Seating by Cassina: Not Your Average Cab Ride

Where were you in 1977? If you’re a contemporary of yours truly, chances are you were more concerned with the groovy stylings of a young (and thin) John Travolta or the improbable ascendance of the football Broncos (trounced that year in Super Bowl XII by the Dallas Cowboys), than the debut of Mario Bellini’s Cab Chair, a piece that bespoke functional simplicity at the time and—in the 32 intervening years—has evolved into an icon of versatile elegance.

Cab Chair. Designed by Mario Bellini for Cassina.

Cassina’s Cab Chair is noteworthy for its unorthodox construction. Consisting of a “skeletal steel frame that was enameled and covered with leather upholstery,” (Via Bauhaus 2), the piece represented a fusion of sorts, a new alliance between industrial/utilitarian elements and classical features. Or, as fellow design fiends over at Architonic put it: “A relationship of structural and organic harmony… it’s a technical and formal innovation, a chair still in production and quite uselessly imitated.” Praise for the Cab Chair comes from all quarters. Shortly after its debut, it received the Asid and Roscoe awards for Design Excellence and was accepted into the Design and Architecture collections of both Moma and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.




This crossover into the overtly artistic realm has me waxing a bit poetical. Considering the metaphorical implications of its “zippered leather skin,” I’m specifically reminded of work by Russell Edson, the American Prose Poet: “A skeleton yawns and awakens in a grinning gape of teeth; stretching, its spine arching like a suspension bridge. Sitting on a coffin it pulls flesh as if hip boots up the bones of its legs…” (via Google Books).

Granted, it’s an odd analogue, but I think that something of the Cab Chair’s timeless appeal is owed to the dual evocation of inside and out. Though the internal “skeleton” of the piece is completely hidden from view, the chair’s identity depends on the formidable qualities of steel as much as the sculptural appeal of the Italian saddle-stitched leather. This combination of rigid structural integrity and tactile sensuousness has made the Cab Chair especially long-lived: its innovative aesthetic aligns it with other timeless chairs (see Stingray Rocker and LC4) and assures we’ll be re-visiting it well into the new millennium.

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