After sharing a pair of modern icons, the Wagenfeld Lamp and Thonet No 14 chair, one would be hard-pressed to overestimate the importance of the Wassily Chair, which evolved as a symbol of modernism and remains among the most famous of the Bauhaus chairs.
Originally, the Wassily Chair was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1925, while he was an apprentice at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Before we focus on this very special piece of furniture, let’s take a look at the designer himself.
Marcel Breuer (1902- 1981) was born in Hungary and later studied and taught at the Bauhaus in Dessau. There, he became one of the very first designers who would create furniture with tubular steel. Apparently, the elegantly curved tubular steel handlebars of his Adler bicycle inspired him to work with this material. The process of manufacturing seamless, tubular steel had just been invented by the German steel manufacturer Mannesmann.
For the auditorium in Dessau, Breuer developed a number of different pieces of furniture, all of which were lightweight, affordable and hygienic. At that time, this was absolutely revolutionary for a number of reasons. It used new materials like leather or bent steel, and most importantly, it looked absolutely different than anything else that had ever been designed before. As such, it does not seem surprising that Marcel Breuer’s creation evaded popularity, much to his disappointment.
After his Bauhaus career, Breuer spent some time in Berlin, designing private residences, buildings and commercial spaces. Later in his career, he also created innovative wooden furniture but his most famous design is definitely the Wassily Chair.
The Wassily Chair
The Wassily Chair was much more simplistic and structurally exposed compared to other chairs in the 1920’s. Only very few members of the cultural elite recognized its beauty, while the vast majority would have never dreamed of using it as a chair. At best, it was an abstract piece of art.
The chair, which would later become world famous as the “Wassily Chair,” was first manufactured in the late 1920s by Thonet as Model B3. Despite its name, the chair was never designed for Wassily Kandinsky, a conclusion that many jumped to due to Breuer’s association with the artist while at the Bauhaus. Nevertheless, the artist Kandinsky had always admired the Model B3, and consequently, Breuer created a duplicate for Kandinsky’s office. Interestingly, the majority of Breuer’s other designs from the 1920’s were licensed to Standard-Möbel, Lengyel & Company from Berlin, but not the Model B3.
The Model B3 was initially released in a folding version as well as the non-folding version, which is still available today. The early chairs had straps made of fabric – black, white or wire-mesh – instead of leather. Just like his other tubular steel furniture, the Model B3’s lack of commercial success led Thonet to cease production World War II, and these original chairs are a very sought after collector’s item nowadays.
In the 1960’s, the Model B3 was re-released by Gavina of Bologna as the Wassily Chair, with leather instead of fabric. This time around, it was hugely successful. Finally, in 1968 Knoll of New York City acquired the Gavina Group of Bologna, and subsequently all of Breuer’s designs were manufactured by them.
Today, all Model B3 patent designs are expired, and therefore you will find a number of manufacturers of this very chair. However, the trademark name rights to the design are still exclusively owned by Knoll. The Wassily Chair received an Award of the Museum of Modern Art in 1968 and in 1982, it was recognized as a “Piece of Art,” in (West) Germany.
Just like the Wagenfeld Lamp, it took a while for the Wassily Chair to gain popularity but eventually it became a design classic. Even today, most people would consider the Wassily Chair modern – something many designers aspire to.
The Wassily Chair dimensions are 31″ W x 27 ½” D x 29″ H, with a seat height of 16 ½”.