The chair is the ultimate designer’s fetish object, to create one, and have it be used and admired, is the strongest test of a designer’s chops and talent. A deceptively complex object that can embody staggering technology or humbleness in manufacture, the chair is a symbol of status and station, of taste and style, an essential everyday item, a tool, and a decoration.

This collection covers our material history, design giants from the past like Stephan Siwinski and Court Noxon to contemporary talents like Patty Johnson and Scot Laughton. These pieces showcase expertise in wood, metal, and plastic fabrication. Some feature wild new materials and demonstrate a global contribution to modernism and contemporary design, handmade and craft, and embrace both mass production, limited production, and one-offs.

Tweet us your responses to The_CDR, we would love to know what you think of this list.

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Canadian Wooden Aircraft Dining Chair c1946 by W. Czerwinski & H. Stykolt. A straightforward construction and single material that helped transform a wartime factory and its technology to household products. This chair is an early example of bent molded plywood and lamination (pre-dating the Eames LCWchair and work by Alvar Aalto and Marcel Breuer) that gave it a graceful, organic form, a lightness and springiness to make it more comfortable. This chair design is one of the most significant post-war furniture pieces in Canada.

 

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Lounge Chair c1948 by A.J. Donahue. Known simply as Canada’s Coconut chair (a direct competitor to the work George Nelson produced years later), this piece featured a scooped laminated plywood shell with a low-slung curved foam seat mounted on welded metal rod legs. A brave modern form for its time, the chair also came with a shocking colour palette of bright colours and bold materials, including fuzzy cloth and plaids. Originally sold for $35 at the Hudson’s Bay Company, today the chairs are now considered collectors’ items.

 

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Perpetua Furniture Spring-Back Chair c1951 by Peter Cotton. Such a smart way to create a form that moved to the sitters body, flexing to improve the experience (an idea that Arne Jacobsen exploited so well in his Series 7 chair a year later). Visually light, the chair was built tough and many are still intact and being used today. Easy to manufacture, a single metal rod is bent to produce all four legs and support the steam bent seat and backrest, which could also be upholstered. Minimal parts, minimal manufacturing, and locally available materials made this an instant hit and the design thinking behind it is a lesson for designers today.

 

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Werner Contour Lounge Chair c1953 by Julien Hébert. This simple and comfortable chaise transformed a ski pole maker into a furniture brand, proving that design helps business innovate. Formally honest, two bent tubular forms resting on a triangular base that are also the arm rests, with a canvas support laced to the frame, thousands were sold. It was selected to represent Canada at the Triennale di Milano, and was featured in Domus magazine and Decorative Arts Annual (1954–55), and was selected to be part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s design collection. This was one of the first Canadian products to receive such loud international praise.  The “Contour Chair” is the perfect synthesis of Hébert’s humanist design philosophy: inexpensive, practical, and well adapted to production.

 

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Modernart Cord Chair c1954 by Jacques Guillon. The honest modernist qualities of this design were reflected strongly in the original materials used to develop this chair.  Still recovering from the country’s economic downfall, Guillon economically utilized salvaged materials to develop his design in the post-war era using airplane wings and parachute cording to construct the framework and seat. The cord chair is a near perfect balance of fragility and strength….and was licensed to a company that, not coincidentally, manufactured wooden tennis rackets. The Cord Chair which was revealed to the world one year later at the Milan Triennial.

Tribute was paid to Guillon when his design was re-issued by Toronto based furniture manufacturer, Avenue Road.

 

 

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Spanner Products Lounge Chair c1954 by Russell Spanner (1916–1974).  Another example of design shifting the fortunes of a company. Spanner’s family owned a battery box-making outift, that he used to create a successful collection of furniture called California. The design of the original boxes are seen in the furniture, like exposed bolts, rigid forms, and finger-joint details. Ruspan furniture exemplifies the ideals of the post-war period: tough and durable, produced in sectional units that could be combined in various ways for expanding product lines and into new products, lightweight and non-upholstered meant easy to clean with a modern feel, and simple materials and construction. The Lounge Chair with Arms has become a classic of Canadian Mid-Century Modern furniture design.

Out of production for more than 50 years, Toronto’s Gus* worked in collaboration with the Spanner family to revive this iconic chair.

