The chair is one piece of furniture that we have almost constant contact with. We sit on them to relax, to work, to socialise, to eat and to wait. And while they might serve a basic utility, there’s a reason why we all have a favourite – whether it’s an armchair that’s a treasured family heirloom, a stool crafted by our own hands or a lounger that opens up to a breathtaking view. We speak to leading architects, urban designers and gallerists to find out about their favourite perch. Are you sitting comfortably?
“There is no perfect chair; it’s an endless quest,” says Amar Lalvani, ceo of Standard International Hotel Group, from an Italian suede seat in the corner of the Boom Boom Room, an exclusive club on the 18th floor of the hotel’s High Line property. “It’s endless because context is everything. This seat is perfect for sipping a martini and admiring the skyline but when I’m drinking a beer in a Biergarten I want to be on a bench, shoulder to shoulder with mates.” Lalvani, who is in the midst of expanding his hospitality empire, says that the sector is all about providing joy and that venues can start off by paying attention to the details. “Three things make for a fine perch,” he says. “Beauty, comfort and flexibility.” It is his current seat that Lalvani chose to rest on when the venue hosted the Met Gala afterparty. “I love this sofa because it’s where I can have an intimate conversation but remain a part of the room and the city’s infectious energy,” he says. “For me that’s perfect.”
“I’m very picky about furniture,” says Alison Brooks. “Having worked with Ron Arad for seven years, I developed a very different set of criteria and I’ve never found a stool that I really liked.” So, in 2014, the London-based architect teamed up with furniture designer Felix de Pass to make one. Created as part of a collaborative series for the London Design Festival, the seat was made by Benchmark in solid American cherry and partly inspired by Brooks’ childhood in Ontario. “My mother was an antique collector and would go around these strange little towns in search of cherry-wood furniture,” she says. “My love of it comes from youthful indoctrination.” And though it’s been years since De Pass and Brooks came together to work on the project – and even longer since her mother’s antique-shopping days – Brooks says that a number of the stools still hold pride of place in her home. “Stools tend to be over-designed but this one just quietly does its job”.
As far as gifts go when leaving a job, Paul Thompson has a good track record. When departing his post as director of London’s Design Museum in 2001, he was given an lc 1 chair, produced by Cassina and designed by Charlotte Perriand with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. “I curated an exhibition on Perriand,” says Thompson, “and had sat in an lc1 in her flat in Paris, chatting to her about her life and how she designed particular objects.” It’s the sort of conversation that has set Thompson up to educate the next generation of designers, in his new position as vice-chancellor of the Royal College of Art. Pictured here in the Dyson Building’s print-making hall, he says that he won’t be sitting in the lc1 for too long. “It’s a very uncomfortable chair,” says Thompson. So why does he treasure it? “Andrée Putman said that you need to think about visual comfort as well as physical. Despite its stern aesthetic, the lc1 is a clever and whimsical piece of design.”
Iranian-born gallerist Nina Yashar has been a staple of the Milan design scene since 1979, when she opened her first gallery, Nilufar, on Via Bigli. Specialising in 20th-century design, she expanded her footprint dramatically in 2015 when she set up Nilufar Depot, a warehouse-like space on the outskirts of the city that’s a treasure trove of unconventional but outstanding pieces. It’s here that you’ll find Yashar’s favourite seat: Khaled El Mays’ Cha-cha lounge chair. “He’s a Lebanese designer,” says Yashar. “We met some years ago in Beirut and I instantly loved his work, narrative and approach.” In Milan, El Mays’ leather chair feels at home against the backdrop of artist Federica Perazzoli’s vivid wallpapers and curtains. It’s a meeting of two worlds that Yashar hopes will transport visitors to warmer climes. “Sitting on it really makes me feel like I’m in a jungle or in the forest,” she says. “And it’s round so I feel like I’m in a little cocoon; it’s like being embraced by nature.”
