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In architecture and design, more than anywhere else actually, form and function must always work hand in hand. Some of the most classic pieces of furniture have withstood the test of time not for their overly elaborate looks—in fact, most of them are incredibly simple and minimal in design—but with their ability to both serve a purpose and be visually appealing.
Ultimately, the ability to create something that epitomizes the perfect collaboration between style and function is what makes successful design and there are plenty of examples throughout history. The Tulip Table created by Eero Saarinen is the perfect example of that. The Finnish-born architect wanted to “clear up the slum of legs in the U.S. home” so he came up with a sleek and practical solution for it that was inspired by the falling drop of a highly viscous liquid. And almost 70 years later, his design lives on and is considered a modern icon.
Here, we reached out to interior designers and asked them to reveal their favorite pieces of classic furniture so you can add a touch of timeless elegance to your home.
Akari Paper Lanterns by Isamu Noguchi
“Lighting is one of the most important layers in our designs,” said Dumais. “We are always searching for fixtures that have a variety of scale and provide warm ambient glow. Noguchi's Akari paper lanterns are one of our go-to family of fixtures.
Created in the early 50's, these playful, graphic lanterns are handcrafted out of bamboo ribbing and washi paper using traditional Japanese techniques. They are virtually weightless but have a surprisingly impactful presence on any style interior from modern to traditional. The best part of these lanterns is that when they are off, they filter natural and incidental light, and become playful sculptures. When we have a tall space with lots of sharp lines, we like to suspend a large diameter globe to add softness and volume. A smaller table lamp is the perfect bedside reading lamp.”
Akari Light Sculpture Model 55A
To buy: $350, moma.org
Chasen's Cabinet by Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design
With more than 15 years of experience in the design industry, award-winning interior designer Ron Woodson of Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design and his business partner Jaime Rummerfield are two of the most sought-after designers in Los Angeles. And their Chasen cabinet proves why—it is sophisticated and oozes the kind of timeless appeal that Woodson & Rummerfield’s work is known for.
“This cabinet is like an ode to Dorothy Draper and reminds me so much of the golden age of Hollywood. You can't get more classic than black and white,” said interior and furniture designer Ryan Saghian.
Chasen Cabinet by Woodson & Rummerfield’s House of Design
To buy: Price Upon Request, wandrdesign.com
The Lotus Chair by Miller Lee Fong
The son of acclaimed furniture designer, Danny Ho Fong, Miller Lee Fong left his own mark on the history of furniture design by creating, sometimes in collaboration with his father, some of the most recognizable rattan furniture pieces.
The Lotus chair was introduced in 1968 as part of a furniture line that married laid-back California lifestyle with modern silhouettes and rustic materials. It is now part of Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s permanent collection.
“Organic shapes and natural materials never grow old. They are timeless; anything resembling nature is very appealing. This is a statement piece. It’s truly art,” said Islas.
To buy: Price Upon Request, fongbrothers.com
Conoid Coffee Table by George Nakashima
In a world that seems to be in constant chase for perfection and trends, George Nakashima’s wood furniture and creative philosophy that was all about embracing organic shapes and nature’s imperfections may seem like something groundbreaking. In fact, he established his woodworking business in the 1940s in Pennsylvania as a “reactionary movement against the practice of twentieth-century modern architecture, design, and art.” He considered trees as material that “lives and breathes” and their flaws as “marks of individuality” that should be retained. As a result, each of his pieces was one-of-a-kind and completely unique.
His Conoid coffee table features a thick, solid top with open fissures and grain details that had “free form” edges thanks to the tree’s rough outer layer that he always included in the design.
Conoid Coffee Table
To buy: Price Upon Request, nakashimawoodworkers.com
Contour Lounge Chaise by Vladimir Kagan
New York-based designer Marie Burgos loves the timeless appeal of Vladimir Kagan’s seatings and frequently incorporates them into her projects. “[…]I have showcased the Contour High Back Lounge Chairs and Contour Foot Stool, upholstered in a rich blue velvet for a client’s master bedroom. It is such a unique, sculptural, comfortable piece. It brought in a lot of elegance to the room,” she says. "In another one of my designs, called West Village Residence, I have integrated a Contour Lounge chaise in vibrant orange boucle velvet. This was the highlight of the room by the window providing the perfect relaxing spot to curl up in the bedroom with a good book.”
