Chairs Essay, Research Paper

For my Investigation into chair designs I choose to investigate how simplistic and basic the chairs have become. From Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who was renowned for his style and applied decoration to Philippe Stark who has taken simplistic to another level. I have investigated how the designers have used applied decoration to enhance the look of their chair, to how functional the pieces are (or in some cases un-functional! ).



Mackintosh produced designs on a whole range of furnishings as well as his architectural designs. Many of these were purely functional but he also produced many ‘artistic’ pieces throughout his life. Because of the large amount of applied decoration on Macintosh’s pieces that it could be argued that each piece is a finely detailed work of art itself.

Probably the most famous of such pieces are his famous high backed chairs. The high backed chair I have chosen to study was made for the International Exhibition of modern Decorative Art, held in Turin in Italy in 1902

The chair appears to have a very low seat, being only a quarter of the height of the actual chair, this also may perhaps be due to the fact the seat is fairly broad at the front, widening out from a fairly narrow back. The back of the chair is as wide as the back of the seat but tapers towards the top. This main support is framed with two tall slim struts.

The construction of the low seat and tapering back makes the chair look almost abstract because of these bizarre proportions. In the photograph it looks as if the picture has been taken from a strange angle which has distorted the shape.

There is little in the way of applied decoration on the chair except for the back, which on a portion is padded and covered in a light blue-grey colour. On this is a painted stylised rose bush design that fills the width of the padded portion. Beneath this is what appears to be wilting petals falling from the bush. At the top of the chair carved into a piece of wood is an organic form of sorts with the typical Art Nouveau whiplash stretching the length of it. Mackintosh was renowned for his stylised design – taking the natural form of something, for example a flower, and altering it to fit his style – this could possibly be a very developed stylised design Against the white wood work of this design is a sort of mauve glass shape incorporated into the organic form.

In my opinion there came a time in Macintosh’s career where his high backed chairs became so unfunctional that they were merely being produced to be pleasing to the eye. They were almost made as sculptures and not for their practicality.



As compared to Mackintosh’s high backed chair Peter Karpf’s NXT Stacking chair is extremely functional. This simple looking chair is constructed from one piece of wood joined using metal rods and a number of small disks to give it it’s flowing shape. The light weight chair was created by using thin layers of natural wood and altering the direction of the grain.

The legs of the chair appear quite high though this may be an illusion created by the shape. The legs and seat of this chair form an off square shape. The seat is slightly curved for comfort while the back is arched for the same reason.

The designer seams to have taken immense liberties with the materials he has used. The wooded seat and the two legs are machine made not hand crafted. This stacking chair is a far cry from Macintosh’s high backed chair. The chair has no applied decoration what so ever yet it manages to be stylishly simple and very modern. This chair would fit in with most modern decor.

Because it is designed for function Karpf has stripped his designed back to basics. With this most elementary design Karpf has taken the streamlining of Art Deco into another dimension. Its curved decoration reminds me of Art Nouevau’s curved whiplash line.

This chair is not only designed for function but a very special function, to be stacked as it’s name suggests and these chairs obviously stack very well. I like this chair, it has no applied decoration but the design its self is the real art.



I can only describe this chair as an upside down ‘drip’. It seems to completely change form as you look as it: from a serpents head to an animals hind leg. Its opaque square base only serves to emphasise its gravity defying form of the design. The chrome finish is reminiscent of a space shuttle design.

This design was very popular, especially in American dinners due to a revival of 50’s style. The chair has a bar just up from the base to rest your feet on. The seat of the chair is merely a continuation of the ‘drip’ flattened out to accommodate the sitter.

The chair, with its total lack of decoration has taken simplistic design to another realm. The ‘art’ of the chair is its gravity defying form. This chair may be pleasing to the eye but I do not think it would be advisable to sit on it for any length of time. I imagine it may be not only uncomfortably but feel very unstable.

Overall I like the appearance of this chair, I like the style of Stark and the shape he has streamlined to form this amazing and original design.



My last choice of chair was selected because it is some what reminiscent of Mackintosh’s high backed chairs. The Pepe chair also has a high back and fairly low base. The back arches back slightly this reminds me of a giraffe from a children’s cartoon.

With it’s bright pink colour I think it has a slightly comical appearance to it. It has a generous, large padded seat and an extremely narrow back widening towards the top. The body looks some what out of proportion to the clumsy legs. It looks rather cumbersome to sit on but I suppose it was designed as a sort of ‘fun’ chair as opposed to a dining room chair.

This chair has no applied decoration, but the extremely bright colour of the fabric the chair is covered in adds plentiful character to the chair. The function of this chair is to be ‘fun’, to add character to someone’s dining room and I think that this chair would look good in any room regardless of the decor.

From this investigation I was surprised by the range of different styles and forms that a chair could take. I enjoyed the form of the God Raysse, but my favourite would have to be the Pepe Chair by far due to its larger than life personality.

From the ‘classic’, ‘traditional’ designers like Macintosh who revolutionised and popularised the style of Art Nouveau and to this day still has an impact and influence on designers world wide whether it be on furniture, windows or clothes, to modern designers who have also revolutionised the ‘simplistic’ style making it take many forms from ‘drips’ to ‘giraffes’. For instance the Pepe Chair took the high backed chair and gave it a modern day simplistic twist. Who knows where our rears shall sit in years to come? Shall we be sitting on more simplistic designs than the ones I have used as examples in this investigation or pieces complex beyond the imagination. Who knows? We shall just have to wait and see where our bums shall lead us!

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