Four-legged chairs are a fundamental element in any home. They are always present, and in large quantities, from the living room to the dining room, from the kitchen to the bedrooms and even in the bathroom, where they sometimes serve as a footrest. They are, therefore, a flexible and highly versatile element that accompanies us through daily life. Who knows how many models of four-legged chairs are on the market? Without a doubt tens of thousands, all with their own specific identity. From the simplest models to the more eloquent ones, there is no person on Earth who hasn’t used one, whatever type it may have been. On the other hand, think about how even thrones are nothing more than extravagant four-legged chairs. Historically, designers have ventured into the construction of four-legged chairs, creating models that are often seen by the public as genuine masterpieces, stylish elements and furniture that go way beyond mere functionality in order to become a spectacular and special piece, meeting the aesthetic needs of an ever-demanding consumer. In reality, four-legged chairs also differ depending on how they are used, as the pieces can be especially reflective of the layout where they are placed, working with the room’s style while also playing an important aesthetic role. These chairs generally steal the show in genuine works of art. Just think about paintings or photographs, or even the many films where the main scenes show actors sitting on chairs, very often designer chairs, where the pieces have become must-have items for furniture enthusiasts. The history of the chair So when did the chair come about? Its current shape, although a rudimentary structure, was first conceived in the Middle Ages, around 1000 AD.
The faldstool is the first prototype of the single-person seat, deriving from the bench as the first true ancestor of four-legged chairs. The bench’s origin is unknown, its invention has been lost over time and there is no reliable evidence. Truth be told, even for primitive man it was likely easy to come up with something simply by placing a wooden beam horizontally and resting it on two vertical supports for an end product that was definitely more comfortable than the often wet and damp land. As previously mentioned, even the throne can be regarded as a close relative of four-legged chairs, and this type of seat has been equally present since the dawn of time, most likely even before the pharaohs were ruling, although the first evidence gathered dates back to the very civilization of the pharaohs. To put it in context, this goes back to 3000 BC and humans were already feeling the need to provide seats for individuals, generally aimed at those holding more prestigious positions. A particularly interesting part of chair history is the curule chair, perhaps the first example of a folding chair, which was used by those in power when on the go. It was a status symbol and when it was in use by magistrates, and wherever you found a curule chair alongside other elements that generally reflected such power, a court could be set up. It is distinguished by criss-cross legs that form an X, in turn creating a sitting area that was used by the Etruscans. It is perhaps here that the faldstool came about, given how similar its structure is. The chair’s frame comes closest to that of today’s when compared to the chairs from the past, and today this term refers to the chairs intended for Catholic leaders during religious celebrations. In the past, it was a chair found only in the wealthiest of homes. The iron structure, with its crossed legs, featured a slight padding on the seat, marking the new needs of the lords to use a comfortable and practical element to sit in. From the faldstool, we can safely assume that the first idea for chair upholstery was inspired, since even the thrones during this period were made of simple, hard wooden chairs that weren’t much good for long-term comfort.
For many years the faldstool was the only sturdy one-piece seat around, not including the thrones that had padding, since the introduction of the first """"""""modern"" chair dates back to the Renaissance. In fact, the cathedra and stool, two elements that appear frequently in religious representation, actually are not relatives of the chair itself, except for the portable feature they have in common. The first true modern chair model is made with rods, sometimes called scissors. Some of these chairs can still be admired in the San Marco Convent in Florence, where Girolamo Savonarola, one of the most controversial figures of the Italian Renaissance, lived for an extended period. This chair is also derived from the curule chair but is also inspired by the field chair used by Arab generals. This chair continues to maintain the typical X shape but the padding was removed. One of the most famous models of all time, it has two comfortable, sturdy armrests and a backrest which can prove to be rather comfortable for those who use it. The Savonarola chair, named in honour of the politician and preacher, led to modern chairs over a process that took centuries of evolution. These pieces are also a common sight in houses, as well. Over the years they have evolved into increasingly practical and comfortable elements, deriving from benches with 4 simpler legs, perhaps the predecessor to chairs that are now present in our homes. The intuition leading to the dividing of benches into individual parts, entrusting two supports or 4 columns each, revolutionised the concept of space and paved the way for chairs which eventually evolved to what we now use daily. From this rich and lavish history, it is rather obvious that no single inventor or time period can be narrowed down.
An object that has such great cultural and everyday life importance means that it is constantly evolving and with both ideas and technical skills, creating more practical and comfortable versions. As of today, the chair certainly isn’t finished evolving, as demonstrated by the many designers who spend years of their lives studying the best solutions for future products. It is no coincidence that new models are regularly released on the market, adding to the pre-existing ones for a wide array of choice for any and every customer. Behind the creation of a chair is a boundless universe: We mustn’t overlook the fact that this object, although it may seem simple in appearance, actually has to hold the entire weight of the human body. You can not afford the possibility of making mistakes in calculating size and proportions, because the risk would be to create unstable, unsafe elements that could be a hazard to those who sit there. Among the most famous of chairs, and proudly Italian, is the Chiavari chair, which was conceived in the early nineteenth century in Liguria, in a little tucked away town. This is currently one of the most common chairs in the world and is derived from chairs from the French empire. A customer asked Giuseppe Gaetano Descalzi, one of the best-known furniture makers in the city, to make something simpler and less ornate than the exotic French chair, which was more practical and lighter. The customer wished to have a more unwieldy and much less flashy chair compared to those in France, and Descalzi decided to minimize the load-bearing structure, reducing the material and proportion it to the side of the chair. The result was a piece flaunting great simplicity while at the same time an eye-catching look, which in a few years was able to conquer the entire market.
As a matter of fact, the Chiavari chair was the first to use woven straw instead of wood. In this way the body is able to rest on a soft and supple texture that’s also durable and more comfortable. It didn’t require the use of pillows either, which were destined to become decorative accessories rather than essential elements needed for comfort. The most famous four-legged chairs The very Chiavari chair was actually modified by the great modern designer Giò Ponti who, in the twentieth century, got his hands on this classic Italian furniture piece which at that time had already made its way into every home from the countryside to the city, drawing up a model that was even more lightweight and extraordinary, though he didn’t revolutionize its essence and uniqueness. He named it Superleggera (Super lightweight) and, as a matter of fact, it does not exceed 1.7 kg, a miniscule weight if you consider that it was a wooden model and not made of modern synthetic materials. The revolutionary work of Giò Ponti has every right to be placed among the most important elements of industrial design in the twentieth century, a real cultural symbol of modern and contemporary society despite the designer having simply repeatedly redefined a simple chair. The concept behind Ponti’s chair is based on simple benchmarks that initially led to Descalzi’s production of the Chiavari Chair: - simplicity - lightness - stability Giò Ponti’s work, however, must be contextualized in the period of immediate post-second world war Italy, as back then the Milanese designer was undergoing an economically grave situation which forced him to find low-cost manufacturing solutions that did not sacrifice quality. The result was an unprecedented success, also supported by an inspired and original advertising campaign, as even the ads themselves became symbols of Italian culture in the second half of the twentieth century for their revolutionary ideas in the marketing field. A special mention also goes out to the LC1 four-legged chair made by one of the most famous French designers ever, Le Corbusier.