History of Design: Accent Chairs

An accent chair is just that — an object of furniture that adds an extra element of architectural interest to a room while still retaining its primary function of providing seating. With thousands of chairs designed within the last century, which are those that have made a lasting impression on the design world? To truly stand the test of time, a piece of furniture must possess a certain je ne sais quoi. The architectural structure and marriage of materials must not only be intriguing but also approachable. Which chairs have successfully juxtaposed innovation with mass appeal? We take a look at four of the most popular chairs spanning the last 10 decades — those that stay on the tip of every designer’s tongue.

The Eames Lounge & Ottoman

While some chairs simply provide a place to rest, others command attention. The Eames Lounge is the latter. The iconic chair and foot rest was designed by the husband and wife team, Charles and Ray Eames, in 1956, and has been in continuous production ever since. Heralded as one of the most significant designs of the 20th century, the chair can be seen everywhere from mid-century modern homes to contemporary boutique hotels.

The chair is a product of Herman Miller, Inc., an acclaimed design house that’s dominated the design world since its inception in 1923. The sleek and sexy curves of the molded wood encase soft, supple leather that’s tufted to keep the shape structured yet comfortable. Entirely hand-assembled, the U.S.-made chair is available in both black and white leather. While the chair is crafted to last lifetimes, it is a hefty investment.

The Eames Lounge & Ottoman,, $4,935

The Barcelona Chair & Stool

A true accent chair should enrich and elevate each space in which it resides. The Barcelona chair and stool by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe does just that. We turned to Jesse Voigt, co-owner of Studio Jesse James, an architecture firm based out of Los Angeles, to discuss the epochal chair. Originally from Conifer, Colorado, Voigt shares, “No matter what space you place the Barcelona chair within, it demands attention. This is primarily due to its size, which is larger than most design chairs, and its shape, which borders between being a functional versus purely aesthetic chair.”

Fit for royalty, the chair was originally designed in 1929 as seating for the king and queen of Spain while the stool served as seating for their attendants. The high-sheen, polished steel frame supports the cowhide leather cushions that poses precise welting and buttons. Matching leather belting straps support the cushions from below. Voigt warns, “The only downside to having a Barcelona chair is the mass production of it. There are many renditions, and unfortunately, many knock-offs.”

If you’re dreaming of a Barcelona chair and stool in your home, be sure to purchase from a certified Knoll dealer, to whom the trademark belongs. Design Within Reach offers the chair and matching stool in both black and ivory leather., Barcleona Chair, $5,592 Stool, $2,644

The Tulip Chair

To have a lasting impact on the design world, a chair must be revolutionary and inviting. The Tulip chair is both. Designed by Finnish-born Eero Saarinen in 1957, the chair was innovative in its use of fiberglass. Saarinen hoped to fabricate the entire shell of the chair with fiberglass, but the material proved too fragile for the base. He adapted his design and the base of the chair became cast aluminum, with a rislan-coated finish to match the upper fiberglass shell. The illusion of a single unit was achieved, and lends to its futuristic aesthetic.

The chair, which has received countless design awards, comes in both an armed and armless version, in white, black and platinum finishes. Various fabric cushions in a multitude of colors are available. The chairs can work within various design styles — used singularly as an accent chair or as a set with Saarinen’s recognizable Tulip table for maximum impact.

The Tulip Chair,, $1,422

Louis Ghost Chair

The Louis Ghost chair is a reimagined classic. Released in 2002, Philippe Starck mirrored the exquisite lines of a Baroque chair, specifically the Louis XV chair. Voigt of Studio Jesse James explains, “During the time that chairs were making their way to the general public in the 16th century, most of the chairs were primarily made up of wood, and the more fanciful the chair was, the more it was meant for the upper elite. By utilizing plastic, Philippe Starck allowed the chair to reach a whole new market that was decidedly un-elite.”

The chair is composed of single-mold injected polycarbonate. The transparency of the chair allows it to consume less visual space, and works well in nearly every design style. Available in clear crystal, light smoke, yellow, orange, green, light blue, opaque glossy white and opaque glossy black, the chair is durable enough to withstand indoor and outdoor elements. Though, speaking from experience, I’d advise against leaving one of these beauties out on a Summit County patio during mud season., $450

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.