To buy: Price Upon Request, hollyhunt.com
The Grasshopper Lamp by Greta Grossman
Greta Grossman is one of the most prolific female designers of all time. She is credited with popularizing modern Scandinavian design on this side of the Atlantic after she immigrated to Los Angeles from her native Sweden with her jazz musician husband. In 1947, she created what will become one of the most recognizable lamp designs ever. It has a tripod stand and its lampshade was tilted backwards resembling a grasshopper (hence its name).
To buy: $1,075, dwr.com
Florence Knoll Relaxed Sofa
Knoll was one of the most influential architects and interior designers of the last century. Among some of her achievements are bringing a modern aesthetic to post-war American offices as well as paving the way for women in traditionally male-dominated areas such as special architecture. In 1954, she introduced her lounge collection which featured geometric-inspired furniture constructed with sleek metal frames.
To buy: $10,218, knoll.com
Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Ray and Charles Eames
Creative husband-wife duo Ray and Charles Eames are the epitome of trend-setters. With their endless curiosity and a penchant for experimentation, the design couple revolutionized American home décor in the 1940s. One of their most iconic pieces of furniture is the Eames lounge chair constructed of molded plywood and leather or mohair.
To buy: $5,795, dwr.com
Inca Chair by Arne Norell
“This chair has stood the test of time and will always be one of my favorites,” said Bobby Berk, interior designer and expert on Netflix’s hit TV series Queer Eye. “First introduced and designed by Arne Norell in the 1960s, this chair married high-end design with functionality both in construction and use. The chair itself does not have any hardware that holds it together, but instead is held together by leather strapping and dowels which fit into each other,” he explained.
If you love the chair as much as Berk does, pair it with a modern sectional such as the Olafer from Berk’s collection with A.R.T. Furniture. “The modern and boxy shape of the sectional juxtaposes the rounded lines of the Inca chair and the earthy color combo of the olive green and caramel leather is one that I love currently,” Berk added.
To buy: from $5,069, norellfurniture.com
Cesca Chair by Marcel Breuer
“The Cesca chair, which is part of the permanent collection at the MoMA, took centuries-old craftsmanship like bentwood and caning and married it with modern bent tubular steel. Originally introduced in 1928, this chair minimizes the overuse of decorative flourishes and instead focuses on simple forms which is why it is a timeless piece,” says Berk. Because of its classic silhouette, you can pair the chair with an extendable dining table, or use it as an office or vanity chair.
To buy: $968, dwr.com
Burlwood Credenza by Milo Baughman
“Milo Baughman was a prolific mid-century designer whose paired back furniture designs exemplified letting the materials create the interest in the piece versus the lines. This piece, which is a simple cube on a stand, is simplistic in form but offers storage without visually taking up a lot of space due to the open nature of the base,” explained Berk. He recommends styling it with a sculptural lamp on one side and graphic black-and-white works of art on the other.
To buy: $5,800, incollect.com
The Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen
For New York-based interior designer, Kevin Dumais, one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable pieces of furniture is the Tulip Table, designed in the mid-1950s by famous American-Finnish furniture designer Eero Saarinen.
“It’s simple, elegant, and functional. Saarinen designed this as a solution to the mess of legs typically found under a legged table with chairs. With its single curved pedestal base, it is sculptural and graceful, a statement on its own or pairs seamlessly with many styles of dining chair,” said Dumais. “For a larger family, we’ve used the larger oval-shaped version or a smaller 30-inch round with a pair of chairs in a studio apartment. Our vintage table floats around our own apartment sometimes as a desk, a dining table, or side table for books or collections. And, the best part, the tops can be interchanged with different materials or in different sizes, so it always has a place.”
To buy: $2,310, knoll.com
The Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner
Dumais describes the Wishbone chair, also known as the CH24 chair, as a” sculptural gem.” Wegner designed it in 1949 exclusively for Danish manufacturer Carl Hansen & Søn and its most notable design feature is the combination of the back and armrest into a single piece.
