There are some pieces of furniture that were recognized as classics from the day they were made, while others have been slow burners and are only now enjoying an elevation to classic status after we have had time to look back at periods with better perspective. In recent times, some pieces have become so familiar that they almost border on cliché, like the hanging ball seat by Eero Aarnio or the Eames lounge chair with its matching ottoman.
It is a wonderful irony however that one of the greatest furniture classics of the last century is a lowly café seat designed in the mid nineteenth century- the Thonet bentwood chair. In the 1920s and 1930s and again in the 1960s, when Victorian furniture became all the rage in the Pop period, this elegant and sturdy yet uniquely lightweight chair had the design establishment spellbound- such is its versatility. It is still possible to find one today but such is its status that an original now carries a museum piece price tag. Such is its popularity however, that it has spawned many a variation and copy which are all relatively inexpensive and can be found in almost any furniture store in the country. Comprising of nothing more than two up-ended U’s which make up the arm rests and legs, and a reclining J which makes up the seat, the Thonet chair oozes refined elegance and style. For a real Pop art statement, place in front of some Warhol style wall art, or for Art Deco authenticity, use a set in conjunction with some geometric wallpaper and curtains made out of a matching fabric.
Most other classics tend to have been extremely labour intensive to manufacture and made from costly high-quality materials, and have therefore remained highly exclusive and expensive pieces. One very well known example is the chair designed by Mies van der Rohe for the German Pavilion at the Barcelona Exhibition of 1929. With its luxurious padded leather upholstery and polished steel frame, the Barcelona chair was later to become synonymous with the reception areas of chic 1950s office buildings and affluent penthouses. Today, due to the popularity of the Modern retro look, they are again appearing in the same type of locations and regularly make staring appearances in the bedrooms and living rooms of T.V. favourite Grand Designs!
Modern interiors take good furniture as their main focus, so really give your rooms something to focus on. The most iconic pieces of furniture, like the ones mentioned, are timeless. Such pieces can sit harmoniously next to good contemporary furniture if chosen and arranged confidently. There is no point going to all the trouble of sourcing out such items if you are only going to attempt to seamlessly blend them into your modern home- display them proudly. Built a sense of occasion around them by directing spotlights onto chairs, pulling settees off the wall, framing tables from underneath with colourful rugs or simply choose some seating in a shade that contrasts with your existing furniture. Add just a few carefully selected items such as ornaments or pictures that evoke a spirit of the period in which your classic furniture was made and you will have set the style and the look of the whole interior.