From Tobias Scarpa's 'Pigreco' chair to today's high street, we follow the evolution of one of the interiors world's most beloved pieces
A few weeks ago, the internet exploded with talk of the Roman Empire. Men, it seemed – in an admittedly generalised statement – thought about the Roman Empire with a frequency that astounded the rest of the population. What transpired was that this group of people were thinking about the Roman Empire each and every time they saw a reference to it. A straight road? Roman Empire. A toilet? Roman Empire. Our calendar? Roman Empire.
But what does this have to do with chairs, you might be thinking? The simple fact is, there's a handful of furniture designers that we would probably think of at the same rate as the Roman Empire if we only knew what, and who, to look for.
If we consider the high street's current offering, you will see a distilled, microcosm of wider trends in the interiors industry. Enduringly popular antiques recreated for less – some done with a fresh spin, others not so much. What you might notice, is the same chair design cropping up over and over again. Soho Home, Anthropologie, Oliver Bonas and Loop and Twist all have versions of a curved, tripod armchair that's suitable for both lounging and dining.
History of the tripod chair
To appreciate this chair fully, we need to understand where it came from. The earliest iteration we can find is that conceived by Tobia Scarpa. Produced for his graduation project in 1959, the ‘Pigreco Chair’ provides the basis of the chairs we are seeing on today's high street. His aim was to create a design with as few elements as possible, bringing together just five wooden pieces for a simple, graphic finish. Technically, this chair is comprised of four legs, two placed side by side in a traditional tripod structure: they are joined together by a horizontal component.
Then, in 1965, Augusto Savini debuted the 'Pamplona Dining Chair' created for Pozzi. This chair featured lacquered wood, and (usually) leather upholstery. Though their silhouette is very similar to Scarpa's chair, the ‘Pamplona’ has both a backrest, and an additional piece of joinery between the back legs. It's also worth noting that the ‘Pamplona’ is comprised of fewer pieces than the ‘Pigreco’, thanks to the dynamic curved wood frame that creates a single line between the front leg and back leg on each side.
Also in the mid-60s, de Sede produced a new dining chair for Nienkamper. De Sede started out life as a saddle-making workshop, based in northern Switzerland. This chair incorporated chrome, tubular legs in place of the wooden legs that had become the hallmark of the tripod chair.
Where the ‘Pigreco Chair’ is mainly made up of wooden elements, a closer iteration to the upholstered options we're seeing on the high street is by Vladimir Kagan. A pioneer of modern furniture design, Vladimir Kagan is known for the playful dynamism he approached his work with. There are two iterations of tripod chairs that are similar in structure and shape to the high street ones. The first of these is his ‘Tripod Lounge Chair’, which appeared in the 1980s. Almost identical in shape to Scarpa's 'Pigreco Chair', the main difference is that Kagan's chair is fully upholstered, with a lower profile more suited to lounging. From there, the chair evolved into the more free form ‘Sculptural Lounge Chair’.
The tripod chair in a contemporary landscape
But how has this design endured, whilst still feeling comprehensively modern? Our Decoration Editor and all-round interiors expert, Ruth Sleightholme weighs in.
'I think it does have a certain rationality and simplicity of design that would always appeal. This family of designs attempts to reduce the number of legs and component pieces of a chair, whilst retaining some lightness of form (this style is never monolithic like a traditional English armchair). The best designs can reduce the form down to just five elements: three uprights (which are both the legs and the upright chair supports) a seat, and one curved piece for both the arms and the back. Ideally, this form would be free of all other embellishments and visible fixings. The Cassina example has perhaps gone the furthest down this route, being only made up of three 'parts'.'
'I think the modern versions tend to combine upholstered elements with solid components, or a slightly more rigid structure. This creates a stylish middle-ground between the 'harder' Tobias Scarpa designs, and the fully amorphous, entirely upholstered aesthetics of Vladimir Kagan,' says Ruth.
In the words of Tobia Scarpa, 'in the field of chairs, I don’t see what else is left to be invented, but this seems to me to be more than enough.'