Ubiquitous, iconic, practical and symbolic, the chair is an everyday part of our lives that we do not give much thought to, at least not in terms of its evolution. Like fire, it seems to be something that was just always part of the human experience, however rudimentary. Perhaps more than any other piece of furniture in the world of decorative arts, the chair encapsulates the unique styles and values of a culture.
Of course, the earliest humans had no such structure, but I imagine they found flattened rocks or fallen trees on which to rest their weary selves, or while working with their hands, or even to be elevated among others in their tribe or family groups as a matter of status.
Throughout much of human history, people sat on their haunches, the ground, or mats, a practice that many in the world still observe today. The earliest known seating structures go as far back as 3200 BC, simple stools of stone. Many cultures around the world used some form of seating, and trade routes introduced new styles and methods of structure. Materials such as wood, stone, reeds, leather, gold and bronze were used, and furniture was often ornamented with carvings, precious stones, ebony, ivory, glass and tortoise shell. The early Chinese of the Tang Dynasty had simple stools with three or four legs, sometimes with a cushion. These were most often used by the aristocratic class, and similar folding chairs were invented by the Egyptians.
Each culture had distinct chair styles that were unique, from the curule, or x-shaped, legs of the Egyptians to the splayed Klismos legs of the Greeks. These designs have been passed on and modified throughout the ages, whether in the ornate thrones of Medieval Europe, or the Neo-Classic elegance of the 19th century.
While most people sat on simple stools, elaborate chairs were a status symbol of the ruling class and the wealthy, with features such as backs, arms and foot rests. From the seats set upon an elevated dais to the ornamented thrones of kings, we continue to use the symbolism of the chair to express importance: the chairman of the board, the seat of power, the seat of honor, a seat at the table.
The last hundred years have seen the evolution of the chair move into the realm of artistic expression, an unspoken statement on the role design plays in the human experience. The cubic Le Corbusier. The luscious leather Eames lounge. The tubular Breuer Wassily sling. The stem tulip of Saarinen. Each of these represents not only a style, but a philosophy, a study in our relationship with form, material, production and beauty.
Today, the chair, more than any other piece of furniture, is central to our day-to-day lives, in both home and professional environments. We lounge, eat, work and congregate on some form of chair or another. We place value on the comfort, quality and craftsmanship of each type of chair we use. Perhaps that is why we, as professional designers, strive to select chairs that are the perfect marriage of style and function that is unique to each client.
About Tran + Thomas
Built on the foundation of a 30-year, family-owned Interior Design business, Jill Tran and Carmen Thomas opened Tran + Thomas Design Studio in 2011 bringing a combined 36 years of experience to their projects. They work on both residential and commercial projects across several styles. Interested in their services? Call (913) 268-9595 or schedule a consultation below.