A chair, says the dictionary, is "a seat with a back on which one person sits, typically having four legs and often having arms". And the rest! Because a chair is far more than merely a utilitarian construct. How much more may be seen from Sarah Columbo's appreciation, just, one of four bijou books in the Design Icons series. Columbo has selected just 28 of the many outrageous and extraordinary chairs to have enjoyed high fashion status this century, each of them a reflection of wider social and economic change, and you can see from the nine featured here how chair design will not sit still.

From the modernists in thrall to industrial production, to the post-modernist plunderers of history, designers and architects have always used chairs to reflect a grander vision, not infrequently subordinating comfort to style. The soft, moulded chairs of the Sixties, for instance, represented a relaxation of the strict rules of modernism. Contrast, the Studio 65 Bocca foam chair, a really cushy number, with Gerrit Rietvelt's unpadded, space-saving, sit-up-straight Zig-Zag. Danny Lane's steel and glass Etruscan chair, meanwhile, may be a thing of beauty, but will it prove a joy for ever? And can Harry Bertoia's sculptural steel mesh chair seriously be recommended to naturists?

The four works in Aurum Press's Design Icons series, featuring the chair, the kettle, the telephone and the radio, with photographs by Guy Rycroft, are published on 23 October, price pounds 5.99

Studio 65 Bocca (below), a slightly reworked version of Salvador Dali's Mae West's Lips Wall Seat (c.1936), polyurethane foam/frabric, 1970.The reference to Surrealism within the context of pop design makes this work doubly interesting. Below

right: Eero Arnio Pastilli Chair, fibreglass, 1968.

Charles Eames Dar Chair (right), steel/fibreglass, 1949. The design was a response by Charles Ray Eames and a number of his colleagues to a low-cost furniture competition, the first moulded seat to use fibreglass. Philippe Starck Louis 20 chair (far right), aluminium/polypropylene, 1992.

Gerrit Rietvelt Red Blue chair. (left) Wood, 1917. Designed to be placed against a black wall to give an impression of floating in space. His Zig-Zag Chair (right), wood, 1934, occupies as little volume as possible. Danny Lane, Etruscan chair (centre right), steel and glass, 1984, the antithesis of a mass-produced object. Mart Stam, Chair 5 33 (far right), tubular steet and canvas, 1926, inspired a thousand imitations. The sculptural Harry Bertoia, Steel Mesh Diamond Chair (below), 1952.