Invest in the timeless and achingly stylish pieces that fickle fashions will never touch.

When does a design become a classic? Any flick through a magazine will attest to the term being frequently overused; on practically a daily basis, all manner of unlikely items are deemed ‘iconic’. And yet what we do know is that one factor requisite to the cocktail that makes a classic is time. Sure, some designs are deemed ‘instant classics’ but truly, it takes the comings and goings of fashion for these titans to emerge, riding out the modish to become unassailable greats which, as the years march on, acquire ever greater value. And when it comes to furniture and home accessories, those that stand the test of time do so without reliance on recognisable logos or branding (in contrast to the likes of, say, Coca Cola and its ilk).

The twentieth century threw up a healthy crop of interior design classics, all now celebrated as standards that feature in stylish homes across the land. The uniting factor? Clean lines allied with the perfect marriage of form and function tend to feature heavily, but there is also always a certain indefinable quality and alchemy that makes them transcendent. Here are our top design classic picks and where to buy them.

Original 1227 Lamp By Anglepoise

One of the hallmarks of a design classic is that it is much emulated. Anglepoise lamps fall solidly into this category, having spawned a thousand copies. The original, however, remains the best. First created in 1932, it was the invention of vehicle suspension engineer George Carwardine who came up with ‘a spring, crank and lever mechanism that could be positioned with the lightest of touch yet would maintain its position once released.’ New variants have, over the decades, been carefully overseen by the Terry family, who commissioned extended collections courtesy of legendary industrial product designer Sir Kenneth Grange. More recently there have been collaborations with the luminary likes of Paul Smith and Margaret Howell, but if you want to stick with the design that made Anglepoise’s name, always opt for the Original 1227™ lamp.

Series 7 Chair by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen

It is telling that more than one of Arne Jacobsen’s products make this list; his place as a giant in twentieth century design history is, after all, inarguable. For more than five decades, the detail-obsessed genius dominated Scandinavian design, but his compelling influence also rippled out to architects and designers around the world. The Series 7 chair, designed in 1955 for Fritz Hansen, is truly an icon; it has been copied again and again and yet, despite its overt simplicity, no one has ever managed to convincingly replicate the original’s perfect form or dimensions. You can, in short, always tell a fake. A pressure moulded veneer chair, it comes in a variety of finishes. Certainly Fritz Hansen’s best-ever seller, it is also one of the most bought chairs in the world.

E1027 Table By Eileen Gray

Born in 1878, the Anglo-Irish architect Eileen Gray was a pioneer of the Modern Movement, her trailblazing influence all the more extraordinary given the societal expectations of women at the time. She was astonishing in every way: her clients included James Joyce and Elsa Schiaparelli; she counted Le Corbusier amongst her friends; and her furniture designs tick every classic box going. Gray’s Bibendum chair, based on the Michelin Man, and her lacquered Pirogue Day Bed are hugely celebrated, but it is her enigmatically titled E1027 table has become that rare thing: an icon. The name was inspired by her love affair with Romanian architect Jean Badovici – code for both of their own names, the E standing for Eileen, the 10 for J, meaning Jean, the 2 for B standing for Badovici and the 7 for G standing for Gray – and the house of the same named that they shared in Monaco. The adjustable table, made from glass and steel, is multi-functional; it can be used while sitting over your knees or as a bedside table. It has been in the permanent design collection of MoMA in New York since 1977 and you can buy it today through Aram to whom Eileen Gray sold the design towards the end of her life.

Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck For Alessi

It doesn’t always follow that a classic must have been laboured over for decades. In the case of Philippe Starck’s beautiful lemon squeezer for Italian design powerhouse Alessi, all it took was a doodle on the back of a pizzeria’s napkin while on holiday for a genius concept to take root. It is, then, material testament to the fact that the best ideas happen when you allow your mind to relax and wander. Starck’s design philosophy is to focus on the essential; indeed, there are no extraneous details to be seen here; just a streamlined and ergonomic thing of rare beauty. Buy it through Alessi’s website.

LCW Chair By Charles And Ray Eames

From the 1950s through to the 1970s, Charles and ray Eames dominated the American design scene. Today, their considerable legacy is still very much in evidence in every stylish furniture emporium worth its salt. And as with Arne Jacobsen, it is hard both to overstate their influence or to choose which of the works to laud as the most iconic; that several would make the grade speaks volumes. We adore the simple leather Eames Sofa, as well as the zingy Fibreglass Armchairs, but, if pressed, we will have to plump for the LCW chair, which Time magazine named ‘the chair of the century.’

Its history is illuminated in An Eames Primer by Eames Demetrios thus: ‘If there were a way to make a single-piece shell of moulded plywood in complex curves, the Eames Office would find it. The office began working toward introducing the furniture at a December 1945 show at the Barclay Hotel.

‘Meanwhile, on the design front, Charles and Ray and the office staff were pushing — and pushing — the limits of the material. What was the honest use of moulded plywood? Could it be a single-piece shell in complex curves? The cast of characters for the Barclay Hotel show was beginning to take shape in Charles’s mind, but the headliners (meaning the single-piece shells) were not ready. Legs developed that used the curved wood. Three-legged chairs with metal legs, case goods, and tables, but always the frustration of the shell. Each time a split was necessary to make the curve work. In the end, they abandoned the idea of a single-piece shell and instead broke it into two parts: a seat and a back.

‘They had finally uncovered the honest use of moulded plywood. The LCW, the chair that resulted in 1945, is now an icon of American design. Time magazine called it ‘the chair of the century.’ Did Charles and Ray regret the five years of work spent trying to make it one piece? On the contrary: about a different project that followed a similar iterative process, Charles said, ‘This way we know we have the right answer.’

Original Love Seat by ercol

ercol has been in operation for a century this year. It has survived wars and pandemics and lived through the explosion of tech, only to simply grow and grow. There are so many products that classify as icons in its stable, but for us, one stands out: the Original Love Seat. A riff on an extended Windsor chair, its restrained ash seat is one that will, we’re sure, live another hundred years and beyond. It is true entirely to the foundations of the company. As the website explains, ‘Lucian R Ercolani founded ercol in 1920 in the heartland of English furniture making. He was intent on designing and producing beautiful and honest furniture, both design and people were the cornerstones of his company from the very beginning. This remains true of the family owned, private company that continues his beliefs in the 21st-century.’

Plico by Richard Sapper For Alessi

Another commissioned by Italian behemoth Alessi, this folding trolley was originally designed in 1976, the vision of industrial designer Richard Sapper. It was re-released this autumn in recognition of its classic credentials; its four wheels and two shelves allow it to be used as a food cart or as a work surface. We love its understated but angular look. Buy it through Alessi.

Egg Chair By Arne Jacobsen

And finally, we swerve back to that Danish design colossus: Arne Jacobsen. And how could we not? After all, The Egg is a masterpiece, as sublimely comfortable as it is elegantly sculptural – an effect he worked on using wire and plaster as he perfected the chair’s shell. It was, is and shall remain, an absolute legend.

By Nancy Alsop
Updated August 2021


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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.