Chairs that were, chairs that are, the moment at Salone del Mobile Milano 2021

Perfectly manifesting anthropology and design, the chair has always been an ubiquitous furniture form. Here are STIR’s picks of iconic and new chairs, sitting to inspire at Supersalone.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Sep 09, 2021

Chairs have been around for centuries. They have existed to dictate social and economic class (a queen’s throne vs. a pauper’s stool), or varied services (a dentist’s chair, a Pope’s seat) and for pure function, like seats in a metro train or in a classroom. The modern working and capitalist society spends more time sitting on chairs than anywhere else – you literally find them everywhere, from park benches, formal ones in workplaces, to row seats in stadiums and demure ones in hospital waiting rooms, even ones you cannot sit on, in museums. It really is the most common, ubiquitous form of furniture design.

“Because no other object has ever better summed up the importance of design, whether it reflects a passing fad or a cornerstone of civilisation. This awareness is the starting point for a unique narrative journey from 1954 to the present day, depicting the role that chair design has played in its many and varied iterations through the tremendous changes that society has undergone, and how it has reacted to cultural paradigm shifts with ingenuity and utterly inspired approaches and forms,” says Nina Bassoli, curator of the unmissable Take Your Seat exhibition at Milan Design Week 2021.

A glimpse of Take Your Seat at Supersalone | Chairs at Supersalone | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
A glimpse of Take Your Seat at Supersalone Image: Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano, Andrea Mariani

For the STIR at Supersalone series, we round up the most interesting, ergonomic, philosophical and purely aesthetical chairs designed and displayed at the ongoing Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 – sit tight and read on.

1. Take Your Seat / Solitude and Conviviality of the Chair

“What effects are generated by the act of sitting? What thoughts, mechanisms and relationships come into play while we sit? How do we relate to others and the space around us? As an object, how does the chair encourage interaction and sharing when grouped together with other chairs to form a system?” asks Bassoli, who curated this exhibition currently on at the Rho trade fair venue in Milan for the Supersalone. Featuring 30 winners of ADI’s Compasso d'Oro Award and more than 100 honourable mentions, these chairs sit to prove their “unquestionably political, social and cultural testament to time”. High-impact displays designed by Alessandro Colombo and Perla Gianni Falvo encompass chairs from the 50s to the present day, ranging from Achille Castiglioni's Polet chair to Little Albert by Ron Arad and more, studying their underlying aesthetic, evolution, and contributions to society at large.

Some chairs on display for Take Your Seat: Fjord by Patricia Urquiola for Morosso (2004); Luisa by Franco Albini for Cassina (1995, 2008); Eutopia by Francisco Gomez Paz | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Some chairs on display for Take Your Seat: Fjord by Patricia Urquiola for Morosso (2004); Luisa by Franco Albini for Cassina (1995, 2008); Eutopia by Francisco Gomez Paz Image: Courtesy of Salone del Mobile.Milano

The exhibition is spread across the four pavilions into thematic sections that focus on a chair’s different uses: Take Your Seat addresses the meaning of sitting and the symbolic and ceremonial function of a chair; Work Learn Produce is a designed archipelago that focuses on workplace chairs and their evolution; Cook Set Share examines the chair as a social object employed for interacting and sharing values; Going Out: Going Public delves into the chair as it leaves a private sphere and enters a public one, such as an arena or café; and an extra section within the ADI Design Museum that includes chairs that have never won the award, are metaphorical, anti-modern, symbolic, and radical.

2. The Dior Medallion Chair

For the 59th edition of the Milan Design Week, Dior Maison invited 17 artists and designers from the world over, to reinterpret one of its most iconic emblems, the Medallion Chair, resulting in its biggest participation at the fair till date. The original Louis XVI chair, tapered with an oval back was chosen by Christian Dior to accommodate his guests in his white neoclassical interiors, described as “sober, simple, but above all classic and Parisian” in his memoirs.

  • Nendo’s minimal ‘Chaise Medaillon 3.0’ uses two thin sheets of tempered glass to form a single, transparent identity for the chair, with an oval cut out at the back | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Nendo’s minimal ‘Chaise Medaillon 3.0’ uses two thin sheets of tempered glass to form a single, transparent identity for the chair, with an oval cut out at the back Image: ©Yuto Kudo
  • India Mahdavi’s reinterpretation sits close to the original Dior chair design, given warmth via varicoloured hand-embroidered Djerba wool from Kashmir dressing each chair in a set of five | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    India Mahdavi’s reinterpretation sits close to the original Dior chair design, given warmth via varicoloured hand-embroidered Djerba wool from Kashmir dressing each chair in a set of five Image: ©Marion Berrin
  • Pierre Charpin minimises the original chair to its bare minimum, as a bold black outline with an oval, mirror topped seat | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Pierre Charpin minimises the original chair to its bare minimum, as a bold black outline with an oval , mirror topped seat Image: ©Marion Berrin
  • Known for her fairytale-flora settings, Joy De Rohan Chabot transforms the chair into a plant-like creation, a tribute to Dior and his lifelong passion for flowers | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Known for her fairytale-flora settings, Joy De Rohan Chabot transforms the chair into a plant-like creation, a tribute to Dior and his lifelong passion for flowers Image: ©Marion Berrin

The professionals who put their own creative, interesting spins on the fashion house's iconic chair include Nendo,India Mahdavi, Sam Baron, Pierre Yovanovitch, Dimorestudio, Khaled El Mays, Ma Yansong, Martino Gamper, Nacho Carbonell, Pierre Charpin, Joy de Rohan Chabot, Linde Freya Tangelder, Constance Guisset, Atang Tshikare, Jinyeong Yeon, Tokujin Yoshioka and Seungjin Yang.

