Growing up I had my own kid-sized chair that I absolutely loved. It was made of wood, with a convertible slatted back that could swivel up for sitting or down for stepping up. I carted it from room to room and, weather permitting, even took it outside. As I recall the seat was painted blue, the back slats red and white. There may have been decals. It’s unusual for me not to remember every minute detail as I do with other favorite objects from childhood, but maybe it’s because those were of a private nature, while my chair was more an article of society than a personal talisman. In my best memory of it, it’s Sunday night and my parents, older sister and brothers, and I are in the den watching television. They’re on the regular adult-sized furniture, maybe one of my brothers is stretched out on the floor, but I’m down in front perched on my chair. As the youngest and smallest by far, finding my equal place in the family could be tricky.
Everyone was bigger, faster, smarter, and even better at reading, but having my own chair, a chair that was only for me, put me on equal footing. I could pull my chair up and take my place at the table. While we don’t have it—or, at least, one exactly like it—in the MoMA collection, we have other excellent children’s chairs, chairs of good design that are worthy of a child’s delight.The earliest of these (c.1928) is the Gerrit Rietveld “Beugel” Child’s Chair. The Marcel Breuer Child’s Side Chair tubular-steel frame-and-canvas seat and back from 1929 is a chair for having your cake and eating it, too, I think, for in this chair you’d get to be a child and be taken seriously at the same time! From 1931–32 is the Alvar Aalto Model 103 Child’s Chair of bent plywood and laminated birch; from 1944, the Ray and Charles Eames’s molded-and-stained plywood Child’s Chair. Slightly later, in 1957, came Kristian Vedel’s Child’s Chair of beech plywood with lacquered seat. Every time I see this small chair I can’t help but imagine a small child earnestly, carefully, and lovingly adjusting and readjusting the seat level to get it just right. From 1964 we have the Marco Zanuso–designed Model No. 499 Child’s Stacking Chairs; from 1971, the BBB Bonacina Chica demountable stacking chairs; and from 1974, Hodgetts, Mangurian, and Godard‘s Punchout Furniture/Child’s Chair from Design Research.
Most of these chairs, as well as a number of other outstanding children’s chairs (perhaps even one from your childhood), are featured in MoMA’s upcoming exhibition Century of the Child: Growing By Design, 1900–2000, which opens on July 29. If you don’t find your favorite chair in the exhibition, you’re certain to recognize a favorite game, book, or other treasured design object from your youth.