Sitting on history - What's behind today's 15 most ubiquitous chairs

You've encountered these chairs countless times, but have you ever stopped to contemplate their origins? History has granted these 15 chairs a ubiquitous status in our daily lives either because of their utility, price accessibility, or public popularity, and we are taking a moment to get better acquainted with them.  With a timeline spanning from ancient history to European colonialism to the early 2000s Internet era, you'll be surprised to learn that our everyday seats have quite the past life.

 

1. BAR STOOL- 1400 B.C.

Right Image: Wooden stool from Thebes, Egypt, 18th Dynasty.

The wooden stool is one of the oldest forms of furniture in existence, with its roots pre-dating Ancient Greece. Their use as bar stools did not become popular until the 1950s, when they started appearing at counters in pubs and diner as a way to fit more patrons.

 

2. LOUNGE CHAIR- 4th Century.

Right image: Edouard Manet, Jeune femme en costume espagnol, 1862.

One thing we have in common with our ancient ancestors: a love for lounging. Today's typical outdoor lounge chair dates back to the chaise lounge of Roman times. The lounge style remained popular throughout history, and was developed for pool-side use with metal in the 1930s and eventually plastic in the 1960s.

 

3. LOUIS XIV CHAIR- 1700s.  

French King Louis XIV is well known for living an opulent life, and it was during his reign that the Palace of Versailles was constructed. This iconic chair design has been pared down from the ornamental styling of King Louis's era, and is now popularly seen around many dining tables in various materials.  

 

4. ROCKING CHAIR- 1710.

Right image: Victorian child on an antique riding horse, date unknown.

While rocking cradles date back to the Middle Ages and toy rocking horses were popular in the Victorian Era, the rocking chair was invented by no other than Benjamin Franklin. This uniquely American chair, designed in a classic Quaker style, is reflective of the US's early history.

  

5. CHIAVARI CHAIR- 1807. 

An extravagant Parisian armchair was brought to Italian cabinet maker Giuseppe Descalzi with a request to make it less embellished and lighter to move. The Chiavari chair was born and was mass produced for courts and large gatherings across Europe.  It is similarly seen today at countless wedding receptions.

 

6. THONET BENTWOOD CHAIR- 1842.  

Michael Thonet discovered the chemical process of bending wood in the late 1800s, which brought him to the attention of Prince Metternich of Austria. The prince urged him to relocate to his castle and create a workshop in Vienna. The chair quickly became a staple in every cafe across Vienna, and soon all of Europe.

  

7. CAMPING CHAIR- 1898. 

Right image: India Army Corps of Engineers for the British, date unknown.

Today’s camping chair is derived from the campaign furniture of British officials during their colonization conquests throughout Asia and Africa. The Roorkhee Chair, named after the British army’s outpost in Roorkhee, India, is easily assembled/disassembled. Its portability made it popular for both 19th century domination of stolen land and present-day beach trips.

  

8. ADIRONDACK CHAIR- 1903. 

In the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, family-man Thomas Lee wanted a comfortable outdoor chair for his lake house. Using eleven pieces of wood from a single tree, he made several prototypes for his 22 children to test. The family agreed the slight recline and wide armrests was a winning design, and the Adirondack Chair was born. 

 

9. FOLDING CHAIR- 1956. 

Right image: Fredrick Arnold, Patent for Aluminum Folding Chair, 1956.  

In Brooklyn, New York, Fredrick Arnold patented his invention for the first aluminum folding chair. Within the year, his company was mass producing more than 14,000 aluminum chairs with fabric seating each day.

 

10. LA-Z BOY- 1950s/60s.

While the first reclining chair was invented in 1790 for a dentist’s chair, the built-in automatic footrest was gloriously merged with the all-encompassing comfort of an armchair sofa for the first time in the 1950s. The La-z Boy has remained an iconic symbol of comfort in the American living room ever since.

 

11. PLASTIC STACKING CHAIR- 1963.  

The world changed when designer Robin Day invented a cheap, plastic chair with wide legs that allowed for efficient stacking. The light-weight, stackable design was quickly replicated in over forty countries for public use in schools and hospitals, as well as the home. The chair is symbolic of the early stages of globalization, and lauded by The Guardian as "the best selling chair in the world." 

 

12. ERGONOMIC OFFICE CHAIR - 1976.

While the original invention of the swivel chair is credited to Thomas Jefferson, the popularization of ergonomic swivel chairs on wheels didn’t reach cult status until Herman Miller’s Ergon chair was released. Designer Bill Stumpf spent over 10 years researching how people sit at desk jobs to develop this revolutionary office chair.

  

13. RESIN GARDEN CHAIR - Mid-1970s. 

Nobody has claimed to be the inventor of this chair, but its world-wide ubiquity is undeniable. This poem by Hank Stuever, featured in the Washington Post in 2001, is a perfect descriptor for the monobloc wonder:

“There's something about the plastic patio chair.
No, there's not.
And that's what it is about them.
Resistant to the jaws of overbred Dobermans, contrary to all feng shui, airborne in tropical storms, swirling about in the Wal-Mart-flattening tornadoes of American notions of taste.
In March you unstack them and admire the filth that collected on them over the winter. You spray them with 409. There's now an antiseptic smell layered atop their blessed plasticity. They gleam again.”
 

14. HOTEL & BANQUET CHAIR- 1980s. 

This chair has no official origin story, but its influence from the designs of the Chiavari Chair, Louis XIV chair, and plastic stacking chair are clearly seen.  

  

15. AARON CHAIR- 1992.

Herman Miller's Aaron chair was designed by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf (of the Ergon Chair), but is better known as the "Dot-com Throne." The design became synonymous with the internet boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, and thus affiliated with the "corporate graveyard" that ensued once the industry's bubble burst. While internet businesses may have taken a hit, the Aaron Chair remains alive and well - both in stores and on permanent display at the MoMA.