I was sitting and looking out the window the other day at 24 inches of snow blanketing my yard. I should have been thinking about how beautiful it was, but instead I found myself griping, “Boy, is this chair uncomfortable!”
I’d still rather be sitting than shoveling, but I had to wonder who made this chair, and what they were thinking. I bought it because it was apple green and I loved the color. I wasn’t thinking about whether it would be comfortable and functional. Sometimes it seems like the nicest looking chairs are the worst to sit in, and the comfiest ones look terrible. However, that doesn’t have to be the case.
Several movements have merged functionalism with great design and beauty in furniture. The Modern Functionalists at the Bauhaus in Germany come to mind first. In the 1920s, they created functional chairs with clean lines at this forward thinking school for the arts and technology. Before them, the Shakers made beautiful wood chairs, with each design serving a function. They even created a peg system to mount chairs to the wall, freeing up floor space for cleaning and other uses.
Hans Wegner chair designs, however, really epitomize the combination of form and function in one piece. Hans Wegner was a furniture designer in mid-century Scandinavia, and two of his chair designs stand out in my mind as objects of beauty that remain highly functional, not only for sitting comfort but for other creative uses. The first is the Cow Horn design—a collection of these chairs sold at our most recent 20th Century Furniture & Decorative Arts auction for over $50,000– and the second is the Valet chair by Hans Wegner, executed at the workshop of Johannes Hansen in Denmark.
The Cow Horn Chair is a beautiful example of functional modern design. Have you ever pulled a chair up to the dinner table only to have the arms hit? You end up sitting so far back that you require an extra napkin! That would never be a problem with this Hans Wegner chair design. The small, beautifully curved backrest and short arms bring you comfortably up to the table. The depth of the seat is perfectly proportioned so your feet do not dangle but rest comfortably on the floor. The soft and buttery leather seat is cool and comfortable even after long night of dining.
The Wegner Valet Chair is sculptural and minimal in form, yet it masterfully serves several unique functions. The backrest, including arms and splat, serves as a jacket hanger, and the seat hinges forward to an upright position to serve as a pants hanger. In addition, a compartment under the seat stores cufflinks, a watch, or even a portable electronic device. Hans Wegner designed this chair in 1953, but now in 2011 its clever design has found new functions!
Next time we get two feet of snow, though, I hope I’m sitting in a Charles Eames lounge chair and ottoman. This would be the ultimate comfort for sore muscles after shoveling from a snowstorm. I can only dream!