The sling chair: a simple design with a surprisingly long history 

Category_Real Furniture

With its elegant, streamlined design, the sling chair may look simple and unassuming, but it has a history which dates back around 1,000 years. Here's everything you need to know about this unique and stylish chair... One of the most striking items of 20th century furniture must surely be the LC1 leather sling chair, designed by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand. Unveiled to the public in 1928, its simple and streamlined shape and structure, which featured thick leather attached to a metal frame, created design waves that are still in motion. The LC1 chair – and subsequent variations – can be found around the world, in homes, offices and luxury hotels, and remains in production.
LC1 Sling Chair (Image: Bauhaus2yourhouse)

What is a sling chair and where does it come from?

A sling chair is made from one continuous piece of material, usually leather or canvas, supported by a metal or wooden frame, which can be fixed or collapsible. It has been around for longer than you might think. Although the LC1 sling chair represented a complete break with the decorative and ornate furniture that was such a feature of the 19th century, we must go much further back in time to find its origins – to the hammock. The first hammocks are believed to have been developed by the Mayan civilisation of Central America, 1000 years ago, for safety and protection while sleeping. Christopher Columbus was impressed when he saw the hammocks that were used by the Taino people of the Bahamas, and he brought a selection back to Europe, along with pineapples, tobacco, and turkeys. In no time at all, hammocks, which were cheap and easy to produce, were being used for ships’ crews, for farm labourers, and for soldiers on active service. Colonialisation and continuing wars in the ensuing centuries saw armies on the march around the world – and armies needed furniture that could be dismantled or folded and transported easily. Campaign furniture, as it came to be known, included the campaign chair, beloved of 19th century generals. Inspired by the hammock, campaign chairs were made of canvas or leather and suspended from a wooden frame. Along with the hammock, the campaign chair rapidly found additional favour beyond its utilitarian use and variations began appearing in the homes and gardens of wealthy families with plenty of leisure time.
Roorkhee Sling Chair (Image: www.ebay.de)

From the Roorkhee to the Butterfly – the evolution of the campaign chair

Some of the best-known campaign chairs included the Roorkhee, designed by British Army engineers stationed in India, as well as the canvas Paragon (1877) and the Tripolina, (1885), both of which were designed by Joseph B Fenby in the USA. The Tripolina was a folding chair made out of animal hide and wooden struts, with metal swivel joints; the basic design remains a feature of camping chairs to this day. The Tripolina also inspired the iconic Butterfly chair (1938), also known as the BFK chair, the Hardoy chair or simply, the Sling chair. The Butterfly was designed in Argentina by architects, Hardoy, Bonet and Kurchan – who had worked with Le Corbusier, joint creator of the LC1.
Design for a folding chair by J B Fenby (Image: chairsify)

Deceptively simple sling chair precision

While all of the chairs that have evolved from the Mayan hammock may look simple, campaign chairs such as the Roorkhee and the Tripolina represented a triumph of engineering. This was also the case with the LC1 Sling chair and the Butterfly; the design teams were to develop and test many prototypes before they eventually settled on a final version. A 1918 Paragon chair made by Fenby typified the complexity : it consisted of a 12-bar folding beech wood frame, held together by metal joints, attached to a leather rectangle. The whole thing could be dismantled quickly and carried easily but once set up it was sturdy and reliable. The LC1 chair was originally seen in Le Corbusier’s Maison la Roche in Paris and in a music pavilion at the Paris home of American ex-patriates, Henry and Barbara. It was to become the first of a series of designs, produced by Le Corbusier, Jeanneret and Perriand, which embodied their theories on the form and function of furniture. Writing in 1925, Le Corbusier explained that he divided furniture into three categories, which included ‘human-limb objects’, such as the LC1 chair: ‘The human-limb object is a docile servant. A good servant is discreet and self-effacing in order to leave his master free.’ Le Corbusier placed great emphasis on good taste, which was, he said, ‘… manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony,’ which pretty well sums up the enduring appeal of the sling chair.

The perfect 21st century sling chair

Here at Raft, we’re rather keen on subtlety, proportion and harmony, all of which can be found in our own version – the Leather Sling Chair. If you have a preference for simplicity, a passion for design and design history, a leaning towards Scandinavian style, and want an unusual chair to delight and inspire, we think you’ll love it. Even better, the streamlined design doesn’t come at the expense of comfort; it’s also practical, versatile and made of natural materials – all of which make it an ideal choice for a contemporary minimalist home or stylish office. Our Leather Sling Chair is made from sustainably sourced teak wood and is available in black or natural leather. It’s a truly unique chair, with its own special story – like so much of our furniture – having been created in Indonesia, through a collaboration between local designers and the Raft design team. We’re rather proud of it.

A word about Raft leather…

Raft’s leather is selected as it improves with age, lasts for years and is easy to clean, which makes it a great choice for homes with pets and children. Our hides are sourced only in North Europe, where the cattle are reared to high ethical standards. These cold climate hides are also thicker and of much better quality than leathers from other parts of the world. Browse Raft’s complete range of leather armchairs, including the sling chair, here.


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