Design Classic: Bertoia Seating Collection
By Dora Vanette / Published by Dwell
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A look at the history of Harry Bertoia's iconic steel wire seating collection from 1951, and a few Dwell homes that showcase the chairs to their best advantage.
Recognized worldwide as a genius of 20th century design, it's hard to believe that Harry Bertoia designed only one series of furniture. His steel wire chairs, designed in 1951, are a masterpiece of structure and transparency and remain a staple in every midcentury inspired home. While most of his contemporaries were interested in the properties of wood and plastic in their designs, Bertoia focused on steel, combining his metalworking knowledge with his interest in sculpture in producing a collection of woven-wire chairs, "If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them," Bertoia said.
Bertoia chairs come into their own when used in dining rooms, the metal frame offsetting the wood of the dining table. In the home of architect Barbara Hill the Bertoia chairs make the dining room a more dynamic space through the shadows the wire frame leaves on the floor. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

Bertoia chairs come into their own when used in dining rooms, the metal frame offsetting the wood of the dining table. In the home of architect Barbara Hill the Bertoia chairs make the dining room a more dynamic space through the shadows the wire frame leaves on the floor. Photo by Dean Kaufman.

 
The production of Bertoia chairs for Knoll started in 1952.

The production of Bertoia chairs for Knoll started in 1952.



Bertoia, who was born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1930, met Florence Knoll at the famous Cranbrook Academy of Art. While he started working on chair designs in California, collaborating with Charles Eames, another Cranbrook alumnus, he moved to Pennsylvania to develop an original seating collection in 1951. Florence and Hans Knoll encouraged Bertoia to explore whatever he liked, and he was immediately drawn to the idea of utilizing steel wire in developing a new chair design. To further soften the hard shell of the woven-wire, furniture designer Richard Schultz was asked to help Bertoia in coming up with ideas for the upholstery. The collection was introduced by Knoll in 1952 and quickly became a classic. The success of the collection allowed Bertoia to move away from furniture design and devote himself entirely to his art.
With proper care Bertoia Diamond chairs can make a lovely addition to any outside space, bringing a sense of the industrial to nature. In this multi-generational home in San Diego, California, a set of Bertoia chairs offer an appealing perch around a vintage glass-and-metal table. Photo by Ye Rin Mok.

With proper care Bertoia Diamond chairs can make a lovely addition to any outside space, bringing a sense of the industrial to nature. In this multi-generational home in San Diego, California, a set of Bertoia chairs offer an appealing perch around a vintage glass-and-metal table. Photo by Ye Rin Mok.

 
Sheepskin rugs are one of the most popular ways to offset the severity of Bertoia's wire chairs. Here, Sophie Demenge, cofounder of infant brand Oeuf, plays with textures in her kid-friendly home in Brooklyn. See how to utilize sheepskin in your home in this slideshow.

Sheepskin rugs are one of the most popular ways to offset the severity of Bertoia's wire chairs. Here, Sophie Demenge, cofounder of infant brand Oeuf, plays with textures in her kid-friendly home in Brooklyn. See how to utilize sheepskin in your home in this slideshow.



Although the products of a single collection, Bertoia chairs remain one of the most popular chairs in home furnishing. It's hard not to be drawn to the strictness of steel wiring made delicate by the transparency of the grid. The chameleon-like qualities of the chairs allow them to work well in any environment, from dining rooms to outdoor spaces, and they make a bold statement wherever they're placed. So for those who are wondering how to include these chairs in their home or are just curious about the story of this modern classic, here's a look at the history of the Bertoia seating collection and some of the Dwell homes that showcase the chairs to their best advantage. 
Bertoia, here shown sitting in one of his famous chairs, designed in 1951 for Knoll.

Bertoia, here shown sitting in one of his famous chairs, designed in 1951 for Knoll.

 
Two classics are bound to work well together. Here, In a corner of this master bedroom, a black Greta Grossman Grasshopper lamp sits next to a white Bertoia Diamond chair with matching ottoman. Photo by Andrew Cammarano.

Two classics are bound to work well together. Here, In a corner of this master bedroom, a black Greta Grossman Grasshopper lamp sits next to a white Bertoia Diamond chair with matching ottoman. Photo by Andrew Cammarano.

Bertoia Barstools break up the minimalism of this Scavolini Scenery kitchen in the home of architect Jeff Jordan.

Bertoia Barstools break up the minimalism of this Scavolini Scenery kitchen in the home of architect Jeff Jordan.

In the home of two interior architects the marble-topped occasional table and the wood table are vintage, the antique rugs are from Morocco, a Low Pad chair by Jasper Morrison for Cappellini sits near the fireplace, and the brass-and-steel coffee table was designed by Poorter and Holdrinet. But the stars of the living room are still a pair of pink Bird chairs Bertoia for Knoll. Photo by Frederik Vercruysse.

In the home of two interior architects the marble-topped occasional table and the wood table are vintage, the antique rugs are from Morocco, a Low Pad chair by Jasper Morrison for Cappellini sits near the fireplace, and the brass-and-steel coffee table was designed by Poorter and Holdrinet. But the stars of the living room are still a pair of pink Bird chairs Bertoia for Knoll. Photo by Frederik Vercruysse.

The only problem with Bertoia chairs is that once you have one you're going to want more. Here Bertoia steel side chairs for Knoll ring the concrete dining table that the owners of this Belgian home designed themselves. Photo by Frederik Vercruysse.

The only problem with Bertoia chairs is that once you have one you're going to want more. Here Bertoia steel side chairs for Knoll ring the concrete dining table that the owners of this Belgian home designed themselves. Photo by Frederik Vercruysse.

Dora Vanette

@doravanette

Dora Vanette is a part time lecturer at Parsons The New School for Design. She holds MA degrees in 20th Century Art History and English from University of Zagreb, Croatia, as well as in Design Studies from Parsons The New School for Design. She has written about art and design for a variety of print and online publications. dora.vanette@gmail.com

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