Monday, January 13, 2014

Know Your Chairs: The Klismos

We have the ancient Greeks to thank for the marvelous design of the klismos chair. Coming from the ancient Greek word klinein which means "to lean," this elegant chair can be seen depicted on vases and pottery from Greek antiquity.

Klismos chairs were originally made of wood with seats of cane or of woven leather. The swooping delicate line of the chair comes from its saber legs which curve out. The back rest continues the curve upward but in the opposite direction, giving the silhouette of the chair a beautiful "S" curve. A low, concave panel supported the sitter's back. While there are really no extant klismos chairs to speak of, we can find plenty of imagery showing its shape and construction not only from the Greeks but also from the Romans who emulated nearly every aspect of Greek culture.

The chair was quite popular during the classical Greek period but fell out of usage by the Hellenistic period. Some theorize this is because the chair's delicate saber legs contributed to instability, causing the piece to splay out and break. One would think that with a design flaw that serious, the chair would never have been widely used to begin with. I feel the decline of the chair simply has to do with changing tastes of style and fashion. Whatever the reason, it seems that the shape is too exotic and alluring to resist and the chair saw a huge rise in popularity in the late 1700s when all of Europe was interested in Neo-Classicism. Greek and Roman sites were being excavated, pottery was being unearthed and images of the klismos chair were discovered!

The klismos came back into favor in the late 1930s--look at T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings' very faithful 1937 reconstruction above--and continues to be widely used today. Due to its simple lines and streamlined shape, the klismos can fit in with practically any d├ęcor scheme, from traditional to modern.

I came across this Bernhardt Gustav chair, which is a klismos chair in polished chrome, at a furniture showroom recently and I am beyond eager to use it for a client.

And if my client-to-be does not like chrome, I can get them one in a warm toned gold brass! Designer Will Wick used this De Sousa Hughes klismos chair, below, in a library to great effect!

It can even be found in acrylic...

The klismos chair is timeless and extremely versatile. Its presence is lyrical and sculptural. Maybe you could use one--or several--in your home!

Happy designing!

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