“Sometimes you enjoy a chair because it’s comfortable and serves its purpose,” says Lilli Hollein. “But, if you have a background in design, you’re careful with what you surround yourself with, whether that’s something with a story behind it or just because it’s an outstanding piece of design.” And for Hollein, the new director of the mak Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, this armchair from 1927 is both. “This is an exceptional piece that, again and again, gives me power,” says Hollein. “It was designed by Friedl Dicker, the most courageous and talented woman that you could imagine.” Dicker, who was killed in the Holocaust in 1944, studied under Johannes Itten at the Weimar Bauhaus. In her short career, she established a design legacy and her work sits in the permanent exhibition of the mak. “It’s far too delicate to sit on and I have too much respect to even try,” says Hollein. “There are some things that you simply cannot possess.”
Industrial designer and creative director Ini Archibong has long drawn inspiration from the otherworldly. “It’s why I’ve always loved the Togo chairs, even before I could afford one,” says the American-Nigerian designer. The iconic 1973 piece was designed by Michel Ducaroy for French furniture-maker Ligne Roset. “They look like they belong in science fiction, or in a fantasy book.” Archibong explains that he first saw one for himself when a coursemate at Lausanne’s ecal found one abandoned on the street. Then, in 2017, he finally bought one for himself. “I had just moved into a place and though all I had was a mattress, the Togo chair was the first thing I bought.” Now it sits in his daughter’s room and is Archibong’s preferred perch when reading a bedtime story. “I like that people have visceral reactions to it: some people hate it, some people think it’s tacky,” says Archibong. Of course, it’s easy to guess where he lands: “I think it’s super elegant.”
As you might expect from the ceo of Bukowskis, Scandinavia’s leading auction house, Louise Arén knows a well-designed chair when she sees one. And her current favourite perch, tucked in behind a desk at Bukowskis’ HQ in Stockholm, fits that mould: a dark-blue 1950s dss fibreglass chair, designed by iconic American husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames. “I’ve always been drawn to designers who push boundaries, which the Eameses did so many times during their lifetimes,” says Arén. “Looking at this chair, you see how they worked with materials and shapes – I look for that balance of simplicity and brilliance in design.” While Arén’s 150-year-old workplace affords her numerous chances to marvel at beautiful chairs, they’re often out the door before too long. This one was once owned by late Swedish playwright, novelist and poet Lars Norén, and is featured in a forthcoming auction. “Sitting here, I’m reminded of not only this man’s great literature but also his fine taste.”
Contrary to popular belief, the mark of a good city isn’t in the number of pedestrians, says Jan Gehl. “Rather, it’s when you have people who are not pedestrians, who have decided to stop and enjoy the city and its people.” The revered Danish urbanist explains that this is the case in many neighbourhoods in his native Copenhagen, where benches are in abundance. “There is one type of bench for the whole of the city,” says Gehl. “It holds the place together and gives it an identity.” With a design that dates from 1887, the city’s benches feature handles made from cast iron, a timber backrest and an exceptionally comfortable seating position, according to Gehl. As part of an initiative aimed at making the city more liveable for the elderly, many more have been installed around the city. Gehl, who turned 85 this year and whose work has long focused on the relationship between public space and quality of life, would like to be associated with that story. “I’d like to sit on one of those benches.”
Fernanda Canales might be one of the most respected talents in contemporary Mexican architecture but it’s her appreciation of the country’s design heritage that informed this piece. “I made it in 2015, after I published a book in which I mapped the major changes in Mexican architecture since 1900,” says Canales. “I looked at chairs that posed a new relationship between bodies, materials and ways of living.” This piece is inspired by the work of Clara Porset, a designer who rose to fame in Mexico in the 20th century for her interpretation of the traditional butaque, a low, curving lounge chair that dates back to Spanish rule. Now Canales’s own take, the “Porset concrete”, sits in her garden. “I often had to rely on imported designs for outdoor furniture because they were usually more resistant to weathering,” says Canales. “But I always felt that they were not part of the place. I was inspired by Porset and used a material that would resist the elements and even change with time.”
