began when Michael Thonet presented his first bentwood chair to the public. This Thonet chair made of beech wood with the type designation "No. 14" became a Viennese coffee house classic. The legendary seating furniture, which consists of six wooden parts, ten screws and two nuts, was built around 50 million times by 1930 alone.
It quickly became the epitome of the modern consumer article and stood for the connection between aesthetics and mass production. Thonet wanted the chair to appeal to as many consumers as possible.
In the worldwide branches of the furniture manufacturer Thonet, which stretched from Moscow to Chicago, up to 10,000 employees worked, producing 15 million chairs a year. The heirs of the Thonet brothers built their latest factory in 1889 in Frankenberg an der Eder, between Siegen and Kassel. The entire former corporate empire of the Thonets is now concentrated in this location.
The modern - cool aesthetics
The history of modern chair design begins with the red-blue chair by Gerrit Rietveld, who was a member of the famous Dutch designer group “De Stijl”. He traced the chair back to its geometric elements and thus created an icon of classical modernism.
In Germany, too, especially in the Bauhaus environment, furniture designers were very keen to experiment at the beginning of the 20th century. They created completely new shapes with unconventional materials. Marcel Breuer created the "Wassily Chair" in 1925. Breuer was the first to know how to bend tubular steel.
One of the most famous chairs by Marcel Breuer is the "B64 Cesca" cantilever chair, with which he also had his greatest commercial success. The idea of the cantilever chair, the cantilever chair without back legs, goes back to the Dutchman Mart Stam. But its first draft was not yet a cantilever chair because it was not springy.
Mies van der Rohe took up the idea of the chair without back legs in the "MR 10" model and developed it further. He led the two runners in an arc to the seat and used spring steel tubing - the first real cantilever chair was born.
Steel pipe soon became the most popular material among designers and architects because it exuded coolness, which was in keeping with the avant-garde zeitgeist. The designers of classical modernism aimed to build inexpensive furniture for everyone. But it would take decades before other parts of the population could become enthusiastic about the design of classical modernism.
New aesthetic from the USA - plastic is fantastic
In the United States, there was great public interest in organic and streamlined design as early as the 1940s. The designers there distanced themselves from the rectangular designs of the European avant-garde. A type of chair by Charles and Ray Eames emerged from a competition held by the "Museum of Modern Art" (MoMa) in New York and was to become a world-wide success.
It was a plastic seat shell. Because the seat shell could be produced industrially, the designer couple wanted to make aesthetically sophisticated chairs affordable for many people and thus raise the level of private facilities, especially after the Second World War. Charles and Ray Eames continued to develop the idea of this chair design, the "Organic Armchair", and created a series of shell chairs and armchairs.
They made use of the results of war research in the field of plastics for their designs. The plastics such as polyester were easy to dye and also were light in weight. Starting with the plastic seat shell, they built the first chair out of welded steel wires - the "DKR Wire Chair".
In the 1960s, German designers continued to develop the plastic chair. In 1964, the German architect and carpenter Helmut Bätzner designed the first stackable chair and made design history with it. Because his so-called "Bofinger chair" was the first plastic chair in the world that consisted of one piece and was ideally suited for mass production.
A specific die-casting process made it possible for the chair to be produced in just five minutes and to require next to no further treatment. The Bofinger chair was presented at the Cologne furniture fair in 1966 and served as a model for countless other plastic chairs.
For example for the "Aurora plastic chair", which can be found in almost all hardware stores today and which was sold most frequently worldwide. It is convenient, inexpensive and easily stackable. That still makes it extremely suitable for restaurants or gardens - even if many may already have had enough of it.
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