They are the best-sellers of the furniture world, the supermodels of interior design. But is it price, quality or designer names that has these pieces walking out of the shops? Katherine Sorrell discovers the stories behind the top-selling items from six major furniture stores

Phoenix chair, pounds 79 (top)

This curvy plywood chair was an instant hit with customers of Purves & Purves when it was introduced in 1994. What's more, says press and events manager Azelle Pery, it's been "walking out of the doors" ever since. The look is similar to that of the well-known Fifties chair by Arne Jacobsen - but it's by an anonymous designer and is a great deal more affordable. There's a choice of 23 colours and Pery reports that most people buy half a dozen in different shades as a set of dining chairs. Made in Denmark, the chair's slight frame belies an inner strength; it is, apparently, notorious for being able to withstand the weight of hefty Danish men. "It's so versatile," says Pery. "It is robust, it stacks away and it was one of the first pieces of furniture to come in such a huge array of colours. We work very hard to stay on the cutting edge of design, but we are aware that when people buy furniture they don't want something that's passe the following year. This chair is well on its way to becoming a design classic."

Purves & Purves, 80-81 & 83 Tottenham Court Rd, London Wl, 0171 580 8223


Test tube vase, pounds 4.95 (centre)

Conran Shop press officer Bridget Bodoano says the store's best-seller is an ever-changing phenomenon, but for the past couple of months it's been this nifty vase, just the right size for a single stem, which comes with a sucker to stick it to a mirror, window or tiled wall. "They've been selling in their hundreds," she says. "They're very simple, they've got a sense of humour and they're reasonably priced." In the past, the store's fastest sellers have included a set of cuff links made from watch faces, a slab-like wooden table designed by Terence Conran (which created queues of eager customers), Philippe Starck's sculptural - and by some accounts unusable - Juicy Salif lemon squeezer and brightly coloured, inflatable laundry bins. "I suppose the common denominator is that they are all innovative yet based on a very simple idea," says Bodoano. "It does not have to be a designer name, but just something that's quirky and distinctive, and that catches people's imagination."

The Conran Shop, 81 Fulham Rd, London SW3, 0171 589 7401


Botticelli glassware, pounds 2.50 and pounds 2.95 each (bottom)

The shape of these Botticelli glasses (in wine, flute, goblet or Burgundy style) is, apparently, just right for wine tasting - indeed, they were recently recommended by Jilly Goolden on BBC's Good Food Show. Robustly made and dishwasher safe, they were launched in 1993 and have consistently sold several thousand per week, according to press officer Fiona Rushton. "They're so popular because they are a classic design combining good quality and a good price," she says. Such are the criteria for other Habitat best-sellers, which include the wooden Van Gogh chair and some highball tumblers called Prime, new in this spring. Kitchenware is an important area for Habitat and Rushton predicts that the next product to hit the big time could be the Lili kitchen, a new free-standing range with a touch of Fifties styling. "The great thing about it is that you can pack it up and take it with you when you move," says Rushton. "It's contemporary and yet it won't date; the sort of furniture that can adapt to any surroundings."

Habitat, 196 Tottenham Court Rd, London W1. Enquiries: 0645 334433


Tundra flooring, pounds 15 per square metre (top)

Wooden flooring is extremely popular in Scandinavia, so it's appropriate that customers are flocking to Swedish store Ikea to buy these lay-it- yourself Tundra planks. Made of wood composite with a laminated top, they come in alder, maple, oak or beech, with a plank or stave pattern, and have been on sale since the store opened in Britain 10 years ago. Sales manager Julian Masters says: "We sell different grades of laminated flooring and Tundra is very good quality, with a 15-year guarantee. Customers see it as a long-term investment: Tundra is hard-wearing, easy to lay and creates a very attractive effect." Other Ikea stars are a two-seater sofa for under pounds 200, a futon bed and a halogen, spotlight, ceiling lamp. What makes an Ikea best-seller? "It's a combination of function, quality and price," says Masters. "The laminated flooring wasn't designed specially for us but a lot of pieces are. The Moppe mini wooden chest of drawers is a good example - it's simple, basic, well-designed and unique. It flies out of the doors."

Ikea, Brent Park, 2 Drury Way, London NW10. Enquiries: 0181 208 5600


Mission extension table, pounds 1,695 (centre)

This solid American Cherry dining table, with two extending leaves and in a natural oil finish, was among the first pieces sold by Jerry's when it opened in September 1993. Since then, the range has been so successful it has been extended to include a coffee table, desk, console table, filing cabinet and bedside table. "They're big, simple pieces of furniture and customers see them as value for money and very American," says press officer Ros Sacher. "They need very little looking after, they age beautifully, and they're really versatile, because they extend from being quite a neat size to seating up to 12 people." Coming a close second in the Jerry's popularity stakes is the relatively new range of Fifties-style Diner furniture. Chunky and comfortable in chrome and Formica, it is highly distinctive and, says Sacher, people either love it or hate it. "But it's becoming so successful that we're importing an exclusive range of New York table- top items to go with it," she adds, "and the look is definitely catching on in a big way."

Jerry's Home Store, 163 Fulham Rd, London SW3 , 0171 581 0909


Lucca three-seater sofa, from pounds l,050 (bottom)

Strikingly sculptural and modern in style, this low-backed sofa has been a runaway success since it went on sale two years ago. "There's nothing else quite like it around," says buying director Janice Webster. "It's well proportioned and surprisingly comfortable for a modern sofa. We expect contemporary designs to be moderately successful, but this is exceptional for what is a sharp, slick look." Designed by Heal's, the sofa comes in two sizes and any fabric you choose (the larger size covered in a standard brushed cotton costs pounds 1,359), and this delicious purple velvet is proving highly desirable. "When people see it on the shop floor they are arrested by it and just have to have it," says Webster. "Our customers are getting more confident with colour - for example, although our best-selling bed linens will always be plain white, recently a very bright Madras in a large checked pattern has been an absolute knockout."

Heal's, 196 Tottenham Court Rd, London WI, 0171 636 1666