9 Iconic Dining Chairs You Should Know By Name


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Jan 11, 2024

9 Iconic Dining Chairs You Should Know By Name

By Hannah Martin All products featured on Architectural Digest are independently

By Hannah Martin

All products featured on Architectural Digest are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

You know what makes great dinner party conversation? Dining chairs. Okay, maybe we’re just furniture nerds, but, seriously, the more you learn about them, the more you realize how connected they are to history at large. Plus a fun chair fact is a very reliable icebreaker—particularly if you’re sitting on the hot seat in question. Here we present the SparkNotes, if you will, for nine of the most iconic dining chairs you’ve probably already laid eyes on. One was designed as low-cost seating for a meeting with NASA. Another was designed for government workers in a utopian community in India—and heaped into trash piles for decades until its recent resurgence in interest. Read on to learn more chair trivia and where to buy them, if you feel so inclined.

In this Adelaide, Australia home, a wood dining table surrounded by Thonet chairs links the kitchen and living space.

You’ve definitely clocked this chair at a local café. But did you know today's most recognizable restaurant seat was designed way back in 1859? Often called Chair No. 14, after its catalog label on a sheet of designs, it's the brainchild of German-Austrian cabinet maker Michael Thonet, who patented a technique of bending wood using steam. The super-simple design—two bentwood pieces formed the back and legs, which were attached, along with two front legs, to a cane seat frame—eliminated time-consuming hand carving, lending itself to mass production. And it's been produced nonstop ever since. Back in the day one went for just three gulden—roughly the same price as three dozen eggs. Today a new one costs around $395 at DWR.

Marcel Breuer's Cesca chairs surround an Eero Saarinen Tulip table in musicians Ben Garrett and Rae Morris' London townhouse.

The cantilever—a chair shaped like a 5 without the top line—was the most avant garde seat silhouette in the late 1920s. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had just debuted the MR side chair—you’ve seen it too—in 1927. And Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer, who had already made his fair share of trendy, tubular steel furniture (you might also know his Wassily chair), wanted to try his hand at the stylish swoop. He came up with his own rendition—named the Cesca (after his daughter) or the B32, depending on who you ask—in 1928 and pitched it to producer Gebrüder Thonet (Knoll picked up production in 1968). The design, with the curving shapes of bicycle handlebars, combined the architect's beloved tubular steel with the manufacturer's hallmarks—bentwood and cane—and quickly became a staple at dinner tables around Europe and America. From $1,065 via Knoll.

A pair of vintage Gerrit Rietveld Zig-Zag chairs in a Manhattan pied-à-terre by Neal Beckstedt. The painting is by Hsiao Chin.

In the early 1930s, department store Metz & Co. asked Gerrit Rietveld to design a chair for mass production. The Dutch architect agreed, proposing a Z-shaped perch made from four slices of sturdy elm supported by dovetail joints and metal screws. It was no standard seat but, to everyone's surprise, the armless, legless, cantilevered form—a mere sliver in profile—was simultaneously comfortable and sturdy. "It is not a chair but a designer's joke," Gerrit famously said of his Zig-Zag , a favorite of creatives like the artist Donald Judd (more on him shortly), and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. From $1,840 via Cassina.

Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs surround an RH dining table in the Fire Island Pines cottage of Gabe Brotman and Thomas Gensemer.

By Hannah Starauschek

By Erika Owen

By Eva Morell

In the 1940s, a young Danish designer named Hans Wegner was making sleek forms inspired by the minimal designs of China's Ming dynasty. It was a radical look for the time, but when Holger Hansen, son of cabinetmaker Carl Hansen, met Hans, the family-run company decided to take a chance on the youngster, commissioning a few designs. One chair, which some say was meant to compete with that ubiquitous Thonet café chair, became a fan favorite: the CH24, a.k.a. the Wishbone Chair . With an ultra-simple hardwood silhouette that eliminated all nonessential material, and a seat made from paper, spun to look like a rope (a Swedish invention during wartime, when sisal was scarce), the chair followed Hans's self-described "process of purification and simplification." Today, it's carried at DWR from $635.

In the open kitchen of Bjarke Ingels' Copenhagen houseboat, a rainbow of fiberglass Eames chairs by Vitra gather round a dining table is by Luca Cipelletti.

If you know any chair by name, it's likely the Eames chair with its swooping shell-shaped seat perched on metal legs. Designed by husband-and-wife American design stars, Charles and Ray Eames, the prototype for this chair was unveiled in MoMA's 1948 International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design and began producing it in 1950, when it made history as the first mass produced plastic chair. The original was made of fiberglass, but in the decades since, as it pulled up to dining tables and desks around the world, it underwent various material updates: recyclable, matte-looking polypropylene, monomer-free fiberglass (a more eco-friendly version), and the latest, which debuts this month, a version made with 100% recycled plastic. While Eames knockoffs are a dime a dozen, the real deal is sold via Herman Miller from $295.

