Essentials of the Modern Chair  

Essentials of the Modern Chair

Blog | October 20, 2016

The upcoming Modern Design auction will feature many examples of midcentury modern design, including the period's most popular chairs designed by iconic names of the time.

They must have gotten something right. Design visionaries such as Charles and Ray Eames, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, who, among others, defined the midcentury modern aesthetic and with it, the modern chair.


Midcentury modern broadly describes architecture, furniture and design from the mid 1930s to the mid 1960s. It has roots in the Bauhaus movement, counting Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe among its early influencers. With clean, flat lines and organic curves, the furniture is functional while retaining an element of elegance and sophistication. It embodies what Mies van der Rohe famously said, “Less is more.”


“The newly opened The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, designed by Philip Johnson, is a perfect example of how iconic modern designers changed the way we interacted with our environments and paved the way for what we see as contemporary design today,” says Luke Palmer, Modern and 20th Century Decorative Arts Specialist at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. Built in 1949, Johnson’s house has since been turned into a museum and offers tourists the opportunity to experience architecture from 1949 that is minimalist, geometric and proportionate—all themes that define midcentury modern design.

The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.

The Art Institute of Chicago’s, “Design Episodes:  The Modern Chair,” which closed in September, offered an exploration of the style and included examples by Harry Bertoia and Charles and Ray Eames. Despite its age, the style remains eternally new. This small-scale exhibition of the modern chair was one in a series leading up to the museum’s first permanent installation of 20th and 21st century architecture and design, which will open in the fall of 2017 in the Modern Wing.

Design Episodes: The Modern Chair at The Art Institute of Chicago

Often featured in design magazines, The New York Times recently explored the staying power of Midcentury modern, calling it “undeniably beautiful and functional” and a decorating style that “just won’t die.”


“Midcentury modern design, embraced for its purity and simplicity, caught fire with mainstream America.  Notable designers maintain their places in the design pantheon, and in true democratic style, cheaper replicas of iconic designs have proliferated,” says Palmer.


But the prestige and history of owning an original has stayed due to its accessibility with auction houses, as well as dealers and museums devoted entirely to the undying style. The November 15 Modern Design sale at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers is an upcoming opportunity to shop original, modern classics, including modern chairs.


Items available in the sale include the period’s most popular chairs, many of which were highlighted in The Art Institute’s exhibition mentioned above. Examples include Harry Bertoia’s Diamond Chair, Eero Saarinen’s Tulip chair and an enameled black lounge chair by Gerrit Rietveld.  Not shown in the exhibit, though similarly iconic, are Charles and Ray Eames’ 670 lounge chair and RAR rocker as well as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair, all of which will be offered at the auction.

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