Designer & Product Focus: Marcel Breuer’s Cesca Chair

Designer & Product Focus: Marcel Breuer’s Cesca Chair

Maybe you've seen it: the Knoll Cesca chair

It’s en enormously acclaimed chair, unmissable with its clean, tubular framing design and material with a woven-like finish, termed as cane detailing. With or without the arms, its geometric lines empower the eye to trace the frame up and down, allowing its user to take in the esteemed simplicity of the chair in its entirety.

The Cesca chair was born into an early 20th century architectural style recognized today as Bauhaus, which essentially combined crafts with fine arts. Therein rose an innovative approach of architecture that combined the genuine rawness of craft materials and the impeccable elegance of fine arts. 

If it’s spotted in today’s spaces, I view it as having a retro, mid-century feel; one that feels comfortable and familiar. In the recent months, I have heard several peers of mine mention these chairs erratically as something they might consider adding to their space. Taking into account their iconic popularity, I thought it best to delve into the designer of the piece itself: Marcel Breuer. 

Born in the Spring of 1902 in Hungary, Breuer was an acclaimed carpenter by his early 20s. His creations extend a capsule representing that of classic Bauhaus style: renditions of the arts and the industry. His primary focus in one of his earliest collections revolved around metal tubular design, roused by bicycle construction and techniques primarily utilized by plumbers (Knoll). Other designs of Breur include the Chaise lounge chair and the Canteen stool. 

Though he was considerably acclaimed in his artistic design career, Breur ended up pursuing a larger architectural pathway. One of his most esteemed independent showcases was at the Whitney Museum of American Art located in New York City. Prior to achieving this honor, he professed at Harvard’s School of Design.

Breuer produced other modern classics such as The Wassily Chair and the Laccio table, which stand as pivotal designs in the early 20th century.

The Cesca chair itself was conceived with the intention of being innovative in its material and the design principles overall. Breuer set out to utilize material that would be easily produced, but that could also exhibit a thoughtful and calculated finish. The metal tubular design by Breuer was very heavily inspired by, as previously mentioned, bicycle construction and plumbing techniques. This unlikely point of inspiration yielded the Modernist furniture moment Breuer had envisioned.

Francesca Breuer in the Cesca chair, Photo by John Naar from the Knoll Archive

The Cesca chair has not always been known by this name, however. It was originally recognized as the B32 chair. During the early-1960s, an Italian furniture manufacturer known as Gavina Group received the rights to the B32 chair’s design. The chair was renamed by the company’s founder and owner, Dino Gavina, who named it after Breuer’s own daughter, Francesca (Knoll). Admirable as a decision in itself, Gavina was able to achieve an ode of sorts to the chair’s original designer, alongside Breuer’s own daughter. In a way, it kind of maintains the notion that the Cesca chair is not only a design of Breuer, but a descendant or scion of sorts. 

Since then, the Cesca chair has taken different forms, maintaining the same bones and varying upholstery and colors. It comes in a variety of combinations: According to our very own marketplace, the Cesca chair can be found with cane seating and backing, or with the seating assorted between cane or fabric upholstery. They can be customized to be with or without arms, or fit to bar height.