12 Remarkable Solid Wood Chairs – vol.4 – Superleggera

Solid Wood Chairs

Model 699 – Superleggera (Super lightweight) Chair – Gio Ponti – 1957

Superleggera Cassina
Superleggera, more than 60 years in production, edited since 1957 by Cassina (photo: Cassina)

Books, pottery, buildings, houses, cars, furniture, cutlery, fabrics, lighting fixtures. It’s hard to find a design field that this prolific italian architect had not worked with. Giò Ponti had a holistic design vision, combining a global modern mindset with a deep concern on local and vernacular culture, therefore it’s not a surprise to find out that the main inspiration for his 1957 chair “Superleggera” was a traditional type of chair produced by Ligurian craftsmen since the 19th century.

a set of five “Chiavari” chairs (photo: dimanoinmano)

The city of Chiavari, in the Ligurian Riviera, was the birthplace of  the chair that inspired Ponti. In 1807, the local cabinet maker Giuseppe Gaetano Descalzi started to produce the Chiavari Chair (“Chiavarina”) and within a couple of years the chair was already a popular hit. The chair design was a simplification of French empire style chairs with less decorative elements and thiner wood sessions, a strategy that Ponti would use more than a century after. By the time of Descalzi death in 1855, there were already more than 600 craftsmen manufacturing the chair in Chiavari region. The decadence of the product came only on the second half of the 19th century with the introduction of Thonet’s Chair, more affordable and flat-packed.


Set of Superleggera’s (photo: Cassina)

Ponti research on the chair design started in the post war period, in the beggining of the 50’s. The main goals were to create a democratic, simple, affordable and lightweigth chair in order to be sold for a market still in the post war recovering period. The archetipical Chiavari chair was closely analysed and then re-designed, with ergonomical improvements – a elegant bend on the backrest – and structural simplifications.

Leggera chair, very similar to its younger pal, only subtle differences in the leg  ( photo: Cassina)

The first attempt to create a “simple and true chair” came after a close collaboration between Ponti, Cesare Cassina and Cassina’s factory staff, the result was the 1952 chair “Leggera”, but even with the success of the Leggera, Ponti wasn’t yet satisfied, he kept on developing and designing ways to simplify even more the project. The achievements of this second attempt, the 1957 “Superleggera”, included an ingenious slot-in connection system and a 18mm wide triangular section for the structure, stable and weighting only 1700g. A new paradigm of the Made in Italy was created.

Chairs stored at the factory and slot-in system (photo: doppiozero)

Build in ashwood with India cane or upholstered seat, the chair receives various finshings from natural wood, stained wood to black or white laquered coating, resulting in dozens of combinations.

Finishings samples of Cassina’s Catologue (photo: Cassina)

Giò Ponti, himself, acknowledged that the Superleggera is one of his “three masterpieces” along with the Pirelli skyscraper and the Co-Cathedral of Taranto. That’s a fair quote, the chair is one of the best examples of the architect’s ouvre, a classical and universal design yet local and humble. A statement of doric austherity with a shaker-like simplicity, something that could be definied as “critical regionalism” i.e. “a progressive approach to design that seeks to mediate between the global and the local languages of architecture” (and design). However, after sixty years of production (and like most of this chairs’ shortlist) the original goal of a affordable chair is somehow lost, the initial price for this Cassina’s chair starts from more than 1,000 euros.

Superleggera Ragazzo
Incredible light the chair weights only 1,700g (photo: twwhlspls)
A Fiat 1100 transporting Superleggera structures in order to receive the Indian Cane seats (photo: Arredativo)
Ponti sketch (photo: Interni)
The legend says that Ponti has throwed one chair from the 4th floor and the chair just kicked in the ground as a ball. Here a “crash-test” of the Superleggera in Cassina’s facilities (photo: Cassina)
Alessandro Mendini redesign of the Superleggera (photo: globule)

External Links:


Gio Ponti Archives


Renner Ibirapuera – Street Store Concept

The prototype of Renner’s Street Store Concept was build in one of São Paulo’s main avenues, check more about it here.

