The swing’s the thing: collecting hanging chairs
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There’s a scene in the 1969 film La Piscine where Jane Birkin smoulders by the pool in a cocoon-like rattan chair. Clad in a black-
and-white checked Courrèges mini-dress, she attracts the attention (on set and off) of co-star Alain Delon. Little wonder that her real-life lover Serge Gainsbourg stationed himself nearby during filming to keep an eye. All this sexual frisson wasn’t caused by the chair, but it played its part. Hanging chairs have the swing of the ’60s in their very design.
And they’re still making statements in contemporary interiors. “Suspending a chair from the ceiling adds presence to a space,” says Paul Bearman, owner of Los Angeles midcentury store Merit. “Vintage chairs in good condition are increasingly hard to find. A few models are super-common, but this one is pretty rare,” he adds, pointing out a rattan and wicker style priced at $2,800. “It’s a great piece of design; its cutouts allow you to see through it from almost any angle.”
In rattan and bamboo, swinging chairs fit within the trend for naturalistic interiors in sustainable materials. Among the most sought-after vintage pieces are those by Bonacina, a company established in 1889 near Milan, and Dutch specialist Rohé Noordwolde. Today, 1960s examples with stands fetch from around €1,250 for a classic Rohé (on Design Market) to £2,700 for a slender-shaped Bonacina (on 1stdibs).
One of the most distinctive rattan designs of the era is the sculptural Egg chair created by Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel in 1959. “It’s beautiful and truly timeless,” says Louise Andreasen, CEO of Sika-Design, which has produced the chair since 2014. But another 1950s design is closer to her heart – the boxy Renoir, which was designed by her grandfather Ankjær Andreasen. “I remember swinging on this chair when I was a kid,” she says. “When I joined the company it was long gone from the collection, but I found it in the archives; now it’s one of our bestselling pieces.”
The fact that new versions of these two designs are readily available affects vintage prices. “People still like having the original,” says Bearman. “But if something is widely produced, it’s less desirable. Still cool, just less interesting.” That didn’t stop a 1959 Egg chair selling for £9,270 on 1stdibs this year (when a new one is €1,869).
But it’s not all about rattan. The 1960s Hanging Leaf chair by Rupert Oliver combines a curvy steel frame with a canvas seat (The Old Cinema recently sold one for £2,000). Ib Arberg’s 1970s Parrot chair has a nickel-coated cage that swings on a steel stand (one with original upholstery is available for £4,595 at Pushkin Antiques). “The Parrot chair is fun, clubby and sexy,” says Sarah Munro, who bought one about 15 years ago and has included it in the design scheme of the Shoreditch photoshoot location The Lordship Residency. “We were trying to create a 1960s nightclub vibe, a little bit Barbarella. We’ve used the chair in lots of shoots. Blondie was photographed in it.”
Hanging chairs are no stranger to editorial exposure. In 1966, the Egg graced the cover of Lui magazine, a naked model peeking out from its shell. The cult Bubble chair by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio – a space-age ball of acrylic first launched in 1968 – has graced the cover of Playboy three times and framed a nude Donatella Versace in Vanity Fair. Like the Egg, the Bubble is still in production – and vintage versions tend to sell at around the same price as new ones (£3,632 at Nest).
Where to hang one, then? Martyn Fowler, co-owner of London- and Rye-based Puckhaber, has a rattan one in his living room surrounded by plants. As does interior designer Sera Hersham-Loftus. It adds drama, however, if you have a vast atrium to pendulum back and forth in – as is the case in architect David Nossiter’s barn conversion on the Essex-Suffolk border. Original beams are offset with concrete flooring and huge glazed doors, while a single chair is suspended in the 8m-high central space. “Last spring, I house-sat at the barn,” says Nossiter. “With the doors open, the swinging chair was a wonderful place to contemplate while gazing at the waves of wildflowers.”
The powder-coated steel chair chosen by Nossiter’s client is the work of Ben Rousseau, who calls the design a “new interpretation of the Bubble chair, fit for the 21st century”. He joins an illustrious list of designers who have rethought the hanging chair – from Lee Broom and Patricia Urquiola to the Campana brothers. The latter’s bold Cocoon chair for Louis Vuitton’s 2015 Objets Nomades collection was featured in Sotheby’s Design auction that year; it fetched £56,250. Old or new, it’s the swing that’s the thing.