A Taxonomy of Office Chairs

From Thonet to Pinanfarina, the evolution of deskside seating


Of all the far-reaching implications of the information age, technical innovations in office chair design define an era that could be named the desk-bound age. Here to put the contemporary mesh panels and lumbar supports in context, “A Taxonomy of Office Chairs” surveys the evolution of the workplace staple, beginning with the start of the Industrial Revolution. Amassed by design consultant Jonathan Olivares, the book details over 130 office chairs, classified by their distinguishing features. Chapters include “Headrest,” “Seat-Stem Joinery” and other thrilling topics, breaking down the design into components to show its chronological progression with over 400 technical drawings and a catalog of color photos.


To better define the broad topic Olivares created one stipulation—the chair’s design must have introduced at least one novel featuret. Funded by Knoll, Olivares researched his subject by meeting with designers, manufacturers and furniture experts and archivists, who lent not only technical information, but also insight on the cultural impact the office chair has had on work itself.

But his meticulousness didn’t end there. Olivares collected, inspected, compared and contrasted over 2,000 chairs, using scientific methodology. Toward the end of his search he was able to take advantage of Google Patents, which—though still in its infancy—helped him locate two chairs from the 1800s that “only exist in their patent applications.”


Other standouts include chairs by Charles and Ray Eames, the Bouroullec brothers, Richard Sapper, Mario Bellini (who claims the three greatest moments in office chair history are the Industrial Revolution, his 1984 Persona chair and 2005 Headline chair), Frank Lloyd Wright and many more highly-revered designers and architects.

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“A Taxonomy of Office Chairs” is available online from Amazon.