The lounge chair is the furniture equivalent to the sports car. If you’re having a midlife crisis (and happen to be in the market for furniture and not, say, a convertible roadster), do you go out and buy yourself a dresser? No, but you might buy a sexy lounge chair. The reasons for this, however, have more to do with the history of furniture than with male-pattern baldness or marital anxiety. Up until the Renaissance, the chair, much like a Lamborghini Countach, was not the seat of the people—commoners were stuck with chests, benches, and stools. Today the lounge chair is the modern living room’s throne—a status symbol and upholstered isolation chamber rolled into one.
In the 20th century the lineage of the chair became inextricably linked with that of design itself. From Thonet to Pillet, to chart the course of the chair’s evolution is also to follow technological developments (like bent plywood and injection molding) and the ever-changing notion of what makes design modern, even when it’s postmodern. Chairs hold such weight that individual pieces have been elevated to cultural icons—hundreds of magazine covers, movies, and television shows later, Aarnio’s Ball chair is as ’60s as Sgt. Pepper.
When it came time for Dwell to evaluate lounge chairs, it seemed natural that we should somehow tie in another innovation that’s grown up right alongside (or in front of) the chair—the television. Although we certainly enjoy a good book and love to sift through the Sunday paper, the reality for most Americans (and sometimes, sadly, ourselves) is that time spent at home equals time watching TV. For Tim Goodman, the television critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, that’s not such a bad thing. “I watch about 30 hours a week,” he told us enthusiastically. “I have three televisions and three TiVos.” We recently spent an afternoon with Goodman talking about the ups and downs of a life centered on the small screen, and testing five lounge chairs to see how they would hold up to the new fall season.