In the hot seat
OF all the everyday objects in the home, the chair is the most likely to become an international design and style icon. Every architect and designer worth their salt has at one time turned their hand at designing one – albeit with varying results – and the best of these are available as authorised reproductions, manufactured just as the original designer intended.
The problem for you and me is that in a time when most of us don't have a seat in our pants, these ones tend to be very expensive indeed – thousands a piece.
Some believe that's what it costs for quality materials and meticulous attention to detail. Chair icon collectors usually regard them as a sculptural piece of design and will buy a hot seat rather than a painting or a sculpture.
There is, however, a practical aspect to this. Like vintage cars and artwork, originals tend to increase their value substantially over time and prove a better investment than a fine wine. A new Egg chair costs €12,000 today while a 1970s' version is worth €20,000. The irony is that this is why some icon chair hoarders won't let anyone sit on their purchases!
The reality is that those who don't have a couple of thousand quid to drop on somewhere classy to park our butts will happily indulge in the wide range of knock-offs available. These will give you the look if not the quality.
When it comes to the true chair icons, you can't say that one design is better than another – it's entirely a matter of personal taste – so I asked seven of Ireland's top design professionals to give me the angle on their favourite classic chair. The resulting pictorial guide will provide you with the bluffer's guide you'll need to hold court on the world's hottest seats.
Alex Milton, head of design at National College of Art and Design (www.ncad.ie), admits to keeping a collection of 40 chairs in a one-bedroom house.
"You have to be obsessed with what you design," he explains. His own favourite is Marcel Wanders' Knotted Chair 1 (1996), a gravity-defying design made from knotted fibres soaked in resin and hung on a frame to dry to harden into the finished form.
"I love the mixture of a low-tech craft like macrame with carbon-fibre technology," he says. The Knotted Chair costs €3,630 from www.droog.com.
The interior designer
Laura Farrell (misslaurafarrell@ gmail.com) reckons that the aluminium Emeco Navy chair 2 is simply the most useful seat ever made.
Designed for the American navy in 1944, it was built to withstand water, salt winds and the occasional torpedo blast. "They are so indestructible that you could fling them against a wall," the interior designer explains.
The chair is largely hand-finished, hence the €799 price tag, but there is also a version made from recycled PET bottles (€499) from the Conran Shop at Arnotts.
Jennifer Goff is curator of furniture at the National Museum of Ireland (www.museum.ie) and an expert on Ireland's legendary designer Eileen Gray.
"I'm going to be totally biased and choose the most comfortable of the Eileen Gray chairs," she admits. "It's called Transat chair 3 and the first time I sat in it I fell asleep! It's a chair for relaxing in; it totally encapsulates your body."
Gray's original 1920s' design was inspired by the deckchairs on transatlantic steamships. It's now reproduced under license and available from Minima from €11,100.
The furniture designer
The EA108 chair 4, designed by Charles Eames in 1958, was radical for its time.
Instead of the traditional shell seat, a taut but elastic seat and back is stretched across its slim aluminium frame. The furniture designer Simon O'Driscoll (www.odfurniture.com) is lucky enough to have one of the vintage versions.
"You can buy it in various finishes," he explains, "but mine is orange and it hasn't faded in 50 years.
"I keep it in my home office although you can also use it as a dining chair. It's very versatile." Expect to pay around €1,677 from www.ambientedirect.com.
"My favourite chair is actually a three-legged stool 5," the architect Sean Harrington (www.sha.ie) explains.
"The Stool 60 was designed by Alvar Aalto in 1933 and it's incredibly practical. To design something so simple and elegant is one of the most difficult things that a designer can do.
"It's efficient, strong and versatile – we sometimes use ours as an occasional table." The sturdy stackable classic costs €217 from www.artek.fi.
The design consultant
As an advisor on 20th-century furniture, Declan Moloney admits to being a bit of an egghead when it comes to chairs.
"Arne Jacobsen's Egg 6 is my chair of choice – I absolutely adore it and the shape makes me happy."
When Moloney first bought his own Egg chair in 2008 he refused to let anyone sit in it.
"At first I was really precious about it, but then my wife said that she would either get rid of the chair, or me, or both of us, so I had to relax. Now it's got wine stains and it's a bit battered, but it looks so much better with a bit of a patina."
The Egg chair costs from €4,925 from www.lostweekend.ie.
The furniture retailer
"That's my favourite," says Helen Gilmartin, owner of Minima (www.minima.ie), pointing to an elegant but cosy looking chair, its quilted cushioning stuffed almost casually into a shell-shaped base.
"It's called the Husk chair 7 (€3,000) and it was designed in 2011 by Patricia Urquiola for B&B Italia. She really knows how to make something comfortable."
Despite the undoubted stylishness of the base and legs, the overflowing upholstery confirms my suspicions that Urquiola is one of the few contemporary designers unafraid of squishiness.