Last Updated on November 13, 2023 by bethrmartin
Designers have always been fascinated by chairs. Something about the simple act of sitting has inspired some of the most significant design minds throughout history to create masterpieces that still endure today.
It’s incredible how solving the creative problem of how someone sits has inspired some of the most diverse and fantastic furniture designs throughout time.
Personally, I have always been captivated by chairs, and they are typically one of the main elements I like to design a room around. I’m always finding fantastic vintage finds and promising my husband we will find a place to put them. There’s always a place for the perfect new lounge chair, right?
This post will look at the most iconic designer chairs of all time and take you on a journey through history. All the chairs on this list have significantly impacted the design world, from Charles and Ray Eames’ mid-century iconic lounge chair to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s sleek and timeless Barcelona chair.
So find your favorite chair, sit back, relax, and enjoy this journey through some of the most iconic designer chairs ever created!
What Are The Most Famous Chairs Of All Time?
- Tulip Chair
- Molded Plastic Side Chair
- Wishbone Chair
- Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
- Wassily Chair
- LCW Chair
- Emeco Navy Chair
- Panton Chair
- Egg Chair
- Bertoia Diamond Chair
- Cesca Chair
- Womb Chair
- Barcelona Chair
- Louis Ghost Chair
- CH07 Shell Lounge Chair
- Wiggle Chair
- Louis XIV Armchair
- Louis XV Armchair
- Louis XVI Armchair
- Groovy Chair
- Era Chair
- Butterfly Chair
- Red and Blue Chair
- Coconut Chair
- LC4 Chaise Lounge
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Eero Saarinen hated the visual clutter created when many chairs were paired together, so he crafted the refined base of the Tulip Chair. Crafted from molded fiberglass-coated plastic and available as an armchair or armless, this beauty looks stunning paired with the matching Tulip Table or as juxtaposed with a contrasting design.
Charles and Ray Eames constantly experimented with ways to strip away excess fluff in design, and the Molded Plastic Side Chair is no exception. This creation is a triumph in design history because they were so easy to replicate, durable, and stackable, and the thoughtful lines and proportions are still beautiful.
These chairs are available in various colors and look fabulous in home kitchens, elementary schools, or really, everywhere. It’s hard to find a mass-produced chair with more of a timeless style.
It’s hard to scroll through Instagram these days and not see a dining table with the elegant Wishbone Chairs by Hans Wegner. The steam-bent top construction and quintessential Y-framed back give this chair its signature shape.
The seat of the Wishbone Chair is hand-woven from paper cord, and the overall design is visually delicate and exceptionally stylish.
Designed by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller, the quintessential Eames lounge chair and ottoman was groundbreaking when unveiled in 1956. This mid-century classic has withstood the test of time and is still just as sought after today.
It’s no wonder why: the design is beautiful, practical, and comfortable. The Eames lounge chair and ottoman are made with a molded plywood frame reinforced by polished steel hardware for strength and durability. Leather cushions are found most often, but you can also find this beauty upholstered in other leather colors and fabric options.
Charles and Ray Eames worked perilously to streamline their design process, and their intent was to create furniture that was affordable for everyone. Unfortunately, the multiple materials and construction processes drive up this design’s price, making it unaffordable for most people today.
The popularity of this design has led to many reproductions on the market, and I have written a complete guide on choosing the best Eames Lounge replica for your home.
The Wassily Chair, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925, is like a sleek leather and chrome line drawing that has come to life. Considering the remarkably simple form, this chair is incredibly comfortable and is the epitome of Bauhaus cool. It also looks quite chic in the more relaxed canvas version.
Charles and Ray Eames wanted to create a chair that stripped away anything unnecessary and wanted to express their design through simply the most basic structure. They experimented by molding plywood, and the LCW Chair, and one of the most iconic chairs of all time, was born.
Charles and Ray Eames pushed the boundaries of what plywood could achieve with this organic and curvaceous design. Time Magazine called their creation “the chair of the century,” and this molded plywood innovation is still a sleek addition to any house today.
7. Emeco Navy Chair (1944)
The 1006 Navy Chair might seem ubiquitous now because it’s a typical chair in many restaurants, but it was initially designed in 1944 for the US Navy. It’s hand-crafted from brushed aluminum, making it lightweight, non-corrosive, fire-resistant, and practically indestructible.
It’s almost hard to believe that the Panton Chair was designed by Verner Panton in 1959 because it still looks futuristic today. His all-plastic invention was the first chair to master a cantilever form.
I used to work in an office that had these as chairs in the conference room. They were paired with a marble-topped tulip table and were effortlessly cool and comfortable even when meetings seemed neverending.
9. Egg Chair (1958)
The Egg Chair and its accompanying ottoman were created in 1958 by Arne Jacobsen. This timeless design is a masterpiece known for its distinctive shape, comfort, and versatility.
It is known for its unique shape, which resembles an eggshell, and sleek, sculptural silhouette. The chair’s high backrest and curved shape envelop the sitter, creating a sense of privacy and tranquility.
10. Bertoia Diamond Chair (1952)
The Bertoia Diamond Chair is a fantastic work of functional art created by Harry Bertoia. The chair features a distinctive diamond-shaped frame crafted from welded steel rods, carefully arranged in a geometric pattern.
The result is a sculptural masterpiece of wire mesh that is extremely comfortable whether or not you opt for the seat cover.
11. Cesca Chair (1928)
With its daring cantilever and unexpected mix of materials, the Cesca Chair by Marcel Breuer is a true modern classic. The caned seat, combined with the chrome tubular steel structure, is the perfect combo to elevate your dining table or as a desk chair in your stylish office.
These chairs might look simple, but they are known to be extremely comfortable, and the tube steel of a bicycle inspired their shape.
