Yesterday I talked a bit about using big, bold, mid century modern chairs to act as a single daring statement piece in a living room – large chairs that are ideal for replacing a hefty arm chair or recliner. But today I want to take a look at more petite chairs – ones you might put at a game table, bar, or even a dining table. These are small enough to work in a group, but stylish enough to stand on their own as well. Iconic retro accent chair designs from throughout the 20th century are seeing a big resurgence in popularity right now, but for today I want to focus specifically on mid century modern designs, especially ones made from the most popular material of the time: molded plastic.
The Tulip Chair
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Of all the chairs on this list, the Tulip chair, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1955, is probably the one you’re most likely to recognize: they were the chairs used to decorate the bridge on the Enterprise from the original Star Trek TV show. Tulip chairs are usually white, with a sleek, glossy, futuristic look that’s like something, well, straight out of a sci-fi show. They’re a little bit curvy and vaguely tulip shaped, designed to comfortably fit the contours of the body without any sharp edges or angles. There are versions both with and without arms, but due to their size these generally work best set in front of a table or workstation.
Eames Eiffel Chair
The Eiffel chair is the first of a couple chairs invented by Charles and Ray Eames that are getting some renewed attention. Invented in and around 1948, their chairs combined comfort, durability, and elegance in a form that could easily be mass produced. The Eiffel chair is one of the simplest examples, with a molded fiberglass seat set atop four legs held together by an intricate criss-crossing wire structure reminiscent of the Eiffel tower. This type of leg design is applied to several of their other chairs (including the RAR rocker below), but the Eiffel is their simplest model, available today in a variety of bright, cheerful colors, and can easily be used as either an accent chair or a dining chair.
Eames RAR Rocking Chair
A modern take on the classic rocking chair, the Eames rocking chair is made of a molded plastic seat, the iconic wire base, and long wooden rockers. The seat itself (which has been made variously of metal, fiberglass, and polypropylene since its release in 1948) is designed to cushion the body, relieving pressure on the back of the legs while providing a comfortable arm rest. These chairs are especially popular today as a way to get the classic comfort of a rocker with a more updated, contemporary look, and are available in a wide range of colors to match any modern decor.
Eames Wire Chair
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While most of the chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames are made of molded plastic, the wire chair, as the name implies, is made of bent wire. These chairs are very lightweight and extremely durable (these days, many are even designed for outdoor use). They can have the classic Eiffel style base or a more conventional four legs, and are available in either plain wire or with a single cushion or criss-crossed padding on the seat and chair back (“bikini” style), as well as a few different iconic Eames shapes. While the wire itself is usually left bare (or occasionally painted white) the cushions are available in a wide variety of colors. Like many other Eames chairs, the wire chair is featured in many modern art museums around the country, including the MOMA in San Francisco and New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
Designed by Danish Verner Panton in the 1960s and first produced in 1965, the Panton chair is one of the most iconic pieces of the last century, and is considered a Danish cultural icon. It’s featured in museums throughout the world, and is even classified as part of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. The Panton chair is made of a single piece of S-shaped, molded plastic without conventional legs, and is the first of its kind in all these regards. It’s also completely stackable and highly durable despite being very lightweight. Originally made of a fiberglass blend, Panton chairs are now typically made with from PVC or polypropylene, and are available in a huge variety of colors.
Last but not least is the Wassily chair, originally known as the Model B3, designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925. This chair predates the other designs on this list (which is why it’s the only one not made of plastic), but fits more with mid century modern designs in terms of style than it does with other turn of the century innovations. One of the first chairs to be made of bent, tubular steel, it heavily influenced furniture that was made with this material in later years. But what really makes it stand out today is the use of leather (originally canvas) straps to create the seat, arms, and back. Each piece of fabric is stretched tightly between two pieces of metal, creating an impressively sturdy, supportive body with a completely unique appearance.
The 1950s, 60s, and 70s saw a huge innovation boom in furniture design, both in Europe and America. Many of the most cutting edge designs of the mid 20th century still make up what we consider “modern” design today, and there are many more of them than I have space to list here. So, if you like the general look of these chairs, but don’t see one that immediately speaks to you, consider checking out more mid century modern reproductions from companies like Zuo Modern, Nuevo Living, and ItalModern. Let me know what you think of these unique, iconic styles in the comments below!