The B3 chair model, commonly known as the Wassily chair, is arguably one of the most famous designs by Marcel Breuer – the legendary modernist and icon of 20th-century architecture and design, who abandoned the idea of decorative, bourgeois forms in favor of elegant simplicity. Breuer was still an apprentice at the Bauhaus when he designed the B3 chair model that would forever change the world of furniture.
The origins of the Wassily chair can be traced back to the beginning of the modern movement. Bucking the historical trend of incorporating the past into furniture design, this era was characterized by the idea of creating timeless, universal objects that would stand the test of time. This belief led to simpler, cleaner designs that were less likely to become obsolete. The concept of simplified design was later developed by the Bauhaus, with which Breuer was closely associated. The main principle of the Bauhaus was to make everyday mass products beautiful yet practical, while still making them accessible to the common man. Breuer’s involvement with this famous German art school began at the age of 18. He was one of the first and youngest students in the school’s history. His talent was quickly recognized and he soon took charge of the carpentry workshop, where he created a variety of iconic furniture designs.
The chair model B3 was presented for the first time in 1925. Its unusual shape was enthusiastically received by the Bauhaus and only a year later the entire facility was equipped with this modernist piece of furniture. The chair went into mass production in the late 1920s and was originally manufactured under the name ‘Model B3’ by Thonet, the German-Austrian furniture company best known for its curved wooden chair designs. Production was stopped during World War II. After the war years, the Italian furniture company Gavina accepted the license for the chair and named it after the non-representational painter and Breuer’s colleague at the Bauhaus, Wassily Kadinsky. The Wassily Chair is currently available under the Knoll brand.
The Wassily Chair is undoubtedly one of the symbols of modernism in the 20th century and will set a new standard in furniture design for decades to come. The design has been reduced to the essentials, which makes the shape of the chair very minimalist and puristic. The chair is said to be the first bent tubular steel furniture design. Its distinctive frame was inspired by the curved handlebars of the Adler bicycle. Breuer revealed the story behind the chair design in an interview with a Knoll historian, in which he said: “I was pretty idealistic at the time, 23 years old. I made friends with a young architect and bought my first bike. I learned to ride a bike and spoke to this young man and told him that the bike seems to be a perfect production because it hasn’t changed in the last twenty or thirty years. It’s still the original bike shape. He said: “Have you ever seen how they make these parts? How do you bend this handlebar? They’d be interested because they bend these steel tubes like macaroni. “That stuck in my mind and I started thinking about tubular steel bent into frames – probably that’s the material you could use for a flexible and transparent chair.” I was usually very concerned with the transparency of the form. This is how the first chair was born… I realized that the bending had to go further. It should only be bent without spot welds so that it can also be chromed and assembled in parts. So the first Wassily was born. “
In fact, the shape of the Wassily chair is known for its transparency. This is ensured by the characteristic chrome-plated frame made of bent steel tubes, which are connected with screws. Thick leather loops made of cowhide, which are stretched over the frame, form the seat of the chair, which can retain its crisp tension for decades. Customers can choose between three types of leather: Spinneybeck® Belting Leather in 27 colors with matching color edges; white, beige and tan Spinneybeck® thick cowhide and 8 options in Spinneybeck® Haired Hide.
Each Wassily chair features the KnollStudio logo and designer’s signature engraved on the frame.
The overall look of the chair is extremely appealing and stylish. It’s very proportionate and balanced, and the use of the frame makes it feel both airy and light. In contrast to fully upholstered furniture, it does not block the room in which it is placed, but rather improves the sense of space. Even today, almost nine decades after its presentation, when modernity is no longer an extravagant or radical concept, the Wassily chair has neither aged nor become banal. It still looks fresh and contemporary.