Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

A modernist chair that’s comfy too

A modernist chair that’s comfy too

Peter Ghyczy explains how Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair has inspired his own work as a designer

Peter Ghyczy explains how Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair has inspired his own work as a designer

June 27th 2018

The Wassily chair is one of those rare designs that is absolutely modern in spirit but also very comfortable. It was designed in 1925 and many other revolutionary chairs have come along since, but you can’t sit in most of them for any real length of time. Marcel Breuer wanted his furniture to be used – not to be put in a museum.

The first time I saw the chair was in a shop in Cologne. I was so impressed. The structure itself is an artwork – it’s true to itself. Each part of it is there for a reason. The original seat was made from a woven fabric, a canvas, which adjusted to your body. Later they made the chair with leather but I still think the canvas was a better solution. Structurally, the copies of the chair you can buy today are exactly the same as the original, which goes to show how successful the design was. Many designers think they have to make something totally different and unique, which is all well and good but that shouldn’t be their only ambition. The most authentic and fully developed designs last the longest.

Peter Ghyczy is a Hungarian-German designer. He was talking to Giovanna Dunmall

The Wassily chair came about at a very fortunate moment. People had just started using tubular steel to make bicycles, bending and soldering them into handlebars. Breuer had an idea to make a chair from these steel tubes. The first version of the chair had parts that were bent into shape, not welded like later versions. It was screwed together in the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, where Breuer was head of the cabinet-making workshop.

Breuer studied architecture, as did I, and I think that is what made him, and me, so interested in technical solutions, proportions and the weight-bearing capacities of different materials. Like him, I have also made use of new technology. At the beginning of my career, I was working for a plastics manufacturer in Lemförde, West Germany, that was developing a polymer called polyurethane. In 1968 I used it to make the Garden Egg Chair – one of the first chairs made from that material. I modelled it by hand with plaster as there were no digital tools back then. Its charm is that it is not perfectly round or symmetrical. Some imperfection is interesting in an object but you can’t impose or industrialise imperfection – it has to happen naturally.

I have been working on my S02 chair on and off for 20 years. The first incarnation was made from acrylic but I have since created an upholstered version. The latest design includes armrests, and is almost finished. The S02 is my Wassily chair. It’s made out of much lighter tubes – the steel quality of the tubes has improved a lot since 1925 – but it’s also very comfortable. It has a backrest that pivots and can be adjusted to fit your position. It definitely has some of the Wassily’s spirit, and I like to think Marcel Breuer, my compatriot, would be proud of me.