Interior Design

A Brief History of the Dining Chair You’re Seeing Everywhere

Plus, where to snag one on any budget.

February 17, 2020
Photo by Knoll

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For the past few months, my partner and I have been redesigning our kitchen. We’ve spent countless hours picking out a backsplash, choosing a new faucet, conceptualizing lighting designs, and combing through every single marble handle out there in order to find the set with the very best veining.

One decision, however, was quick and painless: picking seating. It seemed every stylish kitchen we’ve admired in the last few months (read: dominated our Instagram feeds) has featured these particular cantilever chairs, and just like the rest of the world, we were hooked. While we both loved the look, we admittedly didn’t know much about the design’s history, so today I’m digging deeper into the backstory of what’s become 2019-2020’s most popular dining chair.

The story of the chair starts in Germany, at the famous Bauhaus design school. Miraculously, in just 14 years of operation, the Bauhaus produced a handful of interior design’s most enduring thought leaders. One such student was Marcel Breuer. The goal of his work, which aligned with the central teachings of his alma mater, was to marry form and function through common, accessible materials, and a dash of ingenuity. Arguably, his most famous creation is the balancing act of tubular steel and cane that sits in our kitchen and many others today: the B32 chair.

Photo by Knoll

While its debut in 1928 caused a splash, not everyone welcomed the designer’s thoughtful creation. Four years prior, a prominent Bauhausian, Mart Stam had himself designed a tubular cantilever chair using gas pipes, though his lacked the caning that Breuer had employed. Angered, Stam and Breuer’s respective manufacturers fought for three years with one another in German courts in hopes of snatching the European patent out of the other’s hands. In the end, it was Stam who won.

Since its inception over 90 years ago, the rights to producing Breuer’s version of the chair have changed hands from Thonet to Dino Gavina (who stripped it of its numerical moniker and re-dubbed it the Cesca chair after Breuer’s daughter Francesca) to Knoll, who has recently revitalized the chair in honor of the Bauhaus’ 100th anniversary. Their latest iterations include multiple heights, upholstery options, and colors.

With a surge in popularity like Breuer’s chair is experiencing comes a heightened chance of fizzling out; of eventually teetering more towards trendy than classical. The Cesca chair’s current popularity; however, shows no signs of slowing down. Its ability to be reinvented, its place in design history and the ease at which it fits with any home’s style are sure to keep it a designer and homeowner go-to for many years to come.


Get the style, for less

Scandinavian Designs
  1. The beechwood captain’s chair (above) from Scandinavian Designs is similar in hue to Breuer’s original concept. ($139.00)
  2. Set your dining table apart by going for a richer, darker set from Restaurant Furniture Warehouse. ($136.00)
  3. The most graphic of updates to Breuer’s chair is this black frame design from Dania Furniture. It pairs well with olive green accents. ($119.00)
  4. For those looking for a comfier seat, this olive option from AllModern will do the trick. ($155.00)
  5. And, just so you know, Knoll lets you customize the original Breuer chair from upholstery to the color of the frame. They even offer bar and counter height options. ($972.00)

Have you seen this dining chair style around? Tell us in the comments below.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Joe Byer
    Joe Byer
  • GritHippie
    GritHippie
  • Aja Aktay
    Aja Aktay
  • Kim
    Kim
  • Bevi
    Bevi
Comment
Garrett Fleming

Written by: Garrett Fleming

Interiors Editor & Art Director

9 Comments

Joe B. March 12, 2020
These are all great options, plus there is a beautiful walnut and leather version sold at Arhaus at a moderate price point.

https://www.arhaus.com/furniture/dining-room-furniture/dining-room-chairs/wolfgang-dining-side-chair/
 
GritHippie February 23, 2020
I grew up with Breuer cane chairs - and was constantly yelled at for standing on the cane. Now the originals are in my house and I’m constantly fussing at my kids for standing on the cane! These chairs are so much a part of my life, and I’ve loved seeing them come back into fashion the last couple years. I’ll never give mine up! Look great, functional and comfortable.
 
Author Comment
Garrett F. February 26, 2020
Hi GritHippie,

I love that you’ve held onto them! What a great memento! All these years, have you ever had a seat or back rip? It so, how’d ya fix it?

-G
 
Aja A. February 18, 2020
Found a great version of this chair from seats & stools. https://www.seatsandstools.com/home-breuer/breuer-cane-cesca-chair/
Ended up ordering a bunch of these for a design project at Chicago brewpub, Bungalow and they have held up great!!
 
Author Comment
Garrett F. February 18, 2020
Hi Aja,

That's a great option!

–G
 
Kim February 17, 2020
Oh, I thought we threw all those chairs out years ago! As someone who experienced the early 80's as a teenager, I'm not excited to see, and hear, it all coming back....glass tables and all!
 
Arati M. February 18, 2020
I hear you, Kim, not all trends find favor when they come back around. This chair however is interesting because it has kind of never really gone out of favor, I don't think.... Glass tables are definitely a particular choice. I saw a beautiful cherry and glass dining table the other day, but have none in my home :)
 
Bevi February 17, 2020
We have owned these chairs for 40 years. Seats and backs have been replaced, but they have lived through toddlers and abuses.
 
Author Comment
Garrett F. February 18, 2020
Hi Bevi,

WOW! I bet they have the perfect patina. Nothing is better than having pieces in our homes that remind us of nice times with family and friends.

–G