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
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.
Curves and Swerves
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.
Soft and Comfy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whets Your Beak
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."
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.
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.
A Passage to India
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.
Babe in the Wood
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.”
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.
Opulent and Organic
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.
Short and Stable
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.
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.
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."
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.
Can you name the chairs below? Click through the gallery above to find out—and pin this guide for future reference.