The office chair is the undisputed king of the workspace.
And why wouldn’t it be? Most office workers spend at least six hours in their chairs. Knowing this, big box stores have entire sections dedicated to them in the same way a car dealership fills their showroom with their best and brightest.
While most professionals are quick to point out the comfort and status a good chair brings, few can dive into the history of the office chair. When were they invented? How did they become popular?
We’re going to dive into each of these questions over the next few sections.
When Did the First Office Chair Appear?
This is a tricky question because there is no clear-cut answer. According to an article by Slate in 2012, you could make the case that the first real business recliner was hewn from stone for Egyptian rulers back in the days of the Pharaoh and sun gods.
That’s right; ergonomic chairs hit the market way back in 3,000 B.C.. Or so alludes Jenny Pynt, the author of “A History of Seating, 3,000 BC to 2,000 AD: Functions Versus Aesthetics”.
A Metropolitan Museum of Art photo of one of these chairs confirms it; you can see a slight angle on the back of the chair.
The second theory on the emergence of the office chair points to the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, where an American chairmaker debuted his iron and velvet beauty. The chair could swivel, roll, and lean back.
It was known as the “Centripetal Spring Armchair” and it was so comfortable people said it was immoral. Here’s a photo of the chair without armrests:
In the United States, ergonomic office chair designs picked up steam, but not popularity. In fact, there was a time at the beginning of the 20th century when ergonomic chairs were thought to make you lazy. At the same time, famous designers like Frank Lloyd Wright tried their hand at designing chairs.
However, they put a lot of emphasis on the form side of things and didn’t really care about function. If the chair fit well with the surrounding decór, that was good enough. The spines of the world had no say, as you can see in this photo of a Wright-designed chair:
How Did They Become Popular?
Thankfully, the concept of the comfortable office chair didn’t remain buried under laziness stereotypes or the form-over-function philosophies of designers.
Thank You, Eames Brothers
By the time the 50’s rolled around, chair designers were creating seats that flaunted a high level of comfort and style. This is the time in which the Eames brothers created their iconic aluminum group chairs, knockoffs of which can be seen in hit TV shows (Scandal) and movies (The Big Short).
Our Nova High Back is an excellent example of an Eames-style chair.
Bill Stumpf Leads the Way
Over the next few decades, a guy by the name of Bill Stumpf emerged as a leading designer for chairs worthy of the home and office. He popularized the round seat, round seat-back design we see all over the world.
Check out our OSP8180 multifunction task chair to get an idea of a Stumpf-inspired design.
Stumpf is basically the rock star of the modern world of office chairs, as he managed to find a middle ground between a chair that looks good and a chair that feels good.
He went on to design a mesh-back office chair that featured lumbar support. He called it the “Aeron”. It turned out to be another staple in the office chair world. Take a look at our Strata 1580a8S to get a good sense of the Stumpf’s lumbar chairs.
And if you’re looking for a savvy choice for reception-area reading, take a look at Jonathan Oliveras’ “Taxonomy of Office Chairs”.
History is On Your Side
The beauty of the office chair is that it combines look and feel. Designers put an emphasis on creating a piece of furniture which is as pleasing to the spine as it is to the eye.
Our catalog features dozens of different types of office chairs, from the Eames-inspired high and mid back chairs to a variety of different office chairs created in the vein of some of Stumpf’s most legendary designs.
One of the take-homes here is that an office chair isn’t just a chair. There are thousands of years of history behind it (depending on who you ask) and countless hours of design poured into what we normally think is just a pedestrian chunk of plastic, fabric and metal.