Photo courtesy of the Knoll archive.

Sitting Pretty: The Grail-Level Chair That Looks Like a Pair of Damn Scissors

In the first installment of his hyperspecific new interior design column, Tyler Watamanuk explores the Scissors Chair.

by Tyler Watamanuk
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Feb 13 2019, 4:09pm

Photo courtesy of the Knoll archive.

Chairs have long been a beacon of self-expression and individualism, often acting as the flashiest and most exciting part of a space. More than just a spot to sit, a great accent chair can assert itself as a functional piece of art. Whether simplistic in stature or as opulent as a Greek statue, the right chair has the agency to change the mood of the room in which it sits. And there is perhaps none more emblematic of this power than the Scissors Chair designed by Swiss architect Pierre Jeanneret.

Manufactured and sold during the mid-nineteenth century, the chair earned its name for its playful design, which looks almost deliberately like the classic old-timey shears used in elementary school to cut up construction paper. Beyond the amusing silhouette, there is an elevated dance of linear simplicity and provoking modernist details. A circular rivet connects the chair’s body to its legs, an unmistakable motif of industrial design, and one that is not too often used on furniture. It was the work of man with an off-kilter sense of creativity that was still rooted in technicalities.

That man—Jeanneret—was a prolific architectural mind who branched out into other disciplines over the course of an illustrious career. He was born in 1896 and passed away in 1967, earning a reputation for his practical knowledge of materials and tremendous work ethic. However, Jeanneret spent much of his career in the shadow of his more high-profile cousin, the architect, designer, painter known as Le Corbusier. (Real name: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret.) Jeanneret’s profile never quite reached the heights of Le Corbusier, but he certainly made his own mark as a furniture designer.

The story goes that, while touring his studio in Europe, Hans and Florence Knoll encountered an intriguing new chair designed solely by Jeanneret. The Knolls obtained rights to manufacture the chair in America, introducing it as the Model 92 Scissors Chair in 1948, just as midcentury modern design was starting to gain traction in the American market. It remained in production until 1966, a year before Jeanneret’s death.

At the time, the American consumer purchasing this chair would have been on the cusp of emerging decor trends. And it’s not hard to see why. In addition to its whimsical design, the chair was offered in eccentric upholstery shades like Kelly green, persimmon, and turquoise. Nowadays, it stands as a cult chair for serious collectors and decor aficionados whose own taste skew advocated and a bit left-of-center.

In its 2018 Design and Luxury issue, T Magazine spotlighted a grandiose house built from a former silk mill. The interior design was handled by none other than the acclaimed Italian director Luca Guadagnino. Placed in the master bedroom, not far from a fireplace made of Emperador marble, is a white Model 92 Scissors Chair. A quick Google search of the chair reveals that professionally restored versions still fetch premium prices, around $6,000 a pop, with many listings marked as “sold out.”

Jeanneret’s Scissors Chair represents of the most exciting parts about furniture design of that era; it’s cunning and a bit cheeky, but doesn’t sacrifice any ounce of design prowess. Even nearly a century after its debut, the chair remains as aesthetically clever and delightfully playful as it did back when. It’s a grail-level piece that deep-pocketed furniture heads still pay top dollar for—and for good reason. Just look at it.