The Iconic Chair That Changed The Way We Think About Seating

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By Alex Ronan / Published by Dwell
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A bold chair emerged on the scene in 1934.

A radical formulation, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s Zig Zag chair pushed the boundaries of furniture design when it debuted in 1934. Rietveld spent years working to create a chair that mimicked the way humans sit, and the Zig Zag isn’t just comfortable and stable, it’s also stackable.

Without traditional legs, the chair is made with four rectangular pieces of wood that are held together in a Z shape with dovetail joints. It is now produced by Cassina.

A member of the Dutch De Stijl ("The Style") movement, Rietveld’s furniture designs reduced items to their most essential forms. That’s how a chair lost its legs and ended up in a Z formation. Originally, Rietveld hoped to make a chair that could be cut from a singular piece of material or "pop out of a machine, just like that." He envisioned a bent steel plate, but joining together four pieces of plywood proved most effective and still amounted in the striking diagonal design.  

Here, Rietveld plays around with a model of experimental housing designs. Look closely and you can see tiny versions of his Zig Zag chair at the dining room table. He was the first to apply the concepts of De Stijl to architecture, designing the Rietveld Schröder House in 1924.

Though it cuts a clean line, the construction (and addition of dovetail joints) belies its minimalist form. Rietveld’s vision wasn’t fully realized until Verner Panton designed his famous 1960 chair, but the Zig Zag marks an important moment in the collective process of reimagining the chair. 

An early paper prototype of the Zig Zag chair. Miniscule models were made of paper and cardboard, and measured only five centimeters high.

Rietveld continued to play with the Zig Zag design, as pictured in this 1952 sketch that includes an armchair version.

In this grand Parisian apartment, the Zig Zag (far right) makes for a one-of-a-kind book storage solution.

In this grand Parisian apartment, the Zig Zag (far right) makes for a one-of-a-kind book storage solution.

Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld shot Zig Zag chairs for a photo series on iconic designs. “To visually reinterpret examples of perfect design is completely new for me, and therefore stimulating, exciting even,” he said. Lagerfeld’s first big furniture purchase was the LC4, which he bought back in the 60s.

One of Lagerfeld’s large-scale photos highlights the color choices made by the De Stijl movement. The group favored primary colors, black, white, and natural woods.