How the ergonomic office chair has landed in your living room


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Remember, if you can, around 2019, when American offices were animated by real, living people, each sitting in a skinny black shirt, ergonomic “task”.

Now, close your eyes to your home office: an ergonomic office chair. Turn on “Billions,” “The Morning Show” or “The Intern” and you’re back.

Thinking about it, she was somehow still here on shows like “24,” “Ally McBeal,” “Sex and the City” and “Gossip Girl”.

Oh wow, is there even one on your dining room table? How was that chair everywhere?

An Aeron chair.
Designers Herman Miller Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick created the best-selling Aeron chair, released in 1994.
Herman Miller

Blame Humanscale, a leading industrial manufacturer of ergonomic chairs, and its Freedom chair, designed by Niels Diffrient.

Once limited only to mass office sales, the brand has seen its business triple during the pandemic since it opened sales to home offices for the first time.

But long before COVID-19, its sculpted, recycled plastic chair (which sells for $ 1,049) had already become a definitive symbol of professionalism at the white collar thanks to Harold Randall, owner of Product Co-Stars, a supplier of product placement for set designs.

He saw the Liberty chair just before it was launched in 1999 at a trade show in LA, recognizing that it was the perfect chair for highly guided characters, with no mercy for success.

“From the beginning, the Liberty chair has been a victory with stage decorators and production designers,” Randall said. “It was good for me!”

Life quickly imitated art. The chair is now housed in almost every Fortune 100 Company and is used by everyone, from Barack Obama to Prince William and Mark Cuban.

But the history of the ergonomic chair dates back to the 70s, with the introduction of the Ergon chair, a product of visionary designer Bill Stumpf for Herman Miller. Stumpf and Don Chadwick went on to design the best-selling Aeron chair, released in 1994.

A Humanscale chair in a home office.
Humanscale’s Freedom work chair is likely in your new home office.
Human scale

Stumpf’s first chair was developed after years of studying X-rays of the way people live and debuted as computer technology changed the way Americans work.

In fact, according to the American Heart Association, sedentary work has increased by 83 percent since the 1950s.

Constantin Boym, president of Pratt’s Industrial Design department, explained that the ergonomic chair represented a change of seat. For the first time the chair has become “a sitting machine – another piece of equipment, on par with a computer, a printer, work light and other work-related equipment” – rather than just a piece of decorative furniture and functional.

But not everyone is in love with this hot seat.

Characters in chairs above "Billions."
There are nearly a billion activity chairs in Showtime’s “Billions”. They may also have IMDB credits.
Jeff Neumann / SHOWTIME

“Too often, work chairs look like devices intended for folding,” said designer Celerie Kemble, who softened the aesthetics of work chairs by reinforcing them in decorative fabrics. “I don’t like being caught in the reproachful look of an empty work chair in my house. I much prefer to work from a chair called a “reading chair”. »

However, the more ubiquitous of chairs becomes only more established as an appliance, not only of the office, but of the home.

“I think chairs have become an easy way to communicate a status or a way of life, and more specifically a level of comfort,” said Leena Jain, Humanscale’s Chief Marketing Officer. “We’ve heard from our customers that ergonomic chairs are an important part of creating a productive and healthy workspace. If we’re not supported properly and comfortably, productivity is absolutely a success.”


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