Searching for comfort in an uncomfortable chair

In 1944, Bruno Munari launches an ironic provocation to the design establishment in the pages of Domus, accompanied by a quirky photo essay.

 

From the archive

Originally published in Domus 202 / October 1944

One comes home tired from working all day and finds an uncomfortable chair

Interior designers are generally concerned with making new furniture and inventing a new form for tables, chairs, hangers, armchairs. Let us consider the "armchair" which is the most obvious example. How many different armchairs have you seen in your life? Did you happen to sit on very low chairs (chairs upon which real ladies never sit) or on chairs that were so long that the nape of your neck touches the back? Twentieth century armchairs full of corners, physiological armchairs in which people who move get lost, armchairs in chrome tubes, wood, elephant's teeth. But tell us the truth: isn't it relaxing to sit on a cheap (100 lire) and ordinary lounge chair? Yet the bourgeoisie does not want one in their homes because it is vulgar — unless it is in silver metal and covered in snakeskin. You understand that we could go on for a thousand years (and perhaps more) inventing different furnishings, following all the trends in all the countries, the materials that the industry puts on the market at any time, stylistic tendencies, etc., all to suit the taste of the good middle-class citizen who does not want to have a chair in his house that is the same one that his colleague has in his office. Everyone wants different furniture and so the true function of a chair, for example, comfort, goes to hell.

Now I say this: do you think that this is a wise way to work? Do you believe this kind of work to be worthy of man, or that it leads to true results? Why — instead of getting a headache, every time we need to design an armchair (and this observation holds true for any piece of furniture), trying to create a rare never-before-seen original piece — don't we try to perfect that object that has been recognized throughout the ages as the simplest and the most comfortable seat to rest upon — a common deck lounger? Why do we not point our research in this direction?

One comes home tired from working all day and finds an uncomfortable chair. Domus 202 / October 1944 page detail

Let us forget interiors for a moment. Please note: we are in Samos in the year ... BC. Pythagoras exhibits his multiplication table at Gallery Alpha. Everyone admires the original work and everyone, at home, then thinks of making another one — completely different — for his client. Today we would certainly not have algebra. But let's go back to our homes and think about getting together to study an improved model of a piece of furniture — a chair, a doorknob, a…. (tools all have a characteristic shape, it's true, resulting from the suggestions dictated by their use, but they also have their own aesthetics; a hammer is not made with artistic intent but every part of it responds to a purpose. Do we want to make a floral hammer? A Baroque one? We could, but the function would go to ...).

One comes home tired from working all day and finds an uncomfortable chair. Domus 202 / October 1944 page detail

We must perfect each and every piece of furniture and not craft thousands of variations; we must refine them in all senses, and not follow fashion (see the hammer), but make them to last at least until…DC. We could then say that we worked for ourselves, for Man (and for Woman) and not only for creativity (or bizarreness). This kind of yearning for the one-of-a-kind object is making inroads in the field of vehicles. We've all seen thousands of bicycles, each different from one another. I have this one, you don't have it; mine is more beautiful, mine costs more. Come on kids. Children. Tell the truth. Wouldn't you buy a chair that you are sure that you can relax on even if everyone else owns one? I seem to understand that interior design does not mean inventing a new form of a certain piece of furniture, but rather putting a common piece of furniture, a vulgar lounge chair, in the right place. Bruno Munari

 
I seem to understand that interior design does not mean inventing a new form of a certain piece of furniture, but rather putting a common piece of furniture, a vulgar lounge chair, in the right place