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Architecture is an ebb and flow between interior and exterior—a round-trip

Charlotte Perriand

The practice of architecture is employed to fulfil both practical and expressive requirements and serves both utilitarian and aesthetic ends. The same can be said of furniture design, with iconic designers placing equal emphasis on function and form. Agata Toromanoff, author of Chairs by Architects, explains that chairs have afforded architects an opportunity to distil their techniques, innovations, and style into a new medium and that a chair is a way of demonstrating an architect’s credentials as a designer to a wider audience.

Look a little closer and you will discover a myriad of designers who have excelled at both. From the Barcelona Chair by Mies Van Der Rohe to the Wiggle Side Chair by Frank Gehry, many talented architects have also made a distinguishable mark in the field of furniture design. Their chairs often reading as wonderful microcosms of their architectural philosophies.

Mies van der Rohe

We should attempt to bring nature, houses, and human beings together in a higher unity.

Mies van der Rohe.
The Barcelona Pavillion.

Mies van der Rohe established his own architectural style in the 1920s, with extreme clarity and simplicity at its core. His buildings made use of modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass and he called his buildings “skin and bones” architecture. The Barcelona Pavilion (1929) and the Farnsworth House (1945-1951) are beautiful representations of Mies’ design philosophy, “less is more” and embrace his wish that buildings leave space for the freedom needed by the individual human spirit to flourish.

Designed not to be a chair, but a “monumental object” for display at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, the Barcelona Chair remains one of the most collectible and desirable furniture pieces of the 20th century. With its scissor-shaped steel frame and simple elegance, this chair could certainly be considered a microcosm of Mies van der Rohe’s architectural principles.

A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.

Mies van der Rohe.
The Barcelona Chair and Farnsworth House.

Charlotte Perriand

It wasn’t merely a question of designing and dreaming, but of showing and experimenting.

Charlotte Perriand.
Les Arcs Ski Resort.

Charlotte Perriand designed interiors that did away with divisions, furniture that embraced function and form and dwellings that married architecture and nature. Les Arcs Ski (1969) was an embodiment of her wish to make spaces affordable, beautiful and practical and she led a team of designers that tackled everything from the wood-grained terraced superstructures, to her own furniture contributions.

Perriand believed that her designs should be adapted for the real world and the needs of the people who would one day live in that space. Les Arcs Ski is renowned for this and it can be seen in the detail. Details like designing open-plan kitchens so as to not isolate the person doing the cooking and moving each story of the structure back 1.4m in order to make each apartment’s terrace an equal size and equally sunny.

The idea behind her architectural and interior designs was to make people’s day-to-day lives easier. The same could be said of her first furniture collaboration with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret – the LC rage of seating. The LC3 was designed as a modern alternative to the traditional club chair, one which would be suitable for “conversation, relaxing and sleeping”.

The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living.

Charlotte Perriand.
The LC3 and Les Arcs Ski Resort.

Frank Gehry

Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.

Frank Gehry.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

The weirdly wonderful, world acclaimed and much celebrated architectural work of Frank Gehry was momentarily overshadowed by his extraordinary Wiggle Chair design that was launched in 1972. Gehry discovered that alternating the direction of compressed and glued layers of corrugated cardboard would produce a finished board with enough strength to support a small car, as well as a uniform, velvety texture on all four sides. It was so well-received that he worried its popularity would eclipse the acclaim for his architectural skills and he quit production of cardboard furniture altogether in 1982.

The Wiggle Side Chair may have been discontinued, but it remains a testament to the design genius of Frank Gehry.

His architectural career so far has been a glittering one. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997) has been described as “the greatest building of our time” and whilst the Lou Revo Center (2010) has received mixed reviews, the one constant response is a desire to go inside and explore. Gehry’s style is considered deconstructivist, a movement in postmodern architecture where elements of the design appear to be fragmented. He is credited with changing the urban landscape and his bold, unique and unusual shapes are works of art.

The best advice I’ve received is to be yourself. The best artists do that.

Frank Gehry.
The Wiggle Side Chair and Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Le Corbusier

To create architecture is to put in order. Put what in order? Function and objects.

Le Corbusier.
Unite d’ Habitation.

Le Corbusier spurned ornamentation and promoted functionalism – he aimed to make art and architecture more measured, and controlled. Alongside Amédée Ozenfant, he coined the term “Purism” and designed in a way that represented a “return to order” of social and cultural forces. Le Corbusier’s Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau encompassed these principles, and they are also present in the Unite d’ Habitation (1952) and the Palace of Assembly (1962).

Through collaborations with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeaneret, Le Corbusier branched into furniture design. He moved away from the ready-made furniture he had previously sourced and they started to experiment in 1928. The LC4 Chaise Longue was one such experiment – a successful one at that – and it became an icon of modernist furniture. Their use of tubular steel and sleek black leather was radical for the time and was determined by the requirements of architecture, setting, and prestige. Not moving too far away from his purist philosophy, Le Corbusier described the chair in a rather cerebral manner, calling it a “true resting machine”.

The purpose of construction is to make things hold together; of architecture to move us.

Le Corbusier.
The LC4 Chaise Longue and the Palace of Assembly.

Eero Saarinen

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

Eero Saarinen
The General Motors Technical Centre in Michigan.

Eero Saarinen is best known for his iconic neo-futuristic style – encapsulated beautifully in architectural masterpieces like the TWA Flight Centre. He brought elements of exploration and experimentation to American architectural design during the 1950s, combining form and function in unique ways and incorporating curvilinear and sculptural forms. His designs were ground-breaking for the time. Some of his most recognizable designs include The Gateway Arch (1965), the General Motors Technical Centre, (1956) and the MIT Chapel (1955).

Saarinen was also passionate about furniture and collaborated with his father and other architectural icons like Florence Knoll and Ray and Charles Eames. Two of his most revered works are the Womb Chair and the Tulip Chair. The Tulip Chair was made out of fiberglass and aluminium and exists as one of the first one-legged chairs. In many ways it represents much of Saarinen’s architectural style – daring, ground-breaking and certainly neo-futuristic.

I have come to the conviction that once one embarks on a concept for a building, this concept has to be exaggerated and overstated and repeated in every part of its interior so that wherever you are, inside or outside, the building sings with the same message.

Eero Saarinen.
The Tulip Chair and the TWA Flight Centre JFK International Airport.

Charles and Ray Eames

The role of the designer is that of a very good thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames.

Interiors of the Eames House.

Charles and Ray Eames symbolized the power of collaboration – their innovative designs are said to have shaped the course of modernism. Their talent extended into a range of fields and they designed houses, textiles, graphics, furniture, exhibitions and even toys. Their goal was to produce affordable, high-quality designs that embraced new technology and materials. Their mission statement was bold and simple: “We want to make the best for the most for the least.”

The Eames House is considered a landmark of the mid-20th century modern architecture. It is comprised of two buildings, one which is residential and the other which is a studio and it has a wonderful integration of indoor and outdoor spaces. The house was designed to support day-to-day living functions, as well as meeting guest needs and work needs. Similarly, the furniture the Eames duo made was also stylish and, above all, fit for purpose. Their designs were pleasing and accessible and had mass appeal. The Eames Shell Chair is testament to their design philosophy and is as relevant today as it was in 1950 – accessible, practical and visually appealing.

The Eames Shell Chair, DSW Chair, DWSX Chair and the Eames House.

The details are not the details. They make the design.

Charles Eames.

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