Modern design has an alluring appeal in its perfect blend of aesthetics and functionality. It brought about a new way of observing and creating every objects. The famous modernist mantra of “form follows function” meant that the functionality of a piece preceded over the aesthetics of a design. A stark contrast to the preceding eras of lavish and extravagant Victorian and Edwardian times whereby adornments alone were the determinant of a praise worthy design. The mark of a truly modern design would be susceptible to mass production, devoid of color and bear no superfluous details.
The advancement of the manufacturing processes also brought about unprecedented change. As the result of the Industrial Revolution materials such as fibre glass, plywood, iron and steel as building materials were introduced for the first time and changed the landscape of building and furniture production forever. It extended the creativity and the structural possibilities of objects that would later materialize.
Many architects lent their trade mastery to creating every day furnishings. The most dedicated advocates, such as the prolific Frank Llyod Wright who most famously designed the New York Guggenheim, often created his own furniture pieces to be housed within his architecture. It is rumoured that during his lifetime, he would conduct random checks to see if patrons of his design continued utility of his furniture. It illustrates the pivotal role home furnishing played during the bloom of modern architecture.
The combination of engineering milestone and newfound design philosophy produced furniture of unchartered innovative territory. What may appear to be a very ordinary piece of furniture now, was ground breaking and novel at the time. A plethora of modern chair designs were born during the period and we have not looked at chair design the same way since. Here are some of the priciest and most enviable of the lot.
10 Shell Chair - $3,245
You have probably come across this chair at some point in your life either in a furniture store or some kind of modern display. What you may not have realized upon first glance, is that this chair is three-legged and that it costs $3,245. Composed in bent plywood for flexibility, it is sometimes nicknamed the “smiling chair” for its up curved wings. The designer, Hans J. Wegner, who launched this piece in 1963 wanted to create chairs that were "beautiful from all sides and angles" and indeed they is.
9 Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman - $4,499
Arguably one of the most iconic piece of furniture by the quintessential American modernist designer couple – Charles and Ray Eames. They were known for their pioneering ways in incorporating the usage of plastic, fibre glass and meshed wires in their furniture design. The starting point for the chair design was to build "the warm receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt." The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman was created in 1956 and continues today to uphold the quintessential mid-century aesthetic.
8 Nelson Coconut Lounge Chair - $4,499
George Nelson was the director of design at the famed Herman Miller furniture manufacturer for 27 years of his career. When he designed the coconut chair, it was as the name suggests, inspired by the shape of a sliced coconut shell. Its simplistic yet functional design has gained widespread popularity over the years and remains a symbol of modernity till this day. In addition to home use, it is resident to many museums around the world as art pieces. It is constructed with a single piece of foam and holstered in premium leather for maximum shape and comfort free from restrictions.
7 Oculus Chair - $5,265
The same designer who designed the Shell Chair designed this fun looking rotund piece of furniture that will cost you $5,265. Hans J. Wegner’s early training of carpentry and architecture helped form his mastery at furniture design. The arm chair was actually designed in 1960 but did not go into production for consumer purchase till 2010. It is rumored that he designed more than 400 pieces of furniture over the course of his career but not every creation was materialized.
6 Barcelona Chair - $5,271
The award winning Barcelona chair is one of those symbolic chairs of modernism that has been reproduced and imitated many times over. Its original manufacturer, trademark owned still to this day, is the American manufacturer Knoll. The chair was originally created in 1929 by the architectural master, Mies van der Rohe, for the King and Queen of Spain at an international exhibition based in Barcelona (hence the name). The chair is prized not only for its design, but its unparalleled craftsmanship and impeccable detail.
5 Platner Lounge Chair - $5,514
This tulip shaped chair created in 1966 is another design ingenuity manufactured by American manufacturer Knoll. Platner used wires that are finished in nickel with a coating of protective lacquer and the chair base is created in fibre glass shell that is then moulded with customized latex foam cushion. The final result is more of a wired sculpture than chair that is decorative yet functional. To complete the collection, there is another matching arm chair, a stool and coffee table framed in the same wiring.
4 Bertoia Asymmetric Chaise - $6,956
What started out as experimental art in welding metal wires in 1952 materialized into a real functional piece. Henry Bertoia is the artist and designer who introduced the most of the widely recognizable wired chairs to the masses. You will often see his work in modern décor homes and magazines. His chairs are more like sculptures than furniture. As the designer said, “"if you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture”. The Bertoia Asymmetric Chaise is built with welded steel rods and finished in polished chrome for maximum strength and comfort.
3 Gehry Power Play Club Chair - $8,077
Frank Gehry is no stranger to the world of architecture. Known as one of the most prominent architects of our time, you are most likely to have encountered his work through the undulating steel of Los Angeles Disney Concert Hall, the steel ribbon structured Guggenheim in Bilbao or his plans to revamp the Facebook headquarters in California. It comes as no surprise that he lends the same lyricism to his chairs as he does to his buildings. In the early 90's, Gehry collaborated with the furniture manufacturer Knoll to produce furniture that showcased the strength of bent maple strips by artfully weaving a creation that came to be known as the award winning Gehry Power Play Club Chair. Each chair is stamped with the Knoll production logo, the manufactured date and Gehry’s signature.
2 Chieftains Chair - $13,900
Even without revealing its name, it looks exactly like its name suggests: regal and authoritative. Simple in structure and tweaked in details, the designer Finn Juhl created an exquisite yet powerful mid-century influenced seating in tweak and walnut. The chair was initially inspired by shapes of weaponry and exhibited in 1949 at a Copenhagen design fair. It was named the King’s chair by the media after King Frederick IX sat in it during the exhibition but Juhl, later renamed it the Chieftains.
1 Egg Chair - $17,060
Arne Jacobsen designed everything from wallpaper, silverware to textiles but the egg chair is the one design that will be remembered by most. The design was conceived for the lobby of the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen in 1958. It would then go on to become one of the most famous Danish furniture designs. The chair is succinctly named for its blatant resemblance of the egg shape. The ergonomic design allows for enveloped comfort and partial privacy while seated offering aesthetics and function. Its exclusivity and limited production is partly due to the difficulty of production.