The Womb Chair was originally designed for Florence Knoll, who was looking for the most comfortable chair possible. She put Eero Saarinen to the task, and he created an innovative molded fiberglass sculptural shell with winged armrests and an ergonomic shape wrapped in foam.
The rest is history, and the Womb Chair has been a fixture of mid-century modern living ever since. If you aren’t ready to spend almost $7k on a new Womb Chair, then check out my post on the best replica options.
13. Barcelona Chair (1929)
The Barcelona Chair, created by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the German Pavilion in 1929, merges the world of luxury and the restraint of Bauhaus principles. Its distinctive “X” structure makes it easily recognizable, and it features a cushioned leather seat and backrest for ultimate comfort.
Fun fact – I had a professor in college who worked for Mies, so this chair will always be one of my favorites. If you are questioning my age now, I’m not ancient, but my kinda professor was!
14. Louis Ghost Chair (2002)
The Louis Ghost Chair by Philippe Starck is a contemporary and playful reinterpretation of the Louis XVI Armchair. Traditional lines make this armchair timeless, while the clear lucite construction gives this elegant furniture piece a cutting-edge twist.
It’s suitable indoors or outdoors, making it a versatile choice for a modern home.
15. CH07 Shell Lounge Chair (1963)
The CH07 Shell Lounge Chair, designed by Hans Wegner for furniture maker Carl Hansen, is impossibly elegant and draws you in with its curved silhouette. Each wooden bend is so well thought out, and the addition of the padding makes this an exceptionally comfortable chair.
Wegner may be best known for the Wishbone Chair, but the Shell Lounge is an exceptional piece of furniture.
16. Wiggle Chair (1972)
Known for breaking all the design rules and elevating common materials, Frank Gehry’s Wiggle Chair is constructed from corrugated cardboard. The playful curved shape allows for surprisingly comfortable seating and will surely be a standout piece in any contemporary house.
17. Louis XIV Armchair (Approx. 1660-1720)
Extravagant ornamentation, a rigid overall construction, and armrests that meet at the front of the seat are classic traits of Louis XIV armchairs. Structural stretchers typically cross below the seat, and the seat and back are generally upholstered. This style of furniture is called Baroque.
The ornamentation and overstuffed upholstery that are fundamental attributes of Louis XIV Chairs are what many modern designers were railing against in later design movements.
18. Louis XV Armchair (Approx. 1700-1750)
The Louis XV Armchair is considered in the Rococo movement, which means a more organic take on the fabrication and details. The back of the seat will typically have an oval form at the top, and the back will even have a slight angle intended for comfort, a significant improvement from the previous version!
19. Louis XVI Armchair (Approx. 1750-1800)
Louis XVI Chairs take their inspiration back to the Louis XIV Armchair, which is most likely a nod to the splendor of the past. Louis XIV famously built and lived at The Palace of Versailles, so he was remembered for having the most pomp and circumstance.
Armrests meet at the front of the seat, much like the Louis XIV version, but the details and carvings are somewhat simplified and are commonly based on classical motifs. The chair’s frame is usually geometric, and the legs are typically fluted.
20. Groovy Chair (1964)
The Groovy Chair by Pierre Paulin looks so current that it’s hard to believe it was designed in 1964. The boucle upholstery and sculptural curves are the perfect statement piece for a modern space.
21. Era Chair (1859)
Commonly known as the bentwood chair, the Era Chair by By Michael Thonet is the epitome of laidback chic. Often associated with Parisian cafes, these chairs have been handmade since 1859.
The bent wood’s lightweight assembly and organic curves were groundbreaking at the time, creating one of the most beloved chair designs today.
22. Butterfly Chair (1938)
The Butterfly Chair may remind you of your college dorm room, but the design history of this chair is actually quite sophisticated. This chair was originally designed in 1938 by three architects, Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, who worked for Le Corbusier’s studio.
This design’s massive commercial success and beautiful simplicity led to these chairs being replicated frequently on the mass market. Still, it’s hard to beat the relaxed style of the original chair in patinaed leather.
23. Red and Blue Chair (1918-1923)
Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld was designed as part of the Dutch art movement De Stijl, and it was one of the first works to make a form three-dimensional. This work was known for using striped-down construction, mostly primary colors, plus black and white. Piet Mondrian is another member of this group’s principals.
24. Coconut Chair (1956)
The Coconut Chair by George Nelson feels almost like a space-age creation. With an interior wrapped in colorful upholstery and a shell of polymer, this chair indeed looks like a part of a coconut.
I especially love this design with the checkered fabric for the ultimate mid-century dream.
25. LC4 Chaise Lounge (1928)
Le Corbusier viewed architecture as “living machines,” and he had similar ideas about furniture. Designed by Charlotte Perriand with Le Corbusier’s studio, the LC4 Chaise was considered the ultimate “relaxing machine.”
The chrome arc-shaped frame is supposed to float with your body, creating one of the most comfortable chairs possible. The upholstery is available in either cowhide or black leather, and the details are impeccable.
It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite chair, but if I ever have the perfect sculptural window, I would love to own this beauty in cowhide.
These classic chair designs are some of the most foundational pieces of furniture in history, and they are still found in many homes, offices, and spaces worldwide. A chair may seem like such a simple piece of furniture, but this simplicity can give the designer the purest freedom of expression.
If you want to learn more about the design history of chairs, there are many fantastic books on this subject. I highly recommend the Designers Guide to Furniture Styles for a general overview of styles over time and 1000 Chairs for a more specific look into some of the most famous chairs in history.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through time and maybe found a new favorite chair of your own! If you have any questions about this article, please never hesitate to reach out for any reason.