Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum has a large and distinguished collection of chairs, as it has of many kinds of furniture–sofas, commodes, chests, tables, screens, beds, mirrors, desks, vitrines–which can be found on Google Art Project and the museum's collection website. The works presented in this gallery represent a selection of European and American chairs ranging from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries from the museum’s Product Design and Decorative Arts department, as well as drawings which offer insight into the design process.
Chairs are a relatively recent furnishing in the history of design. While ancient Egyptian Pharaohs may have had them as thrones, and the ancient Greeks used chairs, there was a long interval between antiquity and the seventeenth century when they resumed popularity for more than just monarchs.
During this interval, sitting on the ground or platforms was the norm. It still is in some cultures. Even as late as the seventeenth century, most people sat on benches when eating at large tables. The upper levels of society sat on stools and a king or nobleman might sit on a chair. In the eighteenth century, with the development of the private dining room, sets of chairs became more common. Specialized forms, such those devoted to specific tasks, reading or writing, also began their development at this time leading to the task chairs now popular in the office.
As the design problem of supporting the weight of a human body has not changed, many chairs share common forms with those of the past. But lifestyle choices and changes in social mores starting in the late nineteenth century, have allowed a greater variety of forms for relaxation. New uses, along with new materials have taken the chair form in new directions. However, most chairs have a recognizable back, seat and some, four legs, whatever the style and choice of materials, ornament and fabrication techniques.