Mid-Mod Style Guide: 15 Iconic Scandinavian Chairs

Meet the midcentury modern classics that are the little black dress of decor. These curvy, minimalist masterpieces come from a design tradition that originated in Nordic countries in the 1940s and rules the design world till this day.

January 22, 2020

Photo By: Molly Culver Photography

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Photo By: Pamono

Eternally in Style

Why have these decades-old designs endured? “The materials are so high quality; there’s a lot of solid teak and rosewood,” says Wava Carpenter, director of content at Pamono, an online seller of high-end furniture and design objects. “The shapes are so sculptural, like works of art. They are really made to last, which is a nice contrast to the throw-away culture most of us see today.”

Tulip Chair

Finnish-American designer and architect Eero Saarinen created his Tulip Chair in 1955 as a dining chair, but it also makes a great accent or office chair. Saarinen, who also designed the TWA Flight Center, is the Michelangelo of modernism. Knoll still makes Tulip chairs, three generations after its introduction, proving great design is eternal.

Learn More About This Iconic Style: Trending Now: Eero Saarinen's Tulip Tables and Chairs

Womb Chair

Saarinen designed the groundbreaking Womb Chair in 1948 when famed interior designer Florence Knoll asked him to make “a chair that was like a basketful of pillows.” Americans were home from the war and ready to curl up at home and feel safe, she reasoned. Saarinen delivered with a style icon that lets you sit in an oasis of calm — hence its name. Pair with the matching ottoman for maximum cushy style.

Swan Chair

Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobson created the Swan Chair in 1958 for the SAS Royal Hotel lobby in Copenhagen and it has been in production ever since. Although designed for commercial use, it’s right at home in your living room as an arm chair. The Swan Chair comes with a hefty price tag: the 60th anniversary edition sells for $9,000. This is investment furniture.

Egg Chair

Jacobsen’s other masterpiece, the Egg Chair, was also designed in 1958 for a Copenhagen hotel lobby and it, too, has remained a steadfast classic. Its matching footstool, biomorphic form, and revolutionary-for-its-time foam inner shell makes it a comfy lounge chair perfect for kicking back in your den.

Panton Chair

Danish architect and furniture designer Verner Panton rolled out his cantilevered stacking chair in 1960. Made from molded plastic and sculptural in style, it’s one of the most affordable Scandi classics at $315 for a reproduction. And since it’s plastic, it’s durable and super easy to clean.

Sawbuck Chair

Danish icon Hans Wegner was trained as a cabinetmaker and had a masterful understanding of wood. His Sawbuck Chair, also known as the CH28, is crafted of solid walnut and oak and features components that fit together through the magic of joinery — no metal hardware required. The Sawbuck debuted in 1952 and is still in production. There are also a ton of Sawbuck lookalikes out there; it’s the chair that launched a thousand knockoffs.

Papa Bear Chair

Originally named the Teddy Bear Chair, this Wegner icon, created in 1953, was one of the first fully upholstered post-war chairs. It got its name after a critic said its armrests were “great bear paws embracing you from behind,” and its playful form made it a hit. Generations later it’s still in production, and there are packs of Papa Bear knockoffs out there, too.

Pelican Chair

Danish architect Finn Juhl designed the Pelican chair in 1940, and its curvy, organic lines made it one of the most avant-garde pieces of furniture of its time. Its sculptural shape demonstrates Juhl’s philosophy that “a chair is not just a product of decorative art in a space; it is a form and a space in itself.”

Peacock Chair

This 1947 design by Wegner is based loosely on the Windsor chair, a centuries-old style popular with both British royals and America's founding fathers. Wegner had an eye to comfort as well as aesthetics, though, which is why he flattened the cylinders in the back of the chair in the spot where a sitter’s shoulder blades touch. Fellow designer Finn Juhl said the chair looked like a peacock’s tail, so that’s how it got its name. The chair’s made of ash and still in production today.

Shell Chair

Also known as the CH07, Wegner’s edgy chair debuted in 1963 to a public that was uncertain about a three-legged chair. It was reintroduced in 1998 to a public more receptive to its wavy, airy design. The Shell Chair is a feat of expert cabinetry with perfectly curved joints that give the piece an almost aerodynamic energy that looks futuristic nearly 60 years after the chair’s creation.

Ant Chair

Jacobson’s first stackable chair is one of his best-known designs and the one that made him famous, but it wasn’t a hit when it launched in 1953 because three-legged chairs gave the public pause. Made of a single sheet of laminated wood with nine layers of molded veneer, the Ant is built on a chrome base and has no arms. It was made for use in a pharmaceutical company cafeteria, but it’s made its way into the kitchens and dining rooms of stylish homes. Note: Some later versions have four legs.

No. 71

Saarinen’s No. 71 armchair, also known as the Saarinen Executive Arm Chair, debuted in 1950 and has been one of Knoll’s most popular designs for nearly 70 years. Designed for office use, No. 71 has found its way into dining rooms and dens. Pair it with a Saarinen table for a perfect dining room set.

Hammer Chair

Another stackable Jacobsen chair, the Hammer, also known as the T-chair or the school chair, is made of a single sheet of laminated wood and was born in the 1950s, like the Ant Chair, but is much rarer because it’s no longer in production. Originally mass produced for use in schools and offices from the 1950s to 1980s, the rare chairs are now super collectible.

Wegner GE-270

Another Wegner. Because he’s to Scandi chairs what Picasso is to Cubism. Wegner designed more than 500 chairs in his career, with 100 going into mass production. Wegner made these solid teak armchairs in the 1950s and they remained in production through the 1970s. Now they’re super collectible and an original is hard to find. You’ll see lots of lookalikes inspired by this iconic design.

Wishbone Chair

And another Wegner. This one may be the purest expression of Wegner’s philosophy that “A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all angles.” The Wishbone Chair, created in 1949 and also known as the Y Chair, pairs a handwoven seat with a steam-bent wood frame. It was inspired by portraits of Danish merchants sitting in Ming chairs, and it’s a modern icon that’s been in continuous production since 1950.

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