The architect as furniture designer

Looking at how architects approach furniture design

Integrating architecture and furniture design

Many beautiful and iconic pieces of furniture have been designed by architects: The Barcelona Chair by Mies Van Der Rohe, the Eames Chair by Charles and Ray Eames, the Wiggle Chair by Frank Lloyd Wright. Alongside the many talented furniture designers in the industry, architects have firmly made their mark in this field.

The Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe

The Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe

There seem to be two directions that an architect might take when designing furniture. On the one hand, he may want the design philosophy to go beyond the front door of the building, and be carried throughout the building – from the interior design concept to the detail of a door handle. Carlo Scarpa was one such architect, giving his wholehearted attention to the design of handrails and handles, for example in the Banca Popolare, Verona and Tomba Brion Cemetery, San Vito d’Altivole near Treviso, Italy.

The architect may even take this one step further, and design the furniture for the building too – the simple chair or table can be a mini-manifestation of the building’s architectural style.

The Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen

An example of this is the famous Egg chair designed in 1958 by Arne Jacobsen, the Danish architect, for the Royal Hotel reception area in Copenhagen. Jacobsen was commissioned to design the furniture for the entire hotel.

The famous Egg chair designed by Arne Jacobsen

The famous Egg chair designed by Arne Jacobsen

Another example of this is the desk with integrated chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Larkin Soap Company office in Buffalo, New York. Lloyd Wright designed the entire Administration building although inexplicably the building was demolished only 46 years later.

Desk designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of his design for the Larkin Company building, New York

Desk designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of his design for the Larkin Company building, New York

On the other hand, an architect might approach furniture design as a stand-alone idea, downsizing the usual scale, and turning architectural craft to the detail and structure of a table or chair; an approach perhaps more similar to a traditional furniture designer. The result is furniture that could be placed in any home or office and, while retaining a sense of ‘being designed’.

Architect Ian Ritchie’s furniture designs

Architect Ian Ritchie has created a range of adaptable and durable tables designed for working. The collection was in fact originally designed for Ritchie’s own offices, but was subsequently made available for resale. While the range of pieces has a distinct style and aesthetic, each piece can be made to order to fit a specific office or commercial interior. The collection is designed so that it is flexible but at the same time does not lose any of its personality.

Round meeting table with white glass top - Shot-peened stainless steel legs supplied with either wheels or flat disc

Round meeting table with white glass top
Shot-peened stainless steel legs supplied with either wheels or flat disc

Ron Arad

Another current architect, who is well-known for his furniture pieces, often created in steel, aluminium or polyamide is Israeli born Ron Arad.

Ron Arad’s Bibliotheque Bookworm shelves and Ron Arad’s Rover Chair

Ron Arad’s Bibliotheque Bookworm shelves and Ron Arad’s Rover Chair

Many of Arad’s designs have worked their way into popular culture and are widely recognised. A major achievement when most prominent architect-designed furniture is still that of the Modernist era. Arad’s One Off design studio was formed with Caroline Thorman in 1981 and later, in 1989, his architectural practice Ron Arad Associates.

Isamo Noguchi

A modern landscape architect, although sadly no longer alive, he died in 1988 aged 84, who is famous for his furniture designs, many of which are still in production is Isamo Noguchi. Noguchi’s iconic coffee table designed around 1947 followed the Biomorphic philosophy of design, that of basing the elements on recurring themes found within the natural environment.

The table below can be bought today for between £1,322 – £1,813, a snip in order to own a piece of furniture that also, undeniably, has sculptural value.

Noguchi’s coffee table, shown here in black lacquered ash

Noguchi’s coffee table, shown here in black lacquered ash