62 Icons: Milestone in Furniture Design from the Vitra Design Museum

Hot seats for the elite

“You’re sitting on a work of art,” quipped an interior designer to his guests.

He was referring to the Barcelona chair, designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the pioneers of modernist architecture and the last director of Bauhaus. The German-American architect drew his inspiration from an Egyptian scissors folding chair which was a symbol of power itself.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Another modernist pioneer is Frank Lloyd Wright, recognized as the greatest American architect of all time. Eight of his works have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. He also designed the Barrel chair, the Johnson Wax chair, and the Taliesin West Armchair.

Alvar Aalto

In Finland, Alvar Aalto, considered the forerunner of mid-century modernism, designed not only buildings but also the interior surfaces, lamps, glassware, and furniture. He combines functional ideas of Bauhaus with Scandinavian crafts tradition and a strong sense of unity with nature. Armchair 41 and 42 show elegant simplification with technical innovation. The Finnish architect invented the bent plywood furniture which influenced the aesthetic of Charles and Ray Eames.

Charles and Ray Eames

The designer couple, Charles and Ray Eames developed and improved a process that enabled plywood to be shaped as they wanted without breaking or splitting it. They tried fiberglass on La Chaise and Rocking Armchair Rod. They also designed a Wire Chair which had a seat and back molded in the  human body.


Lounge Chair and Ottoman

Other design classics they did were DCW (Dining Chair Wood), LCW (Lounge Chair Wood), DCM (Dining Chair Metal), soft pad chair, stools ABC, and the Plywood Elephant. But the most iconic of them all is the Lounge Chair and Ottoman which is the most comfortable and most expensive.

It is shaped at an angle for ergonomics and comfort. One special feature of the construction is the connection of the seat to the back.

Benchmark Designers

The Eameses were the benchmarks for all designers. They were also architects, graphic and textile designers. The couple complemented each other with Charles introducing modernist design and Ray softening the hard edges and giving them a more mass appeal.

Charles Eames worked closely with his classmate Eero Saarinen. They worked together for the first time and won first prize for the Organic Armchair in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen was an architect and industrial designer and was noted for his wide-ranging designs for buildings. He is known for creating the space-age design Tulip chair which features a supporting structure that has been paired to a central supporting stem. The Finnish-American wanted to design a chair as an integrated whole. His most iconic chair, however, was the Womb Chair and Ottoman. This armchair is the first piece of mass-produced furniture in the history of design with an integrated shell of fiber-reinforced plastic. Saarinen developed the Womb Chair in close collaboration with a boat builder.

Avant Garde and Pop Culture

Aside from these iconic chairs, there are others known for their avant garde designs. Some of them appeared in movies, tv series, and music videos such as Ribbon Chair in Star Trek, Bocca in Austin Towers and Rod Arad’s Big Easy in Michael Jackson’s music video “Scream.”

Bocca Studio 85

Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge, which appeared in Madonna’s “Rain,” gained a famed status when the pop icon herself bought the chair for $4.6 million. Of course, James Bond sat on a Barcelona chair in Casino Royale.


Other cutting-edge furniture designs include Gala, Vegetal, Marshmallow Sofa, Diamond chair, Butterfly Stool, and Zig Zag Stoel. The Wassily Chair was inspired by the frame of a bicycle and influenced by constructivist theory. The Panton and heart-shaped Cone chair were inspired by pop art and culture.

Rood Blauwe Stoel

The Nazis closed Bauhaus

All these creativity, technological innovations, and trend setting did not run smoothly all the time. New art forms were criticized but the worst that ever happened was when the Nazis closed the Bauhaus School of Art which was considered “degenerate.”

Hitler would be proven wrong. The Bauhaus philosophy endured and prospered decades after its closure. These iconic furniture are priceless pieces of art which have inspired even Filipino designers. They are premium but practical and functional. During World War II, Charles Eames created emergency splints for injured soldiers. As Eames has said, “We don’t do art — we solve problems.”

Note: Photos are from the College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts from its exhibit  (62 Icons : Milestone in Furniture Design from the Vitra Design Museum) in 2022 installed by the Center for Campus Art with the AB Animation Program. These are 62 miniatures donated by CWC Interiors which also loaned full-sized pieces. After the exhibit, the miniature collection will find a permanent place of exhibition in the campus.

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JP Ordoña (Manilakad)  leads Manilakad Walks in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo and more. In between, he writes, climbs, dives and more. Let him guide you to several walking destinations in Manila. Manilakad (JP Ordoña) can be reached on Facebook Messenger or through text at 0916-3597888.