The Tolix chair, a favourite of cafes and retro kitchens all over the world, was designed in 1934. It was meant to be outside in all weathers, which is why there are holes in the seats – to allow the rain to drain off.
It was immediately popular, not just in cafes, where right up until the 1970s they were often given out by breweries in return for the owner stocking their brand, but also in factories, offices and hospitals.
It forms part of the collections of MoMa in New York, the Pompidou in Paris and the Vitra design collection – one of the most important collections of modern furniture in the world.
You can buy them new from the Conran shop for £195 or you can hunt about for a vintage one and prices will vary. The modern ones come in around 50 colours, the vintage are more classically red or their natural steel colour.
Sir Terence Conran is one of several influential fans of this simple looking chair, which, nevertheless, takes around 100 manual operations to create.
“In 1952 I set out on my own Tour de France, which was when I first spotted Pauchard’s Chaise A on cafe terraces; at the time I said to myself that something so well made simply had to be American. I’m still amazed that what went through my head was: here’s a chair the US Forces brought over and left behind after the war,” he said.
“Over the years, this chair has come to symbolise what I like to term democratic excellence, meaning that it’s mass-produced and universally acceptable.”
It was designed by Xavier Pauchard, a third generation zinc roofer from Morvan, in France. In 1907, Xavier discovered that he could protect sheet metal from rusting by dipping it in molten zinc – process that would come to be known as galvanisation. Ten years later he set up a factory making steel household items and eventually registered his trademark symbol as Tolix, by which name the company is still known today.
By the end of the 1950s, the factory had about 80 workers and produced some 60,000 units annually. The company remained in the family until 2004.
Frederic Migayrou, of the Pompidou Centre, says: “There is no rule that states that a widely distributed industrial object in everyday use will inevitably become a standard. The Tolix chair, despite the almost complete absence of mechanically assembled elements remains striking for the simplicity of its architecture.”
But never mind all those high falutin’ comments, the Tolix is now a celebrity in its own right. Just as the Panton S chair was famously featured on the cover of Vogue magazine (with Kate Moss wrapped around it admittedly. Oh and she was naked) so the Tolix reached the dizzy heights of fame featuring in Agent Provocateur’s Spring Summer 2011 campaign, although it’s just possible that some of you were not looking at the chair.
First published in The Independent