Design Notes: Vitra Panton chair

The innovative plastic chair is an iconic piece of design that was ground-breaking at the time of its launch

The limited-edition Panton Chrome chair

FIFTY YEARS AGO, AT the 1968 Cologne furniture fair, Vitra unveiled the Panton chair. It’s fitting, then, in celebration of that anniversary, that the 2018 fair should be the setting for the launch of two new limited-edition versions of the iconic chair, the Panton Chrome and the Panton Glow.

The original chair was the result of a collaboration between the Swiss manufacturer Vitra and the Danish designer Verner Panton (1926–98). After studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen and working at Arne Jacobsen’s architecture practice, Panton set up his own design studio in 1955, and had already gained a reputation for his innovative ideas before he began working with Vitra on this project.

The all-plastic cantilever chair, which mimics an S shape, was created using an innovative production technique; it was the first of its kind to be manufactured in one single piece, with no separate legs or back.

Verner Panton (second from right) with Vitra chairman Rolf Fehlbaum (second left) and two of the firm’s technical staff, c. 1966 (Photo: © Vitra)

It took several years of experimentation before the Panton chair was finally ready for production in 1967, and it was then presented to the public a year later.

As for the two limited-edition offerings, their design is firmly rooted in the past. The Chrome version was a long-held dream of Panton’s; he loved mirrored surfaces and experimented extensively with them. He had considered giving his chair just such a finish as early as the 1970s, but the manufacturing processes of the time didn’t stretch as far as this; any surface that could have been produced would have been too prone to scratches to function as an everyday chair.

Today, such a process does exist, albeit a complex one involving specialised hand-craftsmanship: metal particles are embedded in layers of varnish, creating a coating system strong enough to handle the movement of the chair when someone sits on it and to protect the surface. It could almost be called Vitra’s gift to Panton’s legacy.

Sketches by Panton, probably between 1957 and 1960, from the Vitra Design Museum Archive

The Glow chair is also a deeply personal project, developed in consultation with Panton’s widow Marianne and in keeping with the designer’s futuristic ideas and experiments with colour, light and luminosity. In this case, the varnish that is applied to the chair by hand (five layers on to the raw polyurethane shell, before a glossy protective coating is added) contains phosphorescent pigments, which absorb daylight and then emit a blue glow after dark.

Even though these new Chrome and Glow editions are highly desirable, the original chair unveiled half a century ago wouldn’t look out of place in even the most modern of homes today. Verner Panton and Vitra really did create a true timeless classic together. 

Marianne Panton, c. 1970 (Photo: © Panton Design, Basel Photo: Louis Schnakenburg)


Words Caitlin Clements



THE HISTORY The innovative plastic chair is an iconic piece of design that was ground-breaking at the time of its launch. Created by Vitra and Verner Panton, it was launched at the 1968 Cologne furniture fair.   

THE FINISH To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the chair has been released in two limited-edition finishes: the metallic Chrome and the luminous Glow, both created using complex processes with specialised hand-craftsmanship.

THE VERDICT The new pieces take the futuristic nature of this chair two steps further. If you don’t manage to get your hands on one, however, the original remains just as impressive.