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10 icons of 20th century furniture

Alissa Ugolini—homify UK Alissa Ugolini—homify UK
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Decades ago, a group of designers and architects presented pieces of furniture that, little did they know, would become some of the most recognised objects in the world. How? What is their secret? A design that looks to art, elegant materials and timeless shapes can fit into any style and environment.

The pieces you are about to see will continue to demand attention in silence, inviting us to feel proud to own a relic of industrial design. Today, we have collected 10 of these icons in one article for you to get an overview of some of the greatest pieces of furniture ever made.

1. BKF Armchair

Also known as the butterfly chair, this armchair was designed by the architects of the Austral Group, Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy in Buenos Aires in 1938. 

Tubular steel, with a 12 mm diameter, shapes the structure of this chair where a piece of leather hangs to shape the back and seat. Its simplicity and lightness are achieved by integrating art and craft in a functional and timeless design, which has made this piece popular for nearly 80 years. Like other models that we present in this ideabook, this chair won first prize in the First Hall of Buenos Aires Artists Decorators in 1943 and later, in 1951, earned a spot in the permanent collection of the MoMA.

2. Eames lounge chair

Ray and Charles Eames found the inspiration for the design of this model in former English club armchairs. In 1956, they released this chair, placing an emphasis on comfort, quality materials and exceptional workmanship. The wood and leather create a perfect symbiosis: warmth and elegance joined in a single ergonomic chair with footrest. The Eames Lounge Chair became many years ago a key piece for any collector.

3. Barcelona chair

The Barcelona chair, by Mies Van der Rohe, was born with one purpose: to inhabit the German pavilion at the Barcelona International Exposition in 1929. Its shape is inspired by the ancient thrones used by Roman magistrates. And, although the chair was initially constructed of bolted stainless steel and leather pigskin, in 1950 the design was adjusted to enable mass production—a key element of modern design. Its proportions, elegant materials and the simplicity of its form make it an icon of modern industrial design. 

4. Coconut chair

 Schools by JAAM sociedad de arquitectura
JAAM sociedad de arquitectura

uno de los miradores desde el interior

JAAM sociedad de arquitectura

Designed by George Nelson for Herman Miller in 1955, this chair is arguably one of the biggest icons of twentieth century furniture. As its name suggests, the model is inspired by an eighth of coconut. However, the colours are reversed: the plastic housing is constructed in white, while the back and seat are designed to house a different colour. Three stainless steel tubular legs support this piece, whose shape allows freedom of movement.

5. Egg armchair

The Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, created this model in the 60s, driven by the idea of creating a chair from one piece. In this case, the only material that could shape this vision would be no other than plastic. A metal frame holds the shell and allows it to roll smoothly. 

6. LCW chair

The Plywood Group collection was the result of an experiment by Ray Eames with three-dimensional moulded plywood. Considered by Time magazine as the best design of the twentieth century, this model was created in 1946, and showed that design did not necessarily have to fight mass production or comfort. Currently, this piece is also part of the permanent collection at the MoMA. 

7. Eames plastic armchair

 Living room by Moises Showroom
Moises Showroom

Espacio en Moises Showroom

Moises Showroom

This chair was designed as a proposal for the competition Low Cost Furniture Design established by the MoMa in 1948. The idea behind the competition was to find pieces of furniture that would be affordable for everyone and could be mass produced. Despite the fact this model did not receive first prize,  it gained a huge amount of popularity and can be found in the homes of many knowing and unknowing design aficionados out there.  

8. Eames plastic side chair

Following the previous armed version, which we saw above , this Eames chair was also manufactured with fibreglass in collaboration with Zenith Plastics Company. Little would you know, these were the first industrially manufactured plastic chairs. Currently constructed of polypropylene, you can find these models both with wooden or metal bases.

9. Series 7 chair

 Kitchen by Apersonal

Protagonistas el espacio y la luz


Arne Jacobsen shaped this chair for Danish furniture company Fritz Hansen. Six million copies have been made since 1955, the year in which it came to light, attesting to the quality of this wooden chair that debuted at the H55 exhibition in Sweden. 

10. PH lamp

Although this lamp was designed by architect Poul Henningsen, many people are confused by its name. Henningsen was a furniture designer, art critic, writer of cabaret songs and one of the most famous designers of twentieth century lamps. His cooperation with Louis Poulsen led to the large collection of PH lamps, which today are still an icon in Scandinavian design.

What is your favourite icon of 20th century furniture? Let us know below!
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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