With both a clear purpose and an endless capacity for reinvention, the chair is an ideal medium upon which a designer might experiment, invent, or tease out a new technique. So what have been some of the most innovative developments in recent years?
Halo Chair by Michael Sodeau
Designers have always experimented with the chair’s material form, using wood, metal, plastic, fabric, and new materials as they emerge. Hypetex, for example, is a lightweight carbon fibre material developed by Formula One engineers following seven years of research. The Hypetex brand collaborated with designer Michael Sodeau to create the limited-edition Halo chair (which debuted at London Design Festival 2014), an uncluttered yet dramatic piece with a large, circular back. “The design follows the modernist rules of form and function,” says Sodeau, “juxtaposed with the decorative aesthetic given by the material.”
Due to its delicacy, glass may seem an unexpected medium; yet recent collections for Glas Italia have proved it both versatile and elegant. Merci Bob (2009) – a collection of chairs by the Naples-born Elena Cutolo – is bright and beautiful, with its simple glued-glass components recalling the clear panes of a window. I-Beam (2010) – a chaise lounge by Jean-Marie Massaud – takes an opposite tone, using smoked glass to evoke the dark lustre of polished obsidian.
Yet if glass seems an unusual choice of material, then Korean designer Seung jin Yang’s Blowing Series (2015) might seem even stranger. Made of party balloons coated in a glossy epoxy resin, these playful stools, ottomans and armchairs bring back memories of childhood, and resemble the work of contemporary pop artists such as Jeff Koons.
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Poetic Furniture by Demeter Fogarasi
Thomas Heatherwick stormed the world of seating with his aluminium Extrusion benches in 2009. Extrusion is a process of squeezing metal through a shaped hole, and the studio spent 16 years searching for a machine capable of extruding large objects. The process resulted in a striking organic form that perfectly captures the duality of metal as both malleable and solid.
LA-based Carlo Aiello’s award-winning Parabola Chair (2013) also cuts a high-impact silhouette by taking the form of a hyperbolic parabola (a continuous surface that curves in two directions). The chair is “simple and porous yet highly sculptural,” says the designer, who carefully calibrated the curvature of the chair to “hold the body in the best position.”
Up-and-coming Hungarian designer Demeter Fogarasi pushed the boundaries of form with his Frozen Textile chair (2015). Working with biodegradable plastic and natural textiles, his chair has the appearance of soft fabric blown by wind, yet is actually solid. “The idea was to create concept furniture, which is concerned with the poetic nature of the material,” says the designer.
Rosa Paltrona by Kurt Merki Jr.
The chair is a useful object, and finding a way to blend functionality with beauty is part of the designer’s challenge. The Offset chair (2015) from Tokyo-based Drill Design has succeeded in combining the unthinkable: a classic Windsor chair with a stacking stool. Using Japanese techniques of wood bending, the chair is formed of two interlocking elements – a stool base and a Windsor back – that strengthen one another and allow for easy stacking.
French designer Patrick Norguet’s Colander chair (2015), for Italian brand Kristalia, takes its functional cues from the kitchen. The chair’s perforated skin can drain excess water easily, making it ideal for everyday outdoor use.
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A chair’s job is also to relax and soothe the sitter, and the ROSA Poltrona (2012) by Ghanaian-born, Milan-based designer Kurt Merki Jr does this by creating a sense of seclusion. The chair’s oversized wings are inspired by the petals of a rose, and cocoon the sitter from noise and distraction with acoustic-absorbing foam and fabric.