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Walter Papst’s Three-Legged Chair

Is it true that everything good comes in threes? I can cite examples for this from baseball (the “4-6-3” or classic second baseman to shortstop to first baseman double play), entertainment (the Marx Brothers, the Three Tenors, Three’s Company, and the Three Amigos), love affairs (Jules and Jim, Casablanca), and, of course, chair legs. I know this last may put me out on a limb, but consider these precedents: The United Nations three-legged chair, Guillermo Sureda Burgos’ HGW (well-known to our readers), Poul Kjærholm’s PK 8, and the prototype for each of the former: Walter Papst’s visionary 3-Legged Chair.

3-Legged Chair. Designed by Walter Pabst and re-issued by Wilkhahn.

Due for re-issue in the coming weeks by manufacturer Wilkhahn, Papst’s classic design (originally released in 1955) joins the esteemed ranks of 3rings’ periodic re-visitings, a la the Party Lounge, The Egg Chair, and the Eames Lounge Chair, each of which enjoy epochal persistence in the form of multiple borrowings, re-thinkings, and re-releases—Papst’s piece is no exception.

Modeled after a traditional milking stool, Papst’s design had several advantages over four-legged chairs: it allowed for a greater variety of sitting positions and was thus an early example of ergonomic innovation; it offered enhanced portability—not only was the design slim and stream-lined, but one could tote it around in style using the single front leg as a handle; its forward orientation promoted participatory body language, thus facilitating interaction in group settings; and it featured an avant-garde aesthetic that encouraged the design community to imagine and experiment.

Wilkhahn’s new edition updates the original: modern joinery techniques have increased the stability of the chair, in addition to allowing for the shrinking/swelling patterns of solid wood; DD lacquer provides greater finish durability and shine; and an expanded color palette increases the range of use. Once thought of as the staple for music rooms and kindergartens, Papst’s chair has now come of age—workshops, conference rooms, and cafés everywhere have grown receptive to its charms.

Posted February 9th, 2009 by Joseph Starr


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