The Model B3 Chair

If you have ever been to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, then you have most likely seen this chair.  If you are like me, then you probably saw this chair and thought to yourself, "this is an ugly chair, and it looks uncomfortable, but I can appreciate it for its forward thinking design."  or something like that.

It was indeed forward thinking.  The design came from Marcel Breuer who, along with many of the designers to come out of the Bauhaus in Germany, sought to design furniture that could be easily produced in large quantity, be broken down easily for shipping, and that was simple yet striking.  At the time (the turn of the century through the 1930s) furniture, especially in Europe, was gawdy and bulky and as people began to move around they found it difficult to take with them.  Aside from that, the furniture was pretentious and Bauhaus designers wanted to change that so that even the common man could have a chair that was comfortable, and elegant, that he could take with him wherever he goes.
Marcel Breuer in his chair -c. 1927

Enter, the model B3 or Wassily Chair (Pronounced: Va-silly).  Breuer had admired the process of bending tubing for the construction of bicycles, specifically their handlebars, and wanted to use that technique to construct a chair.  When you sit in an overstuffed club chair, it is comfortable, but hideous.  It's lumpy bulges certainly do not lend themselves to much more than watching television, but if you take that form and strip it down to it's bare bones you can start to see this chair emerge.  The name Wassily was given to the chair much later because Breuer apparently gave one of these chairs to his colleague at the Bauhaus, Wassily Kandinsky the famous painter.
Picture taken by Bauhaus alumni Erich Consemüller c.1926

The original chairs that were made before World War II used canvas straps and seats. During the war, production on many things ceased and the B3 was no exception.  After the war, the new consumer economy took over and there became a need for easily mass produced furniture so the design for the B3 was purchased by Gavina in Italy who began mass producing the chair.  Those Gavina chairs were distributed all over the world by Stendig, an international import/export company from the 1940s until 1968 when the design for the chair was purchased by Knoll.  The myth currently is that the only true original B3 chairs are made by Knoll, but that is because since 1968 they have been able to tell people that they are originals.  In actuality, if you have a B3 marked Stendig, or Gavina you have a "more original, original".  Furthermore, the chair that is in the permanant collection at MoMA is indeed a Stendig by Gavina.

Anyways, here is my Stendig B3.  Picked it up at a thrift store for $20, and while it is in mint condition and properly marked, it is a mass produced chair and meant to be used.  It is extremely comfortable to sit in and while it is the most copied chair design in history, having an 'original' makes me appreciate the design a whole lot more.

1 comment:

Amber Von Felts said...

Holy Moses! $20! Whatta steal! I was thinking to myself what an informative write up about these chairs, not even expecting to see that you scored one for yourself. Great post & Great job on the chair!