 

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Korina Fiberglass Chair c1965  by Stefan Siwinski (1965-2008). One of Canada’s most famous chairs, this one is remarkable for many reasons, particularly for the designer’s ability to control of almost all aspects of manufacturing and international sales, and for being an early example of fiberglass and a new molding technique. Inspired by the material exploration of the Eames team, Siwinski tested, prototyped and experimented for almost a decade before releasing this piece. The Korina marked the beginning of a new era in modern furniture with a design that maintains a progressive look even today.

 

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Karema Habitat Garden Chair c1967 by Michel Dallaire. Part of an impressive collection of lovely examples of modernism, designed specifically for the tailored spaces of Habitat 67,  Moshe Safdie’s influential apartment buildings in Montréal. Its form remains relevant compared with today’s furniture design, a perfect combination of materials to suit each part, a tight stable stance, and a lightweight open look. An obvious nod to the seamless metal tubing icon of Breuer, this could be called Canadian Bauhaus.

 

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Ambiant Systems MS-SC Stacking Chair c1968 by Keith Muller & Michael Stewart. Following a cultural recommendation that Canadian school children should use Canadian designs, the Ontario provincial government commissioned these chairs. Responding to a challenging design brief, the designers created a stacking marvel, using a single material (the seat, backrest and front legs are made from one piece of plywood) and simple knockdown construction. The two back legs are attached with exposed screws. Produced for over 15 years, thousands of natural and brightly coloured chairs were made.

 

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Zeidler Roberts Partnership Lady Bug Chair c1971 by Court Noxon The Noxon name has become synonymous with sophisticated modern furniture and the growth of industrial design in Canada. Noxon worked among the best of his generation along with Jan Kuypers and Leif Jacobsen. While selling furniture of his own design across the country and abroad, he made components for the major international furniture houses including Knoll and Laverne.

 

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IPL Solair Chair c1972 by Fabio Fabiano & Michelange Panzini. Riding the wave of design energy coming out of Expo67 and the nationalist fervour of Canada’s Centennial, the two newly minted designers were recruited to rework the concept of a Canadian-designed, comfortable and stylish, modern indoor/outdoor chair. Using new injection molding plastic technology and steel framing, the chair was designed over the space of one weekend to meet a pressing contract deadline. The chair went on to become an iconic fixture of North American roadside motels and pools of the period, and has been in continuous production for the past forty years.

 

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Vitra Wiggle Chair c1972 by Frank Gehry.  Part of a series of cardboard furniture, Easy Edges, the Wiggle, stands out as a highlight. Gehry wanted to challenge the idea of “good taste” and of traditional furniture making, flipping them to promote affordable good design. The choice of  lowbrow cardboard, stacked layer upon layer of 60 sheets created an organic comfort with impossible curves, and explored how to get more design to more people.  The fact that he took this humble material and transformed it is extremely noteworthy.

 

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Kebe Møbler Ribbon Chair c1975 by Niels BendtsenThis early piece by one of Canada’s top furniture designers is approachable and soft. Made of materials that are recognizable and unfussy, the chair feels homey and familiar – a perfect expression of its time. It is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

 

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Sunar CAZ Chair c1976 by Douglas BallThe late 80’s were the true birth of industrial design in Canada and the philosophy of ergonomics really hit home.  Sunar was one of Canada’s largest exporters of office furniture systems and Ball was the creative leader. Between 1967 and 1978, he collaborated in the creation of new systems that dramatically changed the field of office furniture, one of which was the revolutionary CAZ Chair. His concepts enabled the company to expand its market beyond the borders and to carve a reputation as a leader in office furniture and workspace.

 

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Artopex Lotus Chair c1976 by Paul BoulvaThese chairs were created for the Montreal Olympics but also found a market afterwards in the contract furniture market. The functional seat/backrest tub snapped onto the steel tube frame is an early example of injection-molded and durable polypropylene. The bold form meant the chairs are stackable and available in many colours and could be upholstered.

 

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Ambiant Systems Steamer lounge chair c1978 by Thomas Lamb (1938-1997).  The warm, woody look of the Steamer’s see-through slat frame conjures images of Canada’s vast forests. This organic chair, with its repetitive, unified design of nine-ply Canadian maple molded with identical curves and cuts, has a form that provides optimal seating and support that can be used anywhere. Thoughtfully designed, the chair is super lightweight, and can be folded flat by simply removing a pin. It has no harsh finishes or complex hardware and joinery, and is available in three versions (all using the same parts), that include a lounge, dining height and chaise. It is the first Canadian object to enter the Museum of Modern Art‘s permanent design collection.

