From armchairs and ottomans to patio perches, today’s cutting-edge furniture designers are taking the swivel chair from kitsch to cool.
By Elise Hofer Shaw
From French Country to Hollywood Regency, swivel chairs are spinning their way into every room in the house. Multifunctional, comfortable and surprisingly sophisticated—and now with concealed swivel mechanisms and fashion-forward textural moments—the trend that took off in the 1950s is having a radical revival. But don’t call it a comeback.
“I don’t believe in full circle design,” says Marshall Erb, founder and lead designer at Marshall Erb Design in Chicago. “I believe in responsive design and interpretation that evolves to meet and enhance how we want to live our best lives at home.” Erb also firmly believes in deliberate, cohesive entertaining, something that the swivel chair ever-so-chicly supports. “I love the idea of a piece of furniture that can follow the ebb and flow of a conversation,” says Erb. “With a slight push of the foot, you can pivot from a larger confab to an intimate tête-à-tête, pausing briefly between the two to pick up your Manhattan from the end table.”
The social factor might explain why swivel chairs are taking up residence in more and more living rooms—that, and its chameleon-like ability to define spaces within an open floor plan. “When it comes to spatial planning for an open-concept living and dining space, transitional use is always top of mind. Swivel chairs can be used to frame the living room yet spin to face the action in the kitchen at a moment’s notice,” says Erb, who recently selected a pair of woven fabric and bronze swivels by Tomlinson for a “modern mountain”-style home in Park City, Utah. But he insists that the posh placement options don’t stop there. “Of late, we’ve been incorporating modest-sized swivels in jewel-toned velvets and soft boucle fabrics in dressing rooms. They’re great for surveying a three-sided closet and trying on shoes.”
And swivel chairs are still at home in the WFH space, insists Erb, although today, glamour is just as important as ergonomics. “For far too long, functional furniture has gotten a bad rap,” says Erb. “And by ‘functional,’ I mean chairs that recline or, in this case, spin. But in the right hands, you can flip the script on the notion that form needs to follow function—or, better still, achieve the perfect balance of both.” For a handsome home office, Erb suggests a sleek, clean-lined design like the Silq chair from Steelcase paired with a set of low-slung swivels in a channel-tufted leather opposite the desk. “After all, it was a necessity that inspired Thomas Jefferson to create the first swivel chair back in 1774. While drafting the Declaration of Independence, he decided that his stationary Windsor chair wasn’t up to snuff, so he quite literally pivoted its design using an iron spindle and rollers taken from some window sash pulleys. How life informs design, and the possibilities for enhancing life through design, is what drives innovation.”
And now, with the arrival of spring—and our collective consciousness turning toward sprucing up our outdoor domains—it’s no surprise that swivels are securing prime real estate on roof decks and patios. “All-weather swivel chairs are popping up in all of the outdoor showrooms,” informs Erb. “I’m loving the new Summer Classics Santa Barbara Aluminum collection that comes in a slate gray metal with crisp, light-colored cushions. The contrast of the dark metal with a light color fabric feels very fresh and modern.” Morning coffee on the front porch? A cushioned rattan swivel like the Baldwin lounge chair from Palecek could be the ticket. A family-fun BBQ by the pool? Contemplate getting comfortable in the South Beach Swivel chair from Universal. “A set of four of these chairs around a firepit or staggered around a cocktail table that’s laden with hors d’oeuvres facilitates conversation—and looks beautiful, too!”