Rollback Chair: In its coverage of NeoCon in 1977, the New York Times described Ray Wilkes's Rollback Chair as having “an outsized sausage” that was roughly as big as a “giant roll of paper toweling.” The chair’s backrest could be adjusted in seven different positions and was height adjustable.
Chair-Table: Although this handmade chair circa 1650 might not fit the definition of a traditional office chair, the way it cleverly converted to a table made it perfectly suited for the “home offices” of 17th-century New England interiors. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Pollock Chair: Instead of a fully upholstered seat back, the 1965 Pollack Chair had a molded plastic shell. According to Jonathan Olivares’s “A Taxonomy of Office Chairs,” the use of less fabric was intended to lower costs, resulting in a chair that was more affordable than the Saarinen iconic 1951 design.
Lily Swivel Chair: Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1970, the Lily Chair’s complex compound curves, made with 10 layers of veneer, ended up being impractical to mass produce at the time. It was shelved until 2007, when advances in molding technologies made manufacturing the chair more feasible.
HÅG Capisco, 1984: These “saddle chairs” were made to mimic the dynamic posture of a horse rider. They encourage sitting in a variety of positions—facing forward, backward, or even to the side—and had footrests covering each caster.
TechnoGym Wellness Ball: The latest evolution in “active sitting,” which aims to engage core muscles throughout the workday, may be TechnoGym’s recently introduced Wellness Ball. It’s denser at the base to improve stability and has a breathable, bacteria-resistant cover.
Centripetal Spring Armchair: Designed over a century and a half ago, in 1849, Thomas E. Warren’s Centripetal Spring Armchair had all the hallmarks of a modern office chair: castors, a swiveling base, and—surprisingly—a tilting seat, thanks to the eight, springy steel loops on which the seat was suspended. Photo courtesy of the Design Museum, London.
Nelson Perch for Herman Miller: This George Nelson classic from 1964 perhaps foreshadows the current interest in stand-up desks. The chair was part of the “Action Office” that George Nelson designed for Herman Miller’s then recently established research department for workplace efficiency. (See also, Konstantin Grcic 360 Chair, released in 2009.)
Steelcase Gesture: After studying the habits of 2,000 knowledge workers, Steelcase identified nine new computing postures spawned by mobile devices. The company’s Gesture chair, to be released this fall, has floating armrests, a flexible recline, and other features to facilitate our new way of working.
Liberty by Humanscale: Designed by ergonomics superstar Niels Diffrient in 2002, the Liberty used three panels of fabric with varying degrees of elasticity to create a firm but invisible lumbar support.
Setu by Herman Miller: Look underneath this 18-pound chair and you’ll find none of the usual contraptions. Rather than relying on pneumatics for comfort, this 18-pound chair, designed in 2009, has a polypropylene-and-rubber “spine” that flexes to offer 26 degrees of recline when you lean back.
LimbIC by Inno-Motion: The $8,500 LimbIC, released in 2011, bills itself as the first chair that “combines the latest from neuroscience with ergonomics.” Created by a graduate of the MIT Media Lab, this chair (or a radical deconstruction of one) aims to encourage micro-movements in the body, thereby stimulating the limbic system.
40/4 Swivel: Finding beauty in mass production, David Rowland designed his 40/4 stacking chair to be light and easy to produce. Over 8 million 40/4 have been sold since its introduction in 1964. The swiveling version maintains the original’s utter simplicity.
Vertebra: The Metropolitan Museum of Art credits Emilio Ambasz’s 1976 Vertebra as with being “the first automatically adjustable office chair, designed to respond and adapt to the movements of the user's body.” Its seat back was connected to the base by the chair’s arms, which flexed when you leaned back.
Larkin Revolving Armchair: Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the Larkin Soap Company’s administrative office, in Buffalo, New York, blurred the line between architecture and furniture. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. Revolving Office Chair: An early example of democratic design, this oak chair, listed in a 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog, had a back that was “shaped to fit the form” and a height-adjustable seat. The price with a perforated leather seat: $10.15, the equivalent of $255 today. Photo courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Maryland.
Emeco Navy Semi-Upholstered Swivel Armchair: Emeco 's hollow-core aluminum chairs (1944) were relatively lightweight compared with its solid-metal contemporaries. They were used extensively aboard U.S. Navy ships and submarines.
Saarinen Executive Conference Chair: Saarinen’s classic lounge chair, the Womb, was the first to be made of molded polypropylene. The designer’s 1957 collection for Knoll applied that technology to the office. The curved seat back of this iconic executive chair was made possible using molded fiberglass.
Aeron by Herman Miller: Its computer-centric ergonomics aside, this now iconic chair of the dot-com era was also notable for the way it standardized the landscape of the office. In 1994, it was one of the first office chairs that wasn’t offered in different models to reflect workplaces hierarchies.
Evolution of the Task Chair: Man's Quest for Comfort