 

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Keilhauer Gazelle Chair c1987 by Jonathan Crinion This was an early design that used computer tooling and digital modeling to move from ideation to full production, a process that made room for multiple versions (with or without arms, wooden slat seat pans, and multiple finishes and colours). Over 20,000 stacking Gazelle chairs have been sold throughout North America and the design is still in production.

 

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Umbra Oh Chair c1999 by Karim RashidThis is a rethink of the common white plastic garden/occasional chair that had swept across North America. Rashid wanted to apply his skills in replacing these with something better. Partnering with Umbra, he created an ergonomic, flexible design that offered excellent support and comfort, and were easy to stack and clean. In addition, they could be used inside and out, and the colours changed as the market needed. Thousands have been sold globally and the march to replace the banal one is ongoing.

 

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Keilhauer Olo Chair c2006 by Andrew JonesInspired by a soap bubble, this design is both playful and sculptural, but also pays homage to the classic forms of the 50’s. The rounded, soft form effortlessly supports the body and uses all its materials to maximum advantage for the sitter. The design created a range of options, from polypropylene coloured shells, with either a matching seat or an upholstered cushion, or the shell can be fully upholstered. The Olo’s chromed steel base was also offered in a four legged or sled version, and could be ordered in a conference or lounge height. This is an ultimate contract furniture piece, flexible in application, and ideal for almost any environment (including outdoors).

 

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Liana Cane Plaisance Lounge c2006 by Patty Johnson. This is a classic like none other. Socially conscious and high design, it is an almost impossible combination, but here it is.  Johnson traveled into the African interior, collaborating with local weavers to create her new award-winning North South Project collection of ecological, cultural and aesthetically sustainable design.

 

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Nendo Cabbage Chair c2009 Oki SatoInfluenced by Issey Miyake‘s  Pleats Please manufacturing process, Oki Sato designed the cabbage chair for XXIst Century Man exhibition curated by Miyake. “Miyake asked nendo to think about using the pleated paper that is produced in mass amounts during the process of making pleated fabric, and usually abandoned as an unwanted by-product. Since the production process is so simple the chair could be shipped as one compact roll for the user to cut open and peel back at home”.  This is a perfect example of what design can do when given a blank slate, and reminds us how furniture could be fashion and art.

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NGispeN Amateur Masters Chair c2011 by Jerszy Seymour. Design is driven by advancements in material and technology, but not always just looking forward but also pulling from the past. Choosing not to reinvent the chair form (inspired directly by the classic Eames Shell Chair), this work explores a tough new material, the 100% biodegradable polycaprolactone wax, and ends up becoming a new formal language. A classic post modern experimental idea, these hand-molded series of one offs explore how we consume design, participate in a sustainable future, and use time to speak to our time and issues over the recycled tastes of the past.

 

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Bensen Park Lounge Chair c2011 by Niels BendtsenThe award winning Park Lounge Chair is a new take on the classic wiwing-back chair that is perfect for curling up with a book. Premium manufacturing features a molded foam body over elastic webbing and tough beautiful textiles that ensure that this piece will last many lifetimes. An elegant thoughtful form, reminiscent of earlier modernist icons, this piece has given the Canadian furniture market an upscale perception in the global marketplace.

 

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Farmhouse Chair c2014 by Scot LaughtonThese beautiful pieces of wooden furniture are designed to be made locally in rural areas of China. These simply created pieces empower regional communities by stimulating and sustaining local economies, whose manufacturing and techniques (plus a talented designer) are combined to create a product that can be sold globally.

 

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Dd Haida Chair c2014 by Patty Johnson. An instant classic, the chair was inspired from a year embedded in the craft and technology of the Haida Gwaii in the Pacific Northwest. Johnson applied her experiences, using the techniques of traditional steam bending and joinery to produce a tough proud chair that uses no fasteners or glues (similar to the cedar shaping for canoes and the longhouses of the area).  The project highlighted how contemporary Canadian designers are looking into our own backyard for inspiration and design thinking.

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