“I love it because it’s beautiful, but also because it is comfortable, really comfortable. And that is hard to come by in minimal pieces,” said Dumais.
“You can find vintage Wishbone chairs or new ones. The older ones have a gorgeous honeyed patina perfect in a traditional or mid-century setting while the newer reproductions feel more modern or Scandinavian. I would pair a set of Wishbone chairs in an oiled oak finish with a traditional black pedestal base table. The clean lines of the light chairs will contrast smartly against the heavier silhouette of the table creating a dynamic balance of styles.”
To buy: $765, dwr.com
Polished Stainless Steel Coffee Table by Joe D’Urso
Thanks to influential minimalist designer Joseph D’Urso, industrial and unconventional materials such as stainless steel and black rubber floor tiles found their way into residential interiors. He designed his first furniture collection for Knoll in 1980, of which this stainless steel coffee table was a part of.
“Made from polished steel and safety glass, Joe D’Urso’s coffee table is a minimal masterpiece: large, beautiful, and perfectly crafted, and at home in a traditional space or a contemporary glass box house,” said interior designer Timothy Brown. “To style the table, I would stack books on the lower shelf and then add a few ceramics, sparingly, and a vase of flowers to allow the design of the table to speak for itself.”
To buy: $16,000, sputnikmodern.com
210 Chair by August Thonet
“The Thonet 210 Chair is a bentwood armchair with woven cane. It’s made of all-natural materials and is a sculptural masterpiece. Designed in 1900 by August Thonet, the chair is made of only six parts,” explained interior designer Liz Caan of Liz Caan & Co.
“Le Corbusier loved this chair—the ultimate stamp of approval in my mind. I use these chairs often both in projects and in my personal spaces; they surround the conference table in my studio so I can attest to their comfort just as confidently as their beauty. The chair looks right at home in contemporary settings and traditional spaces alike. From cafe tables to conference tables, they work perfectly anywhere,” she added.
To buy: Price Upon Request, archiproducts.com
The Chesterfield Sofa
While the origins of the Chesterfield sofa are a bit murky—it is rumored to have been invented sometime in the 18th century when the fourth Earl of Chesterfield commissioned a craftsman to create a sofa that won’t put creases in his suit when he sat in it—nowadays it is one of the most recognizable and omnipresent pieces of furniture.
“I feel you could put the Chesterfield sofa in any material—for example, white linen in a beach house or you could put it in blue leather in a modern design scenario—and it still gives a classic element of luxury while being a timeless classic piece of furniture,” said interior designer Ross Vincent.
To buy: Price Upon Request, timothyoulton.com
The Brno Chair by Mies van der Rohe
Designed by one of the pioneers of modernist architecture, Mies van der Rohe, in 1930 for his house in Brno in the Czech Republic, the Brno chair has become a symbol of contemporary design.
“This modern classic is made of a flat stainless steel frame supporting the upholstered seat and back. It is such an iconic piece of 20th-century furniture that you will find it in the collection at the MoMA,” explained Mark Weaver of Los Angeles-based interior design and architecture firm Mark Weaver & Associates.
“It has been a favorite of mine since I studied design in college. I love to mix this chair in a setting with modern furniture as well as with 18th- and 19th-century antiques. I have these chairs as conference chairs at my office as well in my dining room. My favorite fabric for the Brno chair is mohair velvet. The luxurious mohair is a wonderful juxtaposition to the crisp stainless of the frame,” he added.
To buy: $3,095, dwr.com
LC4 Chaise by Le Corbusier
Designers Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret of Le Corbusier Studio created this ultra-sleek and functional “chaise longue” more than 90 years ago and since then it has reached cult status. Designed to accommodate the natural curves of the human body, the chair’s frame can be adjusted from an upright position to full recline.
“This iconic piece can be the perfect piece for an empty corner. It can also be a great addition for an office or bedroom. It is not only a gorgeous timeless piece, it is very functional and comfortable,” said interior designer Erica Islas.
To buy: $4,995, dwr.com