You will agree with me that the history of office furniture design is not so widely known and discussed. And how would it be, when it was never written really. Office works chairs we have today, present a large category of office furniture, and yet nobody ever talks about it’s evolution into to today’s shape and look. Maybe it’s because the entire concept of office furniture design always foregrounded functionality and economics, while the more emotional aspect was rather left aside. Briefly, here are some fun facts about the history of office furniture design and office works chairs particularly.
At the beginning of office furniture history, the typewriter desk held the throne among all pieces of office furniture. It was in 1900 the typewriter emerged and with it, the first typewriter table, which was in an angled configuration. This office desk stayed for a very long time, until in 1980 the PC appeared and the typewriter was replaced. With it’s disappearance, the typewriter desk was briefly used again as a printer desk, but eventually it dissapeared completely.
The people that revolutionized office furniture design are Otto Wagner, with his “Postsparkassenamt” in Vienna 1906, and Frank Lloyd Wright with his “Larkin Building” in Buffalo, made the same year, and the “Johnson Wax Building” in Racine in 1939. Both were mainly concerned with designing an office building as a gesamtkunstwerk( translated as total work of art) with furnishing that fitted the architecture, and paid little attention to developing new office concepts.
In the middle of 20th century designers started focusing on office furniture designs. It was George Nelson who first recognized the importance and market potential of office furniture. He invented the first modern “Workstation” and in the early 1960 together with Robert Probst he developed the revolutionary “Action Office 1” program. The goal of this program was to emphasize the employees physical and psychological needs and to steamline workflow.
The pieces that have a firm place in the history of office furniture design are:
- Henry Van de Velde’s dynamic curving Art Nouveau desk of 1899;
- Michael Breuer’s tubular steel desk B65 from 1930;
- George Nelson’s “Home Office Desk” of 1947;
- George Nelson’s bureau desk from the “Action Office 1” series of 1964 .
Now when you know the basic facts in office furniture design, let me present you some fun facts about the evolution of the office works chairs:
- Did you know that the first chairs were actually thrones? Used mainly by the higher layers of society, chairs were large, in the form of thrones, and very rare.
- People from the lower layers of society sat in a simpler, backless version of the chair called stool. These still exist today, and the oldest one was found in the 2nd century B.C. near the Mediterranean.
- Charles Darwin added wheels to his chair so that he could get to his specimens quicker while in his study thus becoming one of the earliest innovators of the modern office works chairs.
- Otto von Bismarck is well known for popularizing the office works chairs when he distributed them throughout parliament while he was in office.
In conclusion, Germany seems to be the place where the office works chairs emerged and started their evolution, and this is supported by another interesting fact that the planners who invented the office landscape, proving at the same time that the open office can function quite differently, were also German.