Not every chair immediately presents itself as a chair. Pared down to its basic components, this chair is a study in outline and form. It was part of design firm nendo’s first solo exhibition in England, at the Saatchi Gallery in 2010. Responding to the exhibition theme, “Outlines”, nendo created the Thin Black Lines series of bent tubular steel objects that included vases, bowls, lighting, furniture—and thus the Thin Black Lines chair. Oki Sato, nendo’s co-founder and principal designer, and his team developed their idea for the series by looking at paintings of plants and animals. They simplified the forms until only the outlines remained.  They then carried the idea through to functional objects made of black powder-coated bent tubular steel. The black steel lines resemble sketches drawn in the air—simple graphic elements that create and define volume and surface.

Like Japanese calligraphy, the lines that form the chair perform a function and do so aesthetically.  The diagonal lines of the bent steel elements that form the chair’s basic parts—back, seat, base—define the volume and act like an optical illusion. When one walks around the form it appears to shift and morph. It seems to change shape, depending on the viewer’s perspective.

Alternate views of the Thin Black Lines (21400 mm) Chair

Cynthia Trope is the Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

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