Design 101: 19 Iconic Chairs Everyone Should Know

Updated 09/01/19
illustrations of a scrolling series of design chairs
Stephanie DeAngelis

If lighting is the jewelry of a room, a statement chair is the designer handbag. Well designed and expertly crafted, chairs add polish to any room—just like a Chanel 2.55 would an outfit. Made of supple leather, chromium steel, or luxe velvet, these 19 modernist chairs have curves in all the right places and illustrate that when form meets function, beautiful things happen. Like a Hermès Kelly bag, a good modern chair is not a steal, rather it is an investment that will last a lifetime—and will never go out of style.

We took a hint from It-Girls Kourtney Kardashian and Jenni Kayne to pick out chairs for our dream ski chalets, our grand dining rooms, and our cozy family rooms. These design aficionados collect Pierre Jeanneret and Hans J. Wegner the way others collect Prada and Gucci. Just like iconic handbags, some are still in production, while others have to be hunted down at auctions and antique stores. Ready to invest in your own famous chair? Here are 19 of the most iconic chairs of the 20th century—aka the Birkin bags of home décor—all making huge waves in today's furniture market.

It-Girl Fan Fave

Line drawing of the Flag Halyard chair by Hans Wegner on an orange background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

The chair of choice for chic girls everywhere, the Flag Halyard chair put Hans Wegner on the map, alongside Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, for his mastery of chromium, an elemental metal used to harden steel. Jenni Kayne is a proud owner.

Hans J. Wegner Flag Halyard Chair
Hans J. Wegner Flag Halyard Chair $12,200
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Curves and Swerves

Line drawing of the Ro chair by Fritz Hansen on a red background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

The perfect wingback chair for Modern design lovers, the Ro Chair, or "tranquillity" chair in Danish, was created by Spanish designer Jaime Hayón in 2013 for the Danish furniture company, Republic of Fritz Hansen. It's an extra-wide 1.5-seater version that was made to follow the natural curvature of the human body.

Fritz Hansen Ro Chair
Fritz Hansen Ro Chair $4065
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Soft and Comfy

Line drawing of the Clam chair by Philip Arctander on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

With the growing popularity of shearling, Clam chairs are always popping up in home décor, but this iconic chair design dates back to 1940s Denmark. A lot of mystery surrounds this chair, as it was initially attributed to two other designers—Viggo Boesen and Martin Olsen—but it was later discovered to be the work of Philip Arctander.

Philip Arctander Clam Chair
Philip Arctander Clam Chair $14260
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Totally Tubular

Illustration of a blue Les Arcs chair by Charlotte Perriand on a peach background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Originally designed for the French ski resort of Les Arcs in 1967, this aptly-named chair—with its tubular chrome frame covered in cognac leather—is quite rare today. Its creator, architect/designer Charlotte Perriand, is one of the few women to have made an indelible mark on midcentury design.

Charlotte Perriand Pair of Vintage Les Arcs Chairs
Charlotte Perriand Pair of Vintage Les Arcs Chairs $3300
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Bohemian Rhapsody

Line drawing of the yellow Butterly chair by OX Denmarq on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Designed in 1938 in Buenos Aires by architects Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy, the Butterfly Chair is the ultimate icon for boho design lovers due to its sumptuous leather-and-iron simplicity. The three Le Corbusier studio alums created a design so pervasive that today, many are hard-pressed to cite its South American origins. It's now widely reproduced by Knoll and used both indoors and out.

OX Denmarq Trifolium Chair
OX Denmarq Trifolium Chair $1280
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Roundly Satisfying

Line drawing of the Circle chair by Hans Wegner on a chartreuse background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Designed by Hans J. Wegner, the Circle Chair is a testament to expert craftsmanship. The Danish joinery workshop PP Møbler initiated the production of this now-famous chair in 1986, and the design is still made-to-order today due to its extremely intricate production process. It's also the perfect addition to Tish and Billy Ray Cyrus' L.A. home.

Hans Wegner PP130 Circle Chair
Hans Wegner PP130 Circle Chair $11800
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Utterly Enveloping

Line drawing of a brown Womb chair by Eero Saarinen on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

One of the most iconic chairs in midcentury design, the Womb Chair was born in 1948, when American designer Florence Knoll challenged her good friend Eero Saarinen to design "a chair that was like a basket full of pillows—something she could really curl up in." Mission accomplished. 

Eero Saarinen Womb Chair
Eero Saarinen Womb Chair $8500
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Rubber Soul

Line drawing of a green Lady chair by Marco Zanuso on an orange background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

In the late-1940s, Italian rubber manufacturer Pirelli tapped designer Marco Zanuso to brainstorm ways to showcase its new foam-rubber product. The result? Zanuso's Lady Chair. Comprised of a comfy foam-rubber seat and short metal legs—and first manufactured in 1951 by Arflex, Pirelli's furniture division—this effeminate chair is sometimes upholstered in luxury jewel-toned fabric.

Marco Zanuso Lady Chair
Marco Zanuso Lady Chair $6700
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Whets Your Beak

Line drawing of a lilac Pelican chair by Finn Juhl on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Designed by Danish architect, Finn Juhl, in 1940, the Pelican Chair was one of the most avant-garde furniture examples of its time. The Pelican's curvy, organic lines demonstrate Juhl's philosophy that "A chair is not just a product of decorative art in a space; it is a form and a space in itself."

