The Secret History Of: The bubble chair

Kate Watson-Smyth
Friday 13 May 2011 00:00

It's a bit space age, a bit glamorous, a bit indoor hammock. The Bubble chair was built to swing lazily on a landing or to be suspended in a room full of books but within reach of a martini.

The chair is so perfectly designed that it comes as a shock to realise that it hangs from the ceiling only by accident. In the Sixties, the designer, Eero Aarnio, wanted his chair to be transparent and couldn't find a way of making a clear pedestal so he had to hang it instead.

The Finnish designer is one of the 20th century's greatest innovators. He broke from traditional designs and experimented with colour, plastic and organic curved forms. His work is now in the collections of the V&A, MoMA and Vitra Design Museum.

To understand the Bubble, it is first necessary to look at the Ball. Aarnio, in the best tradition of great inventors and businessmen, wanted something, didn't have it so made it himself. "We had moved into our first home and I had started my freelance career in 1962," he says. "We had a home but no proper big chair, so I decided to make one, but in some way a really new one. After some drawing I noticed that the shape of the chair had become so simple that it was merely a ball. I pinned the full scale drawing to the wall and 'sat' in the chair ..."

He then knocked up a prototype. The idea was also to create a room within a room that would protect the user from outside noise and on a turning pedestal that would allow him, or her, to turn to or away from the room. When two young managers from Asko, a Scandinavian kitchen and laundry appliance company, visited Aarnio, they were so impressed they wanted to put his new chair into production too.

"I wanted to have light inside it and so I had the idea of a transparent ball where the light comes from all directions," Aarnio adds. "The only suitable material is acrylic which is heated and blown into shape like a soap bubble, and again the name was obvious." As there was no way to make a totally clear pedestal, the chair was hung from the ceiling.

The Sanderson Hotel in London eveb has a bubble-chair in the lobby. Sadly, the proper version costs nearly £5,000 although, as with all design classics, there are lots of copies around for which you can knock a zero off the price.

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