3. Cross Cultural Chairs

Curated by Matteo Guarnaccia, this is a project about the global cultural context of chairs, bringing together eight chairs from eight of the most populous countries including Brazil, India, Japan and China, collaborating with local design studios and artisans to make the seats. Three years in the making, Cross Cultural Chairs explores socio-cultural differences from the research of materials, environments, and manufacturing processes of seats, in an attempt to understand how globalisation affects design and its users.

Cross Cultural Chairs at Base Milano | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Cross Cultural Chairs at Base Milano Image: Courtesy of Cross Cultural Chairs

Each country adapts to the project differently, owing to its culture, local materials and prevalent aesthetic connotations, as well as the methods of making. Guarnaccia's research involves visits to museums, landmarks, interviewing locals and established designers, and developing concepts. He then moved on to the production of the prototype and finalised it all by photographing and noting down the chair's creative journey. On show at Base Milano currently, the project will manifest as a book, documentary and final exhibition in Barcelona's design museum.

4. Flowing Fragments by Richard Yasmine

This collection by the Lebanese designer responds to the compelling and underlying facets ignored in the design industry today or only followed on a surface level: of reducing waste and of consciously upcycling. Exhibited at a digital platform created by 5VIE, Flowing Fragments is a series of 16 variations of limited-edition tables-cum-stools along with 16 sculptures, inspired from the world of architecture, specifically from the Greco-Roman civilisation, merging in a sleek manner, with the post-contemporary aesthetic. These 32 pieces are actually an offcut from production processes, showing how waste can be turned into dramatic sculptural pieces, professing practical sustainable design practices.

  • Flowing Fragments by Richard Yasmine is a series of 16 table-cum-stools with 16 sculptures | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Flowing Fragments by Richard Yasmine is a series of 16 table-cum-stools with 16 sculptures Image: Richard Yasmine
  • All 32 pieces are an offcut from production processes, showing how waste can be turned into sculptural pieces | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    All 32 pieces are an offcut from production processes, showing how waste can be turned into sculptural pieces Image: Richard Yasmine

Each object is created from alternating slabs of sedimentary and basaltic stones, assembled to create a single component. The cube is then cut to imitate ancient classical orders, minimising and giving them a more geometric setting, from smooth arches to triangular edges, and forming an accompanying offcut in the process. Flowing Fragments speaks of saving the remaining, forgotten fragments of previous civilisations, raising awareness about protecting abandoned sites and highlighting trafficked antiquities. It also brings to focus the destruction and neglect of authentic landmarks, in an age where heritage is threatened by urban development.

5. Urania by Pietro Franceschini

Urania is the latest work by architect Franceschini, presented during the Supersalone exclusively for Galerie Philia as part of the ongoing Rick Owens – Dialog with Emerging Italian Designers exhibition. This focuses on Rick Owens's designs, questioned, and referenced by the exhibiting professionals, along with his own impactful artworks.

Urania by Pietro Franceschini on display at Galerie Philia for Supersalone | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Urania by Pietro Franceschini on display at Galerie Philia for Supersalone Image: Lodovico Colli Di Felizzano @Lodoclick

Robot-sculpted in Carrara from a single block of Breccia di Capraia marble and refined by hand, Urania is part sculpture and part furniture, a limited edition of 8+4 chairs, an experiment in 'neotenic design'. “Here for the first time, the pure and rigorous geometry of Pietro’s work gets deformed and speaks a more organic language. Urania is iconic, classic and playful,” the gallery observes.

6. Cha‐cha, Welcome, Mr. Breuer by Khaled El Mays

On display at the Nilufar Depot in Milan, the Jungle is a series of furniture inspired from flora and fauna, a topic that has been of utmost exploration for Khaled El Mays, a multi-disciplinary design studio based in Beirut. All the product designs are handmade and recreate nature, aiming to freeze moments of natural beauty and emerge as functional ones, dipped in tactility and visuals. Wood, leather, raffia, wicker and thread bind to become these pieces that encapsulate in themselves, forms, colours and textures of elephants, snakes, flowers, grass and mountains.

