To the untrained eye, a chair is just a chair. As the ultimate place to kick back and relax after a long day, a chair is often associated with comfort. But, the truth is, a really good chair has a permanent spot in design history. Over the past few decades — and sometimes even centuries — a designer has created a seat that's so striking that it changes how we decorate our spaces. Suddenly, a chair is more than a chair; it's a status symbol.
Want to enhance your design knowledge? We're breaking down the 25 most iconic chair designs of all time. Whether you're discovering these styles for the very first time or learning something new about your favorite "it" chair, one thing's for sure: A simple chair has a lot to offer.
Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
What better place to start than with the Eames Lounge Chair? Designed in 1956 by duo Charles and Ray Eames, this sleek style has been regarded as "a special refuge from the strains of modern living." The plush, leather-clad cushioning and molded wood frame offer unparalleled comfort, while accompanying ottoman makes this the perfect place to lounge. But, did you know the Eames drew inspiration from a first baseman's worn-in mitt? Fast-forward 65 years, and this pick continues to be the grand slam of chairs.
Ming Dynasty Chairs
Turns out, politics can have a major impact on design history. When the Ming dynasty ruled China from 1368 to 1644, the country created well-appointed pieces now known as Ming Dynasty furniture. Known for its simple lines and subtle curves, this historic chair style can transcend time and trends.
Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair
Why stop at two chairs when the Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair basically defines midcentury modernism? Constructed in the 1950s, Eames' game-changing molded shell proves that chairs could be simple, sculptural, and mass-produced. (While that might seem like a no-brainer now, it was a huge realization back then.) Since then, the Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair has been reimagined in sustainable materials.
Louis XIV Chair
As the mastermind behind the Palace of Versailles, it's safe to say Louis XIV is known for his opulent edge. But, it turns out that the former king of France also has a great eye for chairs. Known for its high back, plush upholstery, and ornate details, the Louis XIV chair continues to be the epitome of old-school elegance.
Turns out, Ming Dynasty furniture is so influential that actually inspired another iconic chair design. When creating the iconic Wishbone Chair in 1944, Hans Wegner was inspired by a painting of Danish merchants in Ming Chairs. Since then, it's become a mainstay in stylish dining rooms and offices alike. The Wishbone Chair might look simple, but it actually requires over 100 manufacturing steps.
When Eero Saarinen designed the now-famous Pedestal Collection in 1957, he wanted to create furniture that looked good from every angle. Or, in his words, find a solution to the "ugly, confusing, unrestful world" underneath tables and chairs. The designer traded in traditional legs for a sleek, tulip-like base, and the rest was history.
Eames LCW Chair
As two of the most influential designers of all time, it's not too surprising that Charles and Ray Eames have more than one chair on this list. The duo revolutionized the chair world with the LCW Chair, which was made with heat, a bicycle pump, and a machine that molded plywood. This concept was so revolutionary in 1946 that Time called it one of the best designs of the 20th century.
In our humble opinion, Verner Panton's eponymous chair is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only is it incredibly chic, but it's also made with an easy-to-clean polypropylene. Oh, and did we mention this striking setup is the first single-material chair to be made? Mic drop.
Louis Ghost Chair
For an updated take on France's old-school elegance, reach for the Louis Ghost Chair. Inspired by Louis XVI armchair, the cousin to the aforementioned Louis XIV style, designer Philippe Starck reimagined this fancy silhouette in a single-piece injection-molded transparent polycarbonate. The result? The perfect cross between old and new.
Take a walk down memory lane — in the chicest way possible, naturally — with Eero Aarnio's Ball Chair. This unapologetically mod style debuted at the Cologne Furniture Fair in 1966, and has been a design mainstay ever since.
While Emeco's Navy Chair was first built to be used on submarines back in 1944, it has become a welcomed addition to any room of the house. As if this option's sleek design isn't appealing enough, you'll be blown away by the intense 77-step process it takes to build this chair. According to Emeco, its craftsmen even hand forms and welds soft, recyclable aluminum.
Anyone who has a "more is more" approach to design will find a lot to love about the Yoruba Chair. Originally made for the kings and queens of an African tribe called Yoruba, these statement-making seats are embellished in thousands of tiny glass beads. If that's not impressive enough, this chair can take up to 14 weeks to be completed.
Cane and rattan might seem like a relatively new trend, but as Marcel Breuer’s Cesca Chair proves, woven wares have been all the rage since 1928. The designer offset the breeziness of the cane and wooden materials with a tubular, steel frame. (Fun fact: This chair was named after Breuer's daughter, Francesca.)
Of course, Breuer is best known for the Wassily Chair, which he designed in 1925. Spotted everywhere from design museums to television shows like Frasier, this option is considered to be the first bent tubular steel chair design.
Jeanneret Office Floating Armchair
Want to spruce up your home office? Pierre Jeanneret's Office Floating Armchair masters the work-life balance. The designer originally created this chair for the Chandigarh Administrative Buildings in India back in the 1950s, but have since gained mainstream appeal.
Believe it or not, Arne Jacobsen's Ant Chair has a lot more to offer than good looks. With a waterfall edges and slightly curved seat, this option was actually designed with your body's needs in mind. No wonder why it's been an "it" chair for nearly 70 years!
Between the strategically placed cushions to the steel wire rod construction, Warren Platner's eponymous chair is comfortable and chic in equal measure. This iconic design might give off an effortless vibe, but each chair requires up to 1,000 welds.
Did you know designer Arne Jacobsen perfected the Egg Chair's innovative silhouette by experimenting with wire and plaster in his garage? Since then, this sleek style has become the crown jewel of Scandinavian design.
Convinced that iconic chair designs can't be comfortable? Let us introduce you to the Womb Chair. When tasked to design this chair for Florence Knoll in 1948, Eero Saarinen wanted to create "a chair that was like a basket full of pillows." Mission accomplished.
LC3 Grand Modele Armchair
Speaking of comfort, you'll love the LC3 Grand Modele Armchair, which was Cassina's response to the typical club chair. Built in 1928, this option's steel frame is adorned with plush cushions, making you feel like you're sitting on cloud nine.
Butterfly chairs might be a dorm room essential these days, but let's not forget that Knoll put it on the map back in the day. Though the chair was originally designed by Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan & Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy in 1938, this chair was so popular that Hans Knoll included it in his eponymous catalogue from 1947 to 1951.
There's a reason why Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's chair has been a crowd-pleaser since 1929. With boxy cushions, eye-catching tufting, and a sleek frame, this chair exudes modern elegance. While the Barcelona Chair might look simple, it's actually upholstered with 40 individual panels.
Hans Wegner has designed almost 500 chairs over the course of his career, but the Papa Bear is a definite favorite. One critic likened the model's stretched out arms to "great bear paws embracing you from behind."
Leave it to Herman Miller to create the most iconic office chair. In 1994, the company tapped Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick to design the Aeron, a "human-centered" chair. This style has been bridging the gap between form and function for 25 years, thanks to its ergonomic construction and sleek silhouette.
Forum Rocking Recliner
Of course, we couldn't have a conversation about iconic chair designs without mentioning the La-Z-Boy's bestseller, the Forum Rocking Recliner. Immortalized in Joey and Chandler's apartment on Friends, this moving, shaking style is designed with comfort in mind. Go ahead, kick back and relax.
Sotheby's. "The Age of Elegance: Ming Dynasty Furniture." September 25, 2020