Office chair design has its stylistic origins in the libraries and studies of stately homes. During the late 18th and 19th centuries, office items became a specialism of furniture design. During the industrial revolution, there was a wholesale expansion of the administrative sector. New industries required support from clerks, managers and secretaries to keep business running smoothly and ensure legalities and legislative obligations were met.
Early Office Chairs
It is thought that Darwin was one of the first proponents of the wheeled office chair. He used one to zip back and forth between specimens in his study. The first office chairs were designed to enhance productivity. The Centripetal Spring Armchair was presented at the Great Exhibition in 1851, designed to be used on trains. This was the first example of a task chair, and it was supported by springs to absorb shock from train motion. The principle guiding the office seating design of the 19th century was much the same as it is today, namely that flexibility and comfort enhance productivity. The features of the task chairs from this time are still familiar today, with rotating seats, castors and head support. These first chairs would have been incredibly difficult to make as they would not have had access to systems such as Tapping Machines, like the ones provided by Cotswold Machinery to help with the metal shaping process.
In the 1970s, the famous collaboration between Italian manufacturer Olivetti and the designer Ettore Sottsass introduced a new breed of whimsical, pop-art inspired office furniture like the Synthesis 45 chair. This was an artistic recognition of the social changes of the 20th century, and designed to appeal to a young workforce who had voiced their rebellion against the constraints of a corporate lifestyle during the previous decade.
In the 1970s, companies like the Indian firm Featherlite began to manufacture office chairs from aluminium, wood and steel. But as the decade wore on, ergonomics became the main concern at the forefront of office chair design.
The science of the ergonomics of office seating is based on research around how people sit, and increasingly upon clinical findings regarding the hazards of a sedentary, office-bound lifestyle. Flexibility, spinal supply and unrestricted blood flow have been primary design goals. The pinnacle of this movement was the Herman Miller 2008 Freedom chair, which the company claimed could improve circulation, reduce stress and generally alleviate office related ailments.