What Makes This Chair So Cool?
What Makes This Chair So Cool?
How a humble office chair became a collectable design icon
If you're the type that double taps on Instagrams of stylish interiors and pays attention to the decor of shops (not just what's hanging on the racks), you've likely picked up on the Chandigarh chair's popularity as of late. Featuring a distinctive V-shaped leg design made from teak wood and woven cane, the unofficially dubbed "Jeanneret chair" seems to be popping up everywhere these days.
We recently spotted one at 18 East's new concrete-walled New York flagship and the brand also used the minimalist chair in its look book. Interior designer Neal Beckstedt uses them not just for his high-end clients but in his own office studio as well. Why now? That's hard to say. Perhaps it has something to do with the unique tone these chairs strike—the natural materials and woven texture give it a perfectly imperfect look that's offset by the sleek, mid-century silhouette. It's modern yet ruggedly rustic.
But would you believe that these handsome icons of high design were once standard-issue government furniture? And worse, later tossed out on the street? The design was just one of several by Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret, who was recruited by his cousin—famed architect Le Corbusier—and tasked with creating furniture for a newly-minted modern city in India's Punjab province called Chandigarh. It was dubbed "an expression of the nation's faith in the future," by India's first Prime Minister after the country gained its independence.
Jeanneret devised the distinctive yet highly functional chairs for the city's government offices, courtrooms and colleges. The furniture produced for the project was not made in one single operation. Rather, the architects chose to open a number of small workshops where the chairs were built by local craftsmen wielding hand tools. You can usually spot crudely painted or stenciled building codes on the back of a piece. Those just add to the furniture's mystique.
Pair of original Pierre Jeanneret office chairs, $16,573.61 at 1stDibs
The chair's signature V-shaped legs, inspired by an architect's drafting compass, were cut from Burma teak, chosen specifically because it's not only sturdy but resistant to both bugs and humidity. Their durability would be put to the test decades later in Chandigarh, when people gravitated to more modern office furniture and discarded Jeanneret's chairs. They'd sit in huge piles across the city—many sold as scrap until antique dealers took notice in the late '90s and started buying them up in droves. The Indian government finally got hip to the value of this unique cultural icon and since 2011, no furniture pieces can exit the country without explicit permission of the Ministry of Culture.
The throttled supply helps maintain a certain scarcity and ensures that these striking chairs remain a collector's item. But if you're looking to score an original, they're easier to find than ever thanks to the internet. Of course, that doesn't make them cheap. Online auctions like Sotheby's and antique shops like 1stDibs sell individual and sets of authenticated originals. Those less interested in the patina or pedigree can find respectable Jeanneret-inspired chairs at more modest prices. Or there's Phantom Hands, an Indian collective of traditional woodworkers, cane weavers and artisans, that builds beautifully made re-editions of the chairs without compromising the original design and philosophy of craftsmanship. One thing's for sure—whether you're investing in an original or acquiring a piece inspired by the real thing, these chairs are now part of the modernist legacy. A Chandigarh chair will never go out of style because it's an item that's as timely as it is timeless.
Teak and natural cane easy arm chair,
$2,700 by Phantom Hands
Pierre Jeanneret expert and historian Jacques Dworczak searched for years to authenticate and collect many of the Chandigarh designs, and the results of his efforts have been collected in this comprehensive 350-page book.
$195 at Amazon