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For an insight into the history of design, it is no better place to start than by looking at the everyday object, the Chair. A chair is a piece of furniture that often goes unnoticed, yet really is essential to everyday living. It is generally taken for granted and not recognised for its valuable contribution to our lives. Many aspects, social, cultural, aesthetics, technologies etc can be seen through the evolution of Chair design. In this essay, I shall be looking at three different designers and their designs, particularly the function, form, use of materials, intended market and production methods.
The first designer was Michael Thonet (1796-1871) Thonet was born in Germany (then called Prussia) His life began at the start of the industrial revolution. He did an apprenticeship in cabinet making in his hometown and shortly afterwards began experimenting with veneers and bentwood. Maybe it was significant that he was born around the time of the revolution, as he is certainly a good example of that period, as he formed a massive company that is recognised as a leading force in mass production.
His Factory designed by himself, was very close to a beech wood forest, many other designers used wood that was flat, with lots of joints but Thonet had managed to perfect his designs by using the beech wood in a new and revolutionary bending method. He went on to use wood veneers, glueing lots together so they were flexible. He was known for his experiments to help him and this meant that he was able to go on to be one of the first designers in mass production. His chair was the first in flat pack furniture to be assembled at home by the buyer. The chair was designed to be cheap , strong and light and a good sturdy chair to sit . In the home it would have been used in the kitchen and living room. The intended market would have been to the middle and lower classes as it was a widely available cheaper chair. It was a mass produced chair and by 1900 an estimated 40 million chairs had been produced.
My second Designer was Charles Rennet Mackintosh (1868-1928) Born in Glasgow he was an architect, designer and artist, is today celebrated internationally as one of the most significant talents of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the age of 16 he became an apprentice to John Hutchinson. He also began attending evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art and met fellow artist Margaret MacDonald, who eventually became his wife. They were both members of the collaborative group known as “The Four”, prominent members of the ‘Glasgow School’ Movement. Mackintosh became a partner of the firm Honeyman & Keppie in 1903. However, at the turn of an economic hardship in 1913, Mackintosh left the firm Honeyman & Keppie to open his own practice. After unsuccessfully trying to establish his own practice, he dedicated his time to landscape painting in France. Mackintosh returned to England in 1927 for treatment of tongue and throat cancer. He died in London in 1928.
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1903 “Black Ladder Back Chair”
Mackintosh was one of the leading exponents in the Arts & Crafts Movement and one of the leading representatives of Art Nouveau in Scotland. The chair itself was a “component” of a house designed ‘The Hill House’ and was actually not meant to sit on. The fact that the back of the chair is a long way over your head does add to the fact that it reassembles in my opinion a “throne”. Everything seems “right” about this chair: proportions, materials & style.
The chair was a one of design for the “hill house” to match the high ceilings in the house . the chair was not designed to be sat on but as a piece of art its self and as a decorative piece. The designer used would for the frame of the chair and upholstery for the seat . It was designed and built for ww Blackie the owner of the hill house . The chair still sits in the hill house bedroom.
My third designer to look at was Charles and Ray Eames, they are the most important American designers of this century. Charles Eames was born in 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended school there and developed an interest in engineering and architecture. He later extended his design ideas beyond architecture and received a fellowship to Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he eventually became head of the design department. Ray Kaiser Eames was born in Sacramento. She studied painting with Hans Hofmann in New York before moving on to Cranbrook Academy where she met and assisted Charles. Charles and Ray married in 1941 and moved to California. In 1946, Evans Products began producing the Eames’s’ moulded plywood furniture. Their moulded plywood chair was called “the chair of the century” by the influential architectural critic Esther McCoy.
Eames Lounge Chair, 1956
Designed in 1956 this icon of 20th century design created by the Eames to provide a modern alternative to traditional club chairs. Since its debut in 1956, the chair and ottoman have been continuously produced by Herman Miller (A leading global provider of office furniture) According to Charles Eames, design is simply “a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.” The chair was designed to be a relaxing comfortable chair . and in Charles Eames own words “a special refuge from the strains of modern living.”. The first chair was a originally a gift for Billy wilder. The chair is also specially designed so that it can take all the weight of your lower spine helping you relax even more . And putting your feet up on the ottoman helps restore blood circulation after a hard days work. The materials used are natural wood such as natural cherry, walnut and santos palisander a rich grainy veneer. The chair is still very popular and is seen in many stylish interiors.
An insight into the past can be seen all around us, but the chair, an item so important to us, from the plastic mass produced ones you see in fast food chain shops to our old comfortable armchairs, they all hold so much more information about the history of design.
From the early designs and experimenting by Michael Thonet and his way of making bent wood chairs and furniture it would be hard to think that Charles Eames would have been able to go on to design his Lounge Chair. Then with Charles Eames designs and advances in production techniques and mass marketing of chairs it has become possible for everyone to have a classic piece of design history in their home or office. Or even own a reproduction of Charles Mackintosh’s Ladder Back Chair for very little costs.
The type of chair that someone chooses for their home can in say a lot about them. Victorian styles show that a person prefers the older styles. Art Deco has bright colours and geometric shapes. With most people, the most important factor to consider when choosing a chair other than the colour or style is comfort. If someone was suffering from back problems, for example they might require a designer to design a chair to suit their needs. When someone chooses a modern chair design for the office or in his or her home it says there forward thinkers, with modern tastes. So for an everyday object to so often go unnoticed is a shame, the chosen design and style of chair someone chooses can say allot more and can be I think a very good illustration of their personality.
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