On View: Chair Exhibit Showcases 20th-Century Style

A Hundred Years: A Hundred Chairs, on Display in the Tampa Art Museum through September 16, is a display of 20th-century that are iconic chair designs from the Vitra Collection.

As iconic as they are beautiful, these original-production chairs and prototypes from pretty much every major architect and designer provide a wonderful glimpse into the evolution of 20th-century layout. From Thonet’s bentwood and Saarinen’s molded fiberglass into Breuer’s rationalism and Venturi’s wit, this exhibit is filled with some of the most gorgeous objects of the previous century.

The only way it might have been better would be if I had been able to sit down in every seat to give it a test drive. Let’s face it: Some of those chairs, like that designed by Wright for the Larkin Administration Building, seem positively uncomfortable. Others, such as the Eames couch, seem cushy enough to sit in all day.

Mario Bedetti

The Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer dates from the mid-1920s. I can not help but be astounded that this seat was in production for nearly a century. Constructed of bent steel tubes and leather straps, it’s said to have been inspired by the frame layout of Breuer’s bicycle.


Vitra Miniature Zig Zag Stoel Chair by Gerrit Rietveld – $180

Rietveld’s 1930s Zig Zag Chair (shown here in mini) is simplicity taken to the extreme. Made of just four slabs of wood joined by dovetail joints, the seat doesn’t appear to be safe or comfortable. I wouldn’t try leaning back!

Kristen Rivoli Interior Design

The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman is as fresh and gorgeous now as it was when it debuted, nearly six decades ago. In continuous production since the mid-1950s, this sofa seat needs to be among the most enduring examples of modernism at its finest.

Ken Gutmaker Architectural Photography

Another midcentury classic is the Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen. The simple and elegant directness of the 1950s design still propels me into the future whenever I experience it.


The late 1950s brought us another classic, the Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair. I have to say that I was frustrated the version on display at the screen is in charcoal leather. I much prefer the seat in a bright fabric — it’s a form and style that shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

Few things state 1960s mod more than Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair. A simple molded form and bright colour combine to make a seat that is also a “room.” Recent models are available with an integrated MP3 player, perfect for if you want to get away — but not too much.

Giulietti Schouten Architects

Verner Panton’s S Seat from the early 1960s is your very first plastic seat. Available in a range of colors, the chairs can be stacked and became a favorite of cafeterias and schools. I can not help but think that Panton’s layout is an inspired update of the Zig Zag Chair.

Kathryn Waltzer

There’s no greater illustration of 1970s layout compared to Frank Gehry Wiggle Chair out of 1972. Made from corrugated cardboard laminated together, the seat celebrates freeform layout and recyclable materials at a gorgeous way.

Shannon Malone

Near the end of the 20th century arrived chairs like the Tom Vac Rocking Chair by Ron Arad. These chairs utilize new materials and manufacturing techniques to make a fresh reinterpretation of midcentury modernism.

Surrounding – Modern Lighting & Furniture

Rag Chair From Droog Design – $6,388

The Rag Chair by Droog takes recycling to the intense. Incoprating 15 bags of rags, the seat takes soon-to-be-tossed clothes items and transforms them in a useful, comfy everyday thing. It’s even nicer if you get to use your old clothes.

Have you ever been to this exhibit, or do you have a favorite 20th-century seat? Dish about it in the comments!

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