Renner Ibirapuera at the corner of Ibirapuera Avenue and Jurucê Street

12 Remarkable Solid Wood Chairs – vol.3

Solid Wood Chairs vol 3

Steltman Chair – Gerrit Rietveld – 1963

Steltman Chair, Solid Oak Version (image from: Spectrum Rietveld Originals)

The Steltman chair is one of my favorites, its timeless design and uniqueness, combined with a brutalism and dinamical approach are one of the greatest achievements of this furniture master of the past century. It was, in fact, one of his lasts ideas, one year after the chair was designed Rietveld passed away.

Two symmetrical Steltman’s leather upholstered (image: Architronic)

Originally leather upholstered, the Steltman Chair was designed in 1963 by the Dutch Architect and Der Stijl member Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, for Steltman Jewlery in The Hague, The Netherlands. The solid wood version was released after Rietveld’s death by his former assistant Gerard van de Groenekan, and became more popular than the original leather version.

Steltman Jewlery TT01
Steltman Chairs in the Steltman jewelers in the Hague (image from: Connox)

Only two symmetrical units in white faux leather were produced to furnish the jewlery. They were used close to the counter in order to approach couples looking for wedding rings, the two chairs could also symbolized this union once they were combined.


steltman couple
Like the couples supposed sit on it to look for the wedding rings, the chairs also combined (image: Betonbrut)

Soon after the refurbishing, however, became clear that the conservative Steltman’s clients didn’t enjoy too much the avant-garde lines of Rietveld’s furniture, and a couple of years after, the new furniture was replaced. Nevertheless, in today’s new shops, Steltman is using this once discredited project, again, proving the timeless force of Rietveld’s design.

Steltman’s store in The Hague, project year 2015, architects: Heiligers Design+Projects (photo: Heiligers)

What is really unique and breathtaking of this design is the tension created by the three simple profiles that forms the chair, one climbing over the other, creating a dynamic force that seems to freeze the chair in a lapse of moment.

Basic colors Steltman’s chair (image: Rietveldoriginals)

With the rotation of the three profiles and the use of a equal section for all of them we have a sense of dinamic, yet freezed composition, like the Matrix classic 360° overview scene . Something not seen in Rietveld’s other main creations such as the red and blue or berlin chair, that had a much more NeoPlastical touch than Steltmans dinamical brutalist composition.

Does it moves/looks like the Interstellar’s TARS unfolded robot? (image: Designscad)

The chair was re-edited several times after the original release, the most recent edition was made by the Dutch manufacturer Spectrum, in 2014. It was a limited edition of 100 units, 50 left sided and 50 right sided, with extreme accuracy regarding the original project and costing around 2000 euros each.

Beto & Bita Children’s Room Collection – English Version

beto e bita 01

Beto & Bita Children’s Room Collection – English Version. (Coleção Beto & Bita de Quarto Infantil – em inglês) check it here.

12 Remarkable Solid Wood Chairs – vol.2

Solid Wood Chairs CAPA vol2

Sitzmaschine (nº607) – Josef Hoffmann – c.1905

sitzmaschinne josef hoffmann
Sitzmaschinne (machine for sitting) rear side view (photo: quittenbaum auctions)

The austrian architect Josef Hoffmann was one of the leaders of the Wiener Werkstätte, and his model 607 was designed for the Purkersdorf Sanatorium in Vienna, one of the first relevant projects that he and his group were commissioned. The “total design” concept was used and developed on the project, each component of the building from its facade until the furniture were carefully designed by the group.

Wiener Werkstätte letterhead with flower motif by Koloman Moser. (image obtained in: theviennasecession)

Decades before Le Corbusier started to advertise his “Machine for living in” concept in his Manifesto, Hoffmann was already concerned about designing a piece with a exposed structure and a rational simplification of the composition elements, and also a celebration of the machine culture, something that will underline most of the movements of the early 20th century.

sitzmaschine design-museum.de
Reclined Sitzmaschine (photo: designmuseum)

One source of inspiration for the chair can be identified in the Morris Chair, designed by Philp Webb, from the English collaborative Arts and Crafts, which clarifies the influence of this movement in the Vienna Secession. The main  influence, however, was functional: the recliner system, but in aesthetic terms Hoffmann’s chair is way far more unique.

