15 Iconic Dining Chairs You Should Know By Name

This swooping icon was inspired by a new world power that would change the way people lived: plastic. Experimental Danish designer Verner Panton—fascinated with the progressive polymer that could be molded into any shape and mass-produced—set his sights on a fantasy: A chair made in one piece. The challenge? Finding someone who could produce it. “15 to 20 manufacturers have tried it but have all rejected the project for different reasons,” Verner told Rolf Fehlbaum, of Swiss manufacturer Vitra, in 1963. They agreed to take on the task. Four years and ten prototypes later, a limited run of what became known as the Panton chair—a canti­levered seat in laminated, fiberglass-reinforced polyester—was debuted at the Cologne Furniture Fair. 

Though the chair became an immediate icon, its composition was never static. Verner and Vitra tirelessly experimented with new materials in pursuit of utmost durability and simplicity of production, oscillating from polyurethane foam to polystyrene (it was thinner but required ribs under the seat for support), back to polyurethane foam, and finally to today’s most popular rendition—a flexible, durable, but more matte polypropylene, which hit the market in 1999, just a year after Verner’s death. A new polypropylene version goes for $310; the polyurethane foam costs $1,675.

Frank Gehry’s Wiggle Chair

Wiggle chairs by Frank Gehry in the London living room of Cabana magazine founder Martina Mondadori.

Wiggle chairs by Frank Gehry in the London living room of Cabana magazine founder Martina Mondadori.

Say what you want about the wiggle trend, architect Frank Gehry was seriously ahead of the curve. When a group of artists and scientists from NASA called a meeting at artist Robert Irwin’s studio in 1969, they asked Gehry to give the place a quick makeover. Given a shoestring budget, Gehry came up with something simple yet subtly futuristic: seating made from stacks of cardboard, a humble material he kept around for making models. “I discovered that by alternating the direction of layers of corrugations, the finished board had enough strength to support a small car and [had] a uniform, velvety texture on all four sides,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 1972. “I found I could cut these edge-board sections into geometrical forms or bend them into sculptural ribbon-candy folds.” It was also durable, needed no finishing, and had a noise-canceling quality that reportedly cut sound volume in half. Soon, with Irwin’s help, Frank made a file cabinet and reception desk for his office, which led to the Easy Edges series of shelves, side tables, and, its enduring claim to fame, the Wiggle Side Chair, a narrow slab bent into an S-shaped seat. While the press and public went wild for what The New York Times Magazine deemed “paper furniture for penny pinchers,” Frank worried its popularity would eclipse his architecture, so he stopped production of Easy Edges in 1973 and quit cardboard furniture altogether by 1982, eventually ceding rights to Vitra, where the Wiggle is made today and sold for $1,175.

Donald Judd’s 84 Chair

At a Minnesota house a Donald Judd Desk 33 and Chair 84 face Lake Minnetonka.

At a Minnesota house, a Donald Judd Desk 33 and Chair 84 face Lake Minnetonka.

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