Prior to the late 19th century, the value of furniture had been based on the amount of time that an artisan spent on the piece and how ornate it was. However, as new technologies emerged and industrial manufacturing methods began to make furniture production cheaper and easier, furniture design began to change. As a result, modern furniture designers began to design furniture that was intended to reach the masses, rather than creating furniture solely for the elite.
With the advent of modern furniture also arose the concept of creating pieces for functional, practical reasons, a concept that was heavily influenced by the simplicity of Japanese design and the spread of Japonism across Europe.
With this change in focus, modern furniture designs were created to be more practical with regard to style and color choices. The materials used to design furniture also began to evolve with more pieces using plastics, steel, molded plywood, and glass in order to lighten the footprint of the furniture, which was actually a working philosophy of the Deutscher Werkbund school.
At the same time, the Bauhaus school emerged and became highly influential as the members of Bauhaus worked to combine intellectual, practical, commercial, and aesthetic concerns through art and technology in furniture design and all other aspects.
The golden age of the modern chair was the 20th century, when technological innovations and the upward mobility of the masses drove the world’s best designers to seize the creative challenge of re-inventing a lowly piece of furniture. Chairs are like pop songs. You might think, Why would any songwriter even bother after Lennon/McCartney? The same is true for chair design after Charles and Ray Eames. But, thank God, great minds are still at it, and a wide range of inspired and inspiring hits has resulted.
With a couple exceptions, architects made the chairs on this list. Maybe chairs are more like little buildings—requiring exactly the right balance of wild dreaming and pragmatic restraint—and that’s why creating them appeals to the great practitioners of the mother of all arts.