Two hundred years ago, chairs were considered a luxury, with people in the middle classes sitting on stools or benches – till the advent of industrial production in 19th century made it accessible to all.
Today, chairs are such an everyday item, that most of us hardly give it a second thought after we’ve purchased them. Before buying them, the likely considerations centred on the designers and their signature style, the level of comfort, a chair’s aesthetics – and probably nothing else.
Now, you have the opportunity to learn about the history of this amazing piece of furniture, and realise just how it relates to societal changes and how far it has come.
Vitra is releasing a Heinz Butler-directed documentary, Chair Times, for free during this time. The fascinating film covers 125 objects from the Collection of the Vitra Design Museum, and charts the course of seats from 1807 to the latest designs produced on 3-D printers, via stories shared by experts in the field, including architects, curators and designers Hella Jongerius, Antonio Citterio and Ronan Bouroullec.
You might even find that it holds a personal relevance for you (perhaps you own some of the chairs featured), as I did.
In possession of four Michael Thonet chairs for years, I discovered interesting facts about the designer: Thonet had sold 20 million chairs by 1900, and his company was probably one of the first MNCs. In his time, his designs made of bent wood weren’t limited just to regular chairs, but covered such a diverse range of seating options including wheelchairs, children’s chairs and even bidets. His designs made their way into private dwellings, and reflected societal development in the 19th century.
The documentary’s guide, Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman emeritus of Vitra, puts it best. He says: “Chairs are important historical artefacts. They can represent the fashion and ethos of a particular moment in time or stand for an epochal idea.
“They are portraits of their users and reflect the production techniques with which they were created. You can recognise and understand an era – its social structures, its materials, techniques and fashions – by its chairs. I would go as far as to say that no other everyday object is so multi-faceted.”
Originally published in The Peak.