In the dining area of Jenni Kayne's Los Angeles family home Pierre Jeanneret chairs from Galerie Half surround an oak table from Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter.

By Hannah Starauschek

By Erika Owen

By Eva Morell

Meet the seat beloved by serious collectors and celebs alike (Kourtney Kardashian owns at least 12, and Ellen Pompeo's daughter has a miniature one): the Chandigarh chair. Designed in the 1950s by Pierre Jeanneret as municipal seating for Chandigarh—the utopian city designed by his cousin, architect Le Corbusier—the simple teak-and-cane chair produced by the thousands has become the ultimate trophy chair. However, that was not the case in Chandigarh, when, as people gravitated to more contemporary designs, discarded Jeanneret chairs piled up across the city—from the roof of the High Court to the balconies of administrative buildings. Many were sold as scrap at local auctions for a few rupees. Be careful buying these on the secondary market (they start around $4,000 on 1stdibs.com) as many are inauthentic, or "restored" with little original remnants. Not surprisingly, unauthorized reproductions abound.

In Justina Blakeney's L.A. home, Verner Panton chairs, heirlooms from Justina's grandparents, are pulled up to a 1980s travertine table.

This swooping icon was inspired by a new world power that would change the way people lived: plastic. Experimental Danish designer Verner Panton—fascinated with the progressive polymer that could be molded into any shape and mass-produced—set his sights on a fantasy: A chair made in one piece. The challenge? Finding someone who could produce it. "15 to 20 manufacturers have tried it but have all rejected the project for different reasons," Verner told Rolf Fehlbaum, of Swiss manufacturer Vitra, in 1963. They agreed to take on the task. Four years and ten prototypes later, a limited run of what became known as the Panton chair—a canti­levered seat in laminated, fiberglass-reinforced polyester—was debuted at the Cologne Furniture Fair. Though the chair became an immediate icon, its composition was never static. Verner and Vitra tirelessly experimented with new materials in pursuit of utmost durability and simplicity of production, oscillating from polyurethane foam to polystyrene (it was thinner but required ribs under the seat for support), back to polyurethane foam, and finally to today's most popular rendition—a flexible, durable, but more matte polypropylene, which hit the market in 1999, just a year after Verner's death. A new polypropylene version goes for $310; the polyurethane foam costs $1,675.

Wiggle chairs by Frank Gehry in the London living room of Cabana magazine founder Martina Mondadori.

By Hannah Starauschek

By Erika Owen

By Eva Morell

Say what you want about the wiggle trend, architect Frank Gehry was seriously ahead of the curve. When a group of artists and scientists from NASA called a meeting at artist Robert Irwin's studio in 1969, they asked Gehry to give the place a quick makeover. Given a shoestring budget, Gehry came up with something simple yet subtly futuristic: seating made from stacks of cardboard, a humble material he kept around for making models. "I discovered that by alternating the direction of layers of corrugations, the finished board had enough strength to support a small car and [had] a uniform, velvety texture on all four sides," he told The Christian Science Monitor in 1972. "I found I could cut these edge-board sections into geometrical forms or bend them into sculptural ribbon-candy folds." It was also durable, needed no finishing, and had a noise-canceling quality that reportedly cut sound volume in half. Soon, with Irwin's help, Frank made a file cabinet and reception desk for his office, which led to the Easy Edges series of shelves, side tables, and, its enduring claim to fame, the Wiggle Side Chair, a narrow slab bent into an S-shaped seat. While the press and public went wild for what The New York Times Magazine deemed "paper furniture for penny pinchers," Frank worried its popularity would eclipse his architecture, so he stopped production of Easy Edges in 1973 and quit cardboard furniture altogether by 1982, eventually ceding rights to Vitra, where the Wiggle is made today and sold for $1,175.

At a Minnesota house, a Donald Judd Desk 33 and Chair 84 face Lake Minnetonka.

Now that you’ve learned about Donald Judd from Kim Kardashian, you should probably familiarize yourself with his 84 chair, which most people just call the Judd chair. This one originated in 1982 in the remote desert town of Marfa, Texas. The artist's daughter and son, Rainer and Flavin Judd, had just moved into rooms of their own. Don, as they call him, made each of them a desk, but, as Flavin told AD in 2020, "Once you have a desk, you need a chair—a place to sit and do your homework." In no time, their father sketched one (actually, there were 10 variations) and took the plans to a carpenter to have seats hewn in pine from a lumberyard.

The design was super simple, made entirely from flat pine boards. But in that cubic volume beneath the seat, the artist experimented: In one version he placed a shelf, in another a slanting board; another was solid on the front but recessed on the sides. Wondering about the name? It was basically an afterthought—in 1993, when the chairs were numbered in an exhibition catalog for the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, it was deemed Chair 84. While the seat might bear some resemblance to his sculptures, Don was always clear: This was a chair, not art. "A work of art exists as itself," he wrote in 1986. "A chair exists as a chair itself." Now, it can be yours from $4,000 through Salon 94 Design.