A Polish Icon: Józef Chierowski’s forgotten Fotel 366
If you know me well, you may well be aware that I like chairs. An awful lot. And if you don’t know me well at all – hello, I’m Emilia, and chairs are very much my thing.
I don’t want this column to become the usual spiel you’d find on design websites, inside beautiful Phaidon publications, or buried in dense old essays dedicated to mid-century furniture. Chairs are really intriguing objects to me, ones which ignite my passion for modern interiors, and I want nothing more than to spark that interest in others. This is only possible if you regard Chair of the Week as a personal exchange – I can’t claim to be an expert in modern design, nor am I any good as a writer per se. I do, however, experience the emotions surrounding fascinating chair designs rather intensely, and if I inspire even a fraction of that in others I’ll consider this column a success.
Józef Chierowski, Fotel 366, 1962
I’ll get straight to the chair with which it all started: Józef Chierowski’s Fotel 366. Designed in 1962, the 366 Easy Chair was born of urgency, not aesthetics, after the Lower Silesian Furniture Factory burned down, which caused a shortfall in furniture production and a need for easy and reproducible designs to be delivered into Polish homes. Due to its simple and minimalistic frame, the chair gained popularity and quickly found itself in every living room, office, and café across Poland, its young apprentice designer Chierowski gaining popularity even among leading designers.
The unique trait of this chair is its particularly small size, the original measuring only 72 cm high and 62 wide – once again not by design, but because of the economic situation Poland found itself in during the 1960s. Homes were small and the average working class family could not afford large sofas or armchairs: they needed their homes to be functional and affordable. Maciej Cypryk claims ‘there’s nothing spare’ in the original design, the chair keeping wood and textiles to a bare minimum and comfort being at the front of Chierowski’s mind. It is Cypryk who, along with Agata Gorka, revived Chierowski’s design in 2014 and established the 366 Concept Store, named after the original easy chair. The company prides itself in producing the 366 chairs in the highest quality, using environmentally conscious materials and putting emphasis on the cultural heritage that makes up the values of 366 Concept Store, and in doing so reinventing functional furniture as desirable design.
Young people in Poland are once again appreciating the design of the chair, with a multitude of trendy cafés in big cities such as Gdańsk or Kraków furnished with mid-century Polish design to replicate original home interiors from the 1960s to ’80s. Perhaps this is what I find fascinating about this particular chair, and why I chose it to be the very first object for discussion – to me it is a great example of minimalist design, a chair of true aesthetic value. To my parents, however, who giggle when they see it in ‘trendy cafés’, it’s a memory of childhood, an object they never gave much attention so long as it fulfilled its primary function as just another piece of furniture at home. As with most mid-century Polish furniture, I feel a great deal of fondness for it, as it helps me reconnect with my country’s history and the experiences my family had with these objects in the flesh. I could sit and listen to my mother’s stories about growing up in Poland for hours on end, and how design has changed from functional to desirable, turning full circle since the time she was my age.
Yet I was also eager to write about this chair for another reason – its complete erasure from any book dedicated to furniture design. It’s disheartening to me that most people have seen this design somewhere, yet few are aware it came from the vision of a Polish designer and the hands of Polish manufacturers. I don’t know why Józef Chierowski is barely mentioned in publications, but I do feel this is the case with a great many artists and designers from Poland – something which I one day aim to change.