The Bauhaus style challenged furniture designers to think differently about 20th century design. German architect Walter Gropius laid the groundwork by founding the Bauhaus School in 1919. The school shut down in 1933 under the Nazi regime, though students and professors continued to practice in secret or in exile from the country. After the end of the Second World War and the downfall of the Nazi regime, the design philosophy put forth by the Bauhaus flourished, giving birth to mid-century modern style.
The furniture style that emerged from the Bauhaus school continues to receive praise for clean geometric forms which lack embellishments. Designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Marianne Brandt contributed to the Bauhaus style's popularity.
Bauhaus members designed nearly every sort of object for living — from nesting tables to tea infusers — but the chair, in all its myriad variations, was often the crown jewel in a designer’s portfolio. We rounded up some of the most iconic chairs to come out of the Bauhaus, pieces which remain immensely popular today.
Marcel Breuer used bent tubular steel and eisengarn, or “iron yarn,” a strong, waxed-cotton thread in his design for the Wassily Chair. These modern materials and manufacturing methods made the chair revolutionary. Marcel Breuer's design, inspired by the bicycle, set the foundation for the design of everyday objects.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich designed this iconic piece of furniture between 1929 and 1930. The Brno, as well as the next two entries on our list, revolutionized chair design with its two legs instead of the usual four. The chair stands upright thanks to a cantilever that balances the seat on two parallel bent legs of steel.
Marcel Breuer makes another entry on our list. The Cesca chair also uses a cantilever system, but with tubular steel, rather than the Brno’s flat bar design. The Cesca also features a cane seat and back, which has made it popular in a broad variety of interiors, as it blends the machine-like quality which much Bauhaus furniture is known for with natural, softer materials.
Like its cousins the Brno and Cesca chairs, the MR side chair also uses that Bauhaus signature — the cantilever. Designed by Mies van der Rohe for Knoll in 1927, the chair blends the 20th century innovation Marcel Breuer introduced with the Cesca and the traditional 19th century rocking chairs. Even more than the Brno or Cesca, the MR Side Chair has a nice bounce to it.
Le Corbusier designed this classic blocky armchair for a 1927 exhibition led by Mies van der Rohe. He was assisted in creating this “machine for sitting in” by Charlotte Perriand. The nearly perfect cubic form of Le Grand Confort helped to cement it in chair history.
Mies makes another spot on our list with the Barcelona chair. Mies created this chair for the Barcelona International Exposition. A stainless steel frame holds two rectangular cushions, making for a comfortable chair.
Josef Albers makes another appearance on our list with his Club Chair. Like Breuer’s Wassily Chair, Albers sought to refine the traditional club chair design into its essential parts and forms. Unlike Breuer, Albers used natural materials such as mahogany, wood, and maple.
The Bauhaus school was founded over a century ago, but furniture and home objects by Bauhaus designers remain immensely popular. Perhaps this is a testament to the overriding directive of the school — to engender an environment where students could create a “total work of art.” The elimination of superfluous ornament and the commitment to design that is functional, accessible, and minimal, all while improving quality and lowering production costs found its way into the very fabric of design for decades to come. And for many collectors, securing a vintage specimen of one of these Bauhaus chairs is a grail.