Cha‐cha lounge chair from the Jungle collection by Khaled El Mays | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Cha‐cha lounge chair from the Jungle collection by Khaled El MaysImage: ©mattiaiotti
Welcome Mr. Breuer club chair from the Jungle collection | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Welcome Mr. Breuer club chair from the Jungle collection Image: ©mattiaiotti

“The approach to design tackles the possibility of a primitive future in furniture production that puts the human hand at the forefront and makes it a defining element in the production process,” explains the exhibition gallery in a press note.  

7. Odyssey By Andrés Reisinger

Another compelling and immersive collection of chairs form part of the program at Nilufar Gallery, where Andrés Reisinger’s collection mixes digital chairs with physical ones in the space. Three works of furniture make up Odyssey, documenting other worlds, detached from time and space, elevating Reisinger as an essential, fresh voice in the contemporary design world. “The overall effect is to plunge the visitor into a futuristic realm, staging an encounter with new narrative possibilities for design,” shares the gallery.

  • Bold Chair (digital piece)| Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Bold Chair (digital piece) Image: © Andrés Reisinger
  • Complicated sofa (physical piece) | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Complicated sofa (physical piece) Image: © Andrés Reisinger
  • Crowded elevator (physical piece) | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Crowded elevator (physical piece) Image: © Andrés Reisinger

“Reisinger's work also operates at other levels, sensitively exploring the emotional terrain and theoretical implications of digital-led design,” they add.

8. Mezzoterra Mezzomare by Michelangelo Pistoletto with Juan E. Sandoval

Six Milano Galleria is exhibiting a significant portion of the project Mezzoterra Mezzomare by Italian painter, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and his artwork created in 2007 that “underlines the message of dispersion and communication inherent in the sea as a natural crossroad of peoples”. Pistoletto and Sandoval transform the chair designed by Riccardo Blumer for Alias, at the boundary between earth and sea, between art and design. The furniture becomes a work of art, probing differences between cultures and respecting these differences, “wanting to sit down and look at how much we are the same and how much different,” reads the description shared by the gallery.

Mezzoterra Mezzomare by Michelangelo Pistoletto with Juan E. Sandoval | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Mezzoterra Mezzomare by Michelangelo Pistoletto with Juan E. Sandoval Image: Courtesy of Six Milano Galleria

The contemporary chair is a timeless icon and symbolises a rock here, the space between the beach and the sea, where one can sit, play, and ruminate. It is an invitation to sit on the different cultural shores and communicate with each other. Each chair is like the other in essence, but unique at the same time. “Just like people, the same but different.” Each chair is guaranteed uniqueness via a sticker with the Pistoletto and Sandoval’s signature and an indication of the position of the chair within the sea to which it belongs is applied under the seat.

9. Sit in My Valley 2, Reverso Mustang and SLV by Lionel Jadot

Part of the exhibitions blooming as part of 5VIE Design Week is a collection of works by self-taught designer, Lionel Jadot, a sixth-generation member of the famous Vanhamme family of furniture makers. Known for creating functional pieces out of disparate elements, Jadot displays three pieces of seating including Sit in My Valley 2, inspired by Indian trucks transporting grain in the state of Rajasthan. The structure in solid oak is dressed in a canvas weaving of raw wool from mountainous regions of Turkey, tapestries in collaboration with Olivia Babel as imaginary cartographies or sometimes conflict zones.

  • Sit in My Valley 2 by Lionel Jadot | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Sit in My Valley 2 by Lionel Jadot Image: Lionel Jadot, Courtesy of 5VIE
  • Reverso Mustang | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    Reverso Mustang Image: Lionel Jadot, Courtesy of 5VIE
  • SLV chair | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
    SLV chair Image: Lionel Jadot, Courtesy of 5VIE

Reverso Mustang is a sofa composed of a 1930s bed, wooden ceilings by Christophe Gevers, its feet Danish candlesticks from the 1960s, and armrests of Indian woodturning and elements of chimney pipes. The seats, as is evident, are made with the backs of a 1966 Mustang GT350, giving it its peculiar name. Named after Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 film Sex, Lies and Videotape3, the SLV chair is made of old videotapes joined using aluminium and brass frames. “The chair is a sculptural nod to a videotape that has changed the landscape of American film, paving the way for the thriving independent scene of the 1990s.”

10. Lemni armchair by Marco Lavit

Living Divani renewed itself for this special edition of the furniture fair, exhibiting furniture such as the Lemni armchair by designer and architect Marco Lavit, masterfully merging furniture and sculpture. Light as air, the chair enchants with its graphic vitality. A suspended hide seat is balanced on a metal structure in black-painted tubular steel, and a backrest roll cushion tracing a design in the air.

Lemni armchair by Marco Lavit at Living Divani | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
Lemni armchair by Marco Lavit at Living Divani Image: Courtesy of Living Divani Gallery
The matte black Lemni armchair has an airy design | Salone del Mobile.Milano 2021 | STIRworld
The matte black Lemni armchair has an airy designImage: Courtesy of Living Divani Gallery

Click here to read all about STIR at Supersalone, a STIR series on the best of exhibits, moods, studios, events and folks to look out for at Milan Design Week 2021.

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