Recently, I have been thinking a lot about chair designs. Last week, I wrote about my wishes for a modern chaise longue sofa and that got me thinking about why I liked that particular form. I decided that it was partly due to my admiration of the elegant form, and my appreciation of the function.
I realized that this style of chaise longue with a flat seat and half back not only made for an elegant, asymmetrical design, but helped define its usage. The combination of flat seat and corner back rest made it easy to sit upright with your feet on the ground or, by rotating your body, to sit slightly reclined with your feet elevated. Slouching allowed a more reclined position. The tapered back allowed full support for only one user at a time, discouraging a second person to sit upright on the sofa (thus leaving the option of putting your feet up at any time).
Since then, I began thinking about conversation chairs (two chairs built as one unit, side-by-side and facing opposite directions). I have always liked the idea of the unique design which was pointed towards a very specific intended use.
However, the conversation chair had a very specific design with a clearly-defined purpose. It did not work well as a dining chair. It was not intended for use by more than two people. It could not be placed in a corner or flat against a wall without impeding its function and, therefore, it could not be used in a narrow space.
There were also a few things that I didn’t really like about the design. While thinking about my own rendition, I first had to rethink the classic design and establish my goals for the design. Then I had to customize the design so that it made sense to me.
As much as I liked the fluid design of the conversation chairs which often incorporated a flowing S-shaped armrest, I never felt that the design fully lived up to its name. To me, it seemed like more of a conversation piece than a piece that promoted conversation between its occupants. I always thought that the design seemed more suited to two people doing their own thing and simply facing in the general direction of each other, with a barrier between them that is not a table. Eye contact was not promoted and was easy to avoid, since the two people sitting in the chair had to turn their heads to look at each other.
When I began designing my version of a conversation chair, I began by thinking about what I wanted to achieve. I wanted it to:
- comfortably seat two people (and only two);
- provide intimacy (dictate close proximity);
- promote eye contact;
- remove physical barriers (no table, no arm rest between the seats);
- minimize and discourage distractions (books, newspapers, phones, laptop computers);
- be strong and light enough to be moved around by one person; and
- look good.
These goals helped me determine the form of the chair. The first goal was the easiest to achieve and the last one took the most work (I’m still not there yet).