Upholsterred sitzmaschine
An upholstered Sitzmaschine (photo: Archiproducts)

Like an old-school race car cockpit, or Dick Dastardly Wacky Races’ car the chair emulates an aerodinamic machine ready to full its gears and run wild, in an allegorical machine cult. Pure, ma non troppo, there are several ornaments at the chair body: it brings at its arms and back, clear Mackintosh inspired geometrical cuts and in the foot, unions and recliner system, wooden spheres like the dots often encarved in legs and arms of XIX century furniture. A statement of the modern thoughts mixed with some residual old influence make this chair a important chapter of this turning point period of art and design.

sitzmaschine details
Sitzmaschinne details (photo: quittenbaum auctions)

Built in bent beechwood and sycamore panels, the chair is amongst the collections of  the main designs museums, from Vitra to MoMA . Josef Hoffmann would never guess, but a vintage 607 chair, can today, reach dozens of thousands euros in auctions allover Europe. That is what we can call a timeless worth design.

Vitra Sitzmaschine chair
Vitra miniature Sitzmaschine, yes you can! (image from: Vitra)

External links:


12 Remarkable Solid Wood Chairs – vol.1

Solid Wood Chairs CAPA

The idea of this series of posts, starting here – with my brazilian architecture heroin Lina Bo Bardi, is to comment about the history of this 12 remarkable chairs that somehow are a part of 20th century design history.


1. Brother Egídio Chair – Lina Bo Bardi, Marcelo Suzuki and Marcelo Ferraz – 1987

frei egídio arkpad
Brother Egidio Chair (photo: arkpad)

Brother Egídio chair  was designed in 1987 by Lina Bo Bardi , Marcelo Suzuki and Marcelo Ferraz, for the Gregório de Mattos Theather in Salvador, Brazil. It was meant to be “a light and foldable chair in order to meet the needs of storage and to be easily transported by the audience”.

Auditorium and Brother Egidio chairs (photo: Nelson Kon)

The inspirations came from the simplicity of XV century’s early Florentian foldable chairs, it is also a reference of the chairs often encountered in brazilian monasteries, and its name is a tribute to Brother Egídio, who invited Lina to design Uberlandia’s Holy Spirit Church in the 70’s.

Egidios Prototypes
Egidio’s prototypes (photo Marcenaria Baraúna)

Brother Egídios Chair is made of  Brazilian Pine or Tauari Wood and it is produced until today by Marcenaria Baraúna (founded by Suzuki and Ferraz, in 1986) and it is edited by brazilian furniture retailer Dpot. In 2016, the chair was incorporated to MoMA’s design collection.

Lina’s sketches of the chair (photo obtained from the book:  Marcenaria Barauna – Movel como Arquitetura)

The most remarkable and unique feature of Egídio’s design is its minimal and humble approach of the foldable chair theme. No more than three rows of equally cutted slats of wood were needed to get a chair that once is folded occupies less than five percent of its operational volume. A accurate geometry that reminds a japanese design heritage with a franciscan catholic touch. Less is foldable.

frei egídio chair disassembled
Disassembled chair – rational and minimal construction (photo: Facebook Marcenaria Barauna)

The “hard confort” of the chair, however, is no more in use at its original place. After 7 years closed, the Gregorio de Mattos Theater passed through a renovation. It was re-opened in 2015 and without any mercy, the MoMA selected chair was no longer there. For some reason Lina’s chair had been replaced by an ordinary upholstered-conference-stakable-chair, as Lina herself would say: the “pseudo comfort” times strikes again.

Gregório de Mattos Theater, 2015, no more Egídio’s (photo: Valter Pontes – Agecom)

External links:

Dpot – Egidio’s official store

Brief Story of two chairs





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