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Words by Mr Nick Compton

Just as the very smart The New Yorker writer Mr Adam Gopnik pointed out recently, most of us now spend much of our time emailing and/or drinking coffee. And we do that, at home or at work, at a desk in an office chair. So tied are we to technology - and no one uses a laptop on their lap any more for fear of impotence and third-degree genital burns - that we live in a permanent hunch, compressing our internal organs and then considering doing yoga or CrossFit to save them.

Our desk chair then has become our static driver's seat as we putter along the virtual highways and byways of life. It is something we will spend lengths of time both looking at and discussing. In fact, Phaidon has just published a whole tome on the subject: the 240-page A Taxonomy of Office Chairs. In buying a desk chair, however, we consider three things: expense, ergonomics and aesthetics.

If the first is our primary consideration, we go to Ikea, end of story. If the second is more of a concern - and let's be serious here, it should be - we will tend to go for one of the post-Aeron wave of hi-spec support systems, all lumbar adjustments and more tilts than an aggressively-handled 1970s pinball machine. But if aesthetics count, you will probably go for one of the six we've featured here. Each is a perfect marker not only of the design trends of its time, but also of the attitudes and the particular mechanics of work, white collar/creative casual work, anyway.

Rather fittingly, we can trace the early evolutionary leaps of the office chair to Mr Charles Darwin, who attached bed legs on casters to his armchair so that he could wheel from specimen to specimen. In the early 20th century, science, demarcation and the professional caste system pushed the development of the office chair. As different tasks were assigned to different people (white-collar Fordism), so saw different chairs being developed for each job. At the same time, the new executive class began to insist on altogether plumper, grander, better-appointed versions of the standard, to make clear who was running things (until 1994 and the arrival of the Aeron - a chair for all propositions - office chairs were in a range of models, from worker-drone to executive).

These six chairs though are the high marks of the form. Each of them, in its own way, is a classic, an iconic piece, and an example of the sweet spot where functional imperative, design ingenuity and simple human fancy meet. That said, all of them will give you a back ache if you sit in them long enough.

Mr Compton is features director of Wallpaper* magazine

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