Diego Pinheiro is an architect at Sotero Arquitetos, a design studio led by Adriano Mascarenhas that was responsible for revitalising Marechal Deodoro Square in Salvador’s Comércio district. Here, a new modernist bus shelter made from concrete and Brazilian ipê wood fronts onto the square. “People know subconsciously when they’ve entered into a well-designed space,” says Pinheiro, seated at one of the benches. “They breathe a little easier. It is important when it’s a space that you might use often, such as a bus stop.” Indeed, its generous size, breezy openness and ample shade from Salvador’s sun make for a lovely place to wait and ponder. According to Pinheiro, public furniture benefits from two things: “being sturdy” and “having something to say”. In this case, it speaks to the district’s modernist architectural heritage, with the spacing between benches and columns mimicking the gaps between the pillars of a nearby 1960s build. “Everything is considered,” says Pinheiro.
“In Thailand, we don’t sit on chairs much,” says Kotchakorn Voraakhom. “In Asia, we like to sit on the same level and talk to each other that way.” It’s an approach that the Thai landscape architect brings to her work: when consulting on new designs with communities, she’ll sit on a mat or cushion. But as far as a favourite chair goes, it’s a one-off tropical redwood piece designed by her friend’s mother, Prim Pisolayabutra. Voraakhom has long admired the seat for its raw materiality and smart craftsmanship, as well as the fond memories it brings her. “My friend’s mother is a very artistic person who has always loved painting and making furniture,” says Voraakhom. “So the chair is very meaningful to me because we’re all very close.” Practically, perching atop it is somewhere between sitting and standing. But Voraakhom explains that it’s the physical form she appreciates most. “I love how sculptural it is; you don’t need to sit on it to know that it’s a great chair.”
Niamey-based architect Mariam Kamara designs buildings with people and human relationships in mind. It’s rather fitting, then, that her favourite seat, a reclining chair gifted to her by her brother, also tells a story about community. “It’s the kind of chair that you would see elders in the family sitting on in the courtyard at the end of the day,” says Kamara. This style of seat is common on Africa’s west coast and was traditionally used as a birthing chair. But over the years its use and function has evolved. That evolution reminds Kamara of forgotten histories. In architecture, we often lose track of the past and of the reason why things are the way they are, she says. “That is telling of how we live our lives as ex-colonies; as people whose histories have been co-opted and replaced.” For her, the chair is also a reminder of the ways in which that cycle can be broken. “It makes me think of all the work we need to do to reclaim our history, narratives and heritage.”
Every year, Marco Piscitelli, ceo of Italian design brand Molteni&C Dada, is tasked with reviving furniture from master architect Gio Ponti’s archive. Choosing a frontrunner, then, is tough. But his standout is the d.154.2 armchair, which the brand relaunched in 2015. It was originally designed by Gio Ponti in the 1950s for a villa in Caracas, Venezuela, and Piscitelli loves the chair’s circular seat cushion and enveloping polyurethane shell – so much so that he reclines on one both at home and at the brand’s Giussano HQ. “It’s unconventionally large, which makes it very comfortable and gives me a sense of protection,” says Piscitelli. “I sit in it after a long day of work and find peace.” One of the brand’s best sellers, part of its appeal is that fact that it feels contemporary despite being designed almost 70 years ago, says Piscitelli. That, and the fact that it’s perfect for canoodling. “You can share it with someone else but you will be close. I consider it a love chair.”
Photographers Clément Pascal, Dan Wilton, Mark Arrigo, Luigi Fiano, Stefan Olah, Reto Albertalli, Felix Odell, Maria Thornfeldt, Ana Hop, Christian Cravo, Lek Kiatsirikajorn, Boubacar Magagi, Dariusz Jasak