Finn Juhl Pelican Chair
Finn Juhl Pelican Chair $6500
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Steel Magnolia

Line drawing of the Paulsitano Armchair by Paulo Mendes da Rocha on a red background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

In 1957, Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha developed his iconic Paulistano Armchair to help furnish his design opus, the Paulistano Athletic Club in São Paulo. Its frame is composed of 17 feet of continuous solid steel—welded in only one spot—and wrapped in a supple sling of leather hide.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha Paulistano Arm Chair
Paulo Mendes da Rocha Paulistano Arm Chair $2300
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Midcentury Icon

Line drawing of a black Eames Lounge chair on a peach background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

The 1956 Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman need no introduction. Perhaps the most iconic furniture design of the 20th Century—and representing the ultimate in masculine comfort—the set was developed using a proprietary molded-plywood technology developed in the 1940s by the American-designer sweethearts, Charles and Ray Eames.

Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman
Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman $7300
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A Passage to India

Line drawing of the Office chair by Pierre Jeanneret on a chartreuse background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Although the teak-and-cane Office Chair (often called the Chandigarh Chair) was meant to be reproduced in a series of thousands to seat civil servants in 1950s India, Pierre Jeanneret's famous chair design is anything but austere. Today, its sturdy frame and forgiving cane seat and chair back are so sought after that the chair routinely sees upwards of $15,000 at auction. Kourtney Kardashian is a die-hard fan and owns at least 12 of these masterpieces.

Pierre Jeanneret Office Chair
Pierre Jeanneret Office Chair $10400
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Babe in the Wood

Line drawing of an orange Eames Molded Plywood chair on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

The Eames Lounge Chair Wood, or the LCW as it's commonly known today, signaled the humble beginning of an entire molded-plywood movement developed by American husband-and-wife team, Charles and Ray Eames. The dynamic duo's LCW Chair was born in 1946—a result of experimentation in molding plywood (in their own apartment!) with what they affectionately dubbed the “Kazam! Machine.”

Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair
Eames Molded Plywood Lounge Chair $1600
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Wicker Dream

Line drawing of the PK20 chair by Fritz Hansen on a pink background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

If the PK20 Easy Chair is good enough for the coolest shoppable NYC apartment, The Whitespace, it's good enough for us. Its cantilevered steel frame and continuous wicker seat—a lower-slung version of Mies van der Rohe's 1927 MR Chair, and arguably more comfortable—was created by Danish cabinetmaker, Poul Kjærholm, and produced by Fritz Hansen in 1967.

Fritz Hansen PK20 Chair
Fritz Hansen PK20 Chair $9600
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Opulent and Organic

Line drawing of a black Chieftain chair by Finn Juhl on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Designed in 1949, Finn Juhl's Chieftain Chair is considered one of the most important pieces to grace the Danish Modern movement of 1950s America. Organic and opulent in style, the Chieftain expresses Juhl's motivation to buck tradition and create a chair that transcended Denmark's penchant for producing purely functional furniture at that time.

Finn Juhl Chieftain Chair
Finn Juhl Chieftain Chair $14300
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Short and Stable

Line drawing of the Shell chair by Hans Wegner on a pink background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Designed in 1963 by Hans J. Wegner, this three-legged bent plywood chair had a short-lived existence until its 1990s revival and subsequent relaunch by Carl Hansen & Søn.

Carl Hansen & Søn Wegner CH07 Shell Chair
Carl Hansen & Søn Wegner CH07 Shell Chair $3600
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Spanish Influence

Line drawing of a yellow Hunting chair by Borge Mogensen on a blue background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

In 1950—to jibe with the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers Guild's autumn exhibition theme of "hunting lodge"—Børge Mogensen created the Hunting Chair, composed of solid wood and saddle leather and inspired by medieval Spanish furniture. After its success, Mogensen used adjustable leather straps on other designs, namely, the equally-iconic (albeit similar) Spanish chair he designed in 1958.

Børge Mogensen Hunting Chair
Børge Mogensen Hunting Chair $6900
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Beetle Mania

Line drawing of the Beetle Lounge chair by GamFratesi on a peach background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

GamFratesi Studio—a cooperative established in 2006 by Danish architect Stine Gam and Italian architect Enrico Fratesi— created the Beetle Lounge Chair for husband-and-wife duo Gubi and Lisbeth Larson. It's an upholstered, contemporary chair reminiscent of a sleek beetle, and is based on GamFratesi's "fascination [with] how the external shell supports and protects the creature's body."

Gubi Beetle Lounge Chair
Gubi Beetle Lounge Chair $2060
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Good Egg

Line drawing of an orange Shell chair by Arne Jacobsen on a red background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

Initially commissioned for the lobby and reception areas inside Copenhagen's Royal Hotel in 1958, Arne Jacobsen's iconic Egg Chair has remained a steadfast classic and continues to be a must-have for design mavens. Jacobsen's innovative, never-before-seen foam inner shell was revolutionary for its time.

Fritz Hansen Egg Chair
Fritz Hansen Egg Chair $18900
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Can you name the chairs below? Click through the gallery above to find out—and pin this guide for future reference. 

A vertical hand-drawn illustration of 19 of the most iconic chairs in history with a peach background.
Stephanie DeAngelis

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