20 timeless designer armchairs

A symbol of hierarchy and an expression of social change, the armchair has always been a testing ground for masters of international design, re-reading function and transforming materials and production techniques.

The armchair is an item of furniture that more than any other has reflected the evolution of taste and the expression of historical eras. With a symbolic aspect that goes beyond mere function, over time it has assumed hierarchical value. One only has to consider the armchairs in a typical English men's’ club, or the executive seating in spacious offices a kind of contemporary throne. How could we forget Paolo Villaggio in Il Secondo tragico Fantozzi (1976), finding himself before the Megadirector sitting on an armchair made out of human skin! Then there is the timeless image of the classic leather bergère on which Marlon Brando sat in the opening scene of The Godfather (1972).

Many designers, from Alvar Aalto or Charles and Ray Eames, have revisited the classic model, re-reading ergonomics and traditionally artisan production techniques. Its components have been re-designed from a point of view of modularity and block-assembly, and new techniques and materials have been introduced, such as the use of curved wood. In Italy, Marco Zanuso – aided by the young entrepreneurs in Pirelli – had the idea of using then-experimental foam rubber for the seating in the Antropus chair (Arflex 1949), of which the Lady is the most evolved model, as it is composed of four parts manufactured separately and then assembled. The production of the armchair thus transformed the industrial techniques of production lines.

Following the period of Radical Design, during which designers worked on the concept of formal deconstruction and the consequential cancellation of hierarchical value, for example with Zanotta’s famous Sacco, a number of more contemporary armchairs exhibited a focus on a freer use of the seat and on the possibilities of sitting in a range of different positions for a more informal use, exploring values more closely related to relaxation and intimate settings.

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