A Taxonomy of Office Chairs

For designers, the chair is the ultimate object. Designer Ross Lovegrove puts it well. “Chairs,” he says, “are an infinite source of potential to explore material, structure, technology and form…all related to the human body and its elevation.” But given its status, Jonathan Olivares, who heads a design consultancy in Boston, was surprised that he was unable to find an objective reference manual on the subject. Books about chairs are popular, to be sure, but they’re skewed towards the author’s own personal tastes. So Olivares decided to write the book himself, an unbiased compendium that designers could refer to in order to get the whole history, not just one person’s historical preferences.

A Taxonomy of Office Chairs took four years for Olivares to research and write. From the thousands of chairs available to choose from, he included only those that introduced at least one innovation. The book includes technical drawings and over 400 illustrations of 184 chairs from 1849 to the present. It reads like an exceptionally thorough visual history, an evolutionary history, actually, of the office chair. At times it’s downright scientific, breaking down every aspect of the chair – the headrest, the base, the casters – and cataloging them morphologically. A true labor of love, it’s typical of Olivares’ meticulous approach to design research and his desire to chronicle the entire development of the industrially produced office chair, something he considers “a hugely technical and culturally complex object.”