101 chairs that have changed our way of understanding design for ever (and for the better!) lifestyle
Andreu World celebrates its 65th anniversary with the publication of Sillipedia, a meticulously illustrated book on the history of a key item of furniture.
Finding the perfect balance between design and comfort is not easy. Especially when creating an object whose purpose is to provide a place to rest. Mies van der Rohe, the brilliant architect and industrial designer, and authority on technical questions, was very clear about the matter. “A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous.” he said. The English cabinetmaker mentioned in his pithy but pertinent quote created a luxurious style of furniture that became very popular and was considered typically English during the second half of the eighteenth century. Chippendale would have been very proud to know the pieces of furniture he created have been with us for hundreds of years (easily said) and are among the most highly valued items in international auctions.
This simple but complex piece of furniture, the chair, was precisely the starting point for Andreu World’s new publishing project: Sillipedia. The Spanish company, which is celebrating its 65th anniversary in the furniture sector this year, revisits its passion for chairs in this book, a passion already made clear in various earlier publications. Stories to Read Sitting Down, published in 2016, was a free compilation of restful stories for seated readers by Mauricio Wiesenthal. In 2018, the company published Chairs, the History of the Chair with publishers Editorial Gustavo Gili and, in 2019, the restaurant guide Eat Well Sitting Down with Planeta Gastro.
The book’s editors, from the publishing firm La Fábrica, say in the preface, “This book visits our collective past through the history of some of the most famous chairs, from the most avant-garde designs to the humblest. Page by page, the importance of chairs in all aspects of our lives is revealed. This is an exercise of humility and gratitude: we often take them for granted, because we are so used to them, but they are nevertheless a real luxury, a tremendously valuable object, not because of their price or exclusivity, but because they form a more important part of our lives than we realise”. A warm welcome to what they call “chairness” – that sweet feeling that comes from having a silent companion who is both close and necessary. Because, as Alessandro Mendini says, “while the chair works, the man rests”.
While it is encyclopaedic, the book’s iconoclastic aesthetics can be credited to illustrator Antonio Solaz, working closely with director Ramón Úbeda. “Every chair tells us its own story and they all belong here. Even those in which design is not the fundamental aspect.” Úbeda explains. “There are a hundred and one altogether, but there could have been many more. This singular encyclopaedic work could have contained a thousand and one chairs. There is so much to say about the chair because it is key to the history of furniture. Our approach to this history is as rigorous as others that have already been written, but taking a more open, plural view, with contributions from a good number of specialists, all accredited historians of design, architecture or art, from different generations and different geographical areas. Our aim with this book is not to lecture, but to learn from those who know most and share that knowledge with readers.”
The volume contains many of the curiosities to which Úbeda refers. The reader will delight in anecdotes such as the story of César Ritz, who ordered the decorators of his hotels to manufacture small furniture, to make the rooms seem larger, or that of Rilke, who always wrote standing up and only sat down to read. Curious cases such as that of Judge Du Hellain, who asked to be buried with his chair, make the reader want to learn more and to go further into a book whose aim is to expand our knowledge about chairs in a more enjoyable and less academic way.
The twenty authors engaged to share their personal perspectives on the chair include historians of design, architecture and art, such as María José́ Balcells, Guillem Celada, Daniel Cid, Daniel Giralt-Miracle, Rosina Gómez-Baeza, Pilar Mellado, Oriol Pibernat, Patricio Sáiz, Rosalía Torrent and Mauricio Wiesenthal. Their texts are accompanied by 101 illustrations, 21 portraits of the authors and 245 drawings of chairs by Antonio Solaz, using different styles and graphic resources.
The dozen chapters into which it is divided (Popular Culture, Classics of Design, Seats of Power, Cinema Designs and Artist’s Chairs, to name but a few) include some unexpected topics, giving another clue to the book’s character. The choice of stories is subjective and a conscious decision has been made to use illustrations instead of photographs to accompany them. “We have given Solaz total freedom to interpret the written contributions, confident that the result would be a real illustrated book, in its form and also in its function, which the Bauhausians say must apply to good chairs,” says Úbeda.
In the book we can find the historical explanation for the traditional saying “Quien se fue a Sevilla perdió su silla” (He who goes to the fair loses his chair), discover curiosities such as Philippe Starck’s A.I. Chair, presented in 2019, the first chair that was not designed by a human being, and learn that the poet Pablo Neruda had six-legged Catalan chairs in his house on Isla Negra in Valparaiso. Its 240 inspiring and didactic pages conclude with a small tribute in the form of a poem by Alessandro Medini, which he recited in 1980 on the occasion of the anniversary of Twenty Chairs in Twenty Years, by industrial designer Vico Magistretti. It includes such memorable lines as “The chair is an invention for starting conversations.”