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LC4 - The Lady and the Chaise

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

The LC4 stands out as not only one of the most recognisable pieces of 20th Century design, but also one of the most comfortable. It's often credited to 3 designers, but in this article we discover the truth behind the triangle...

Cassina Le Corbusier LC4 studio photograph on a grey background by David Rokov

LC4 - at a glance

Originally designed for the Villa Church private residence in Ville-d’Avray, France in 1928.

The design was credited to 3 designers: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand.

First exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, Paris in 1929 on Corbusier's concept stand; L’equipment de la maison.

The chaise features a sled base encapsulating an infinitely variable semi circular tubular steel, padded cradle.

Prototyped by Perriand and first produced by Thonet, the design is still produced today and is made by Cassina.


B306/LC4 history

It’s hard to believe that this chair was designed nearly 100 years ago as it still looks so relevant and modern even today. Not only is that reflected in the construction materials, but also because the Golden Ratio embedded in the geometry of the design creates a harmony and a balance that never fails to please the eye.


Composite image of the LC4 chaise in a variety of reclining positions

It’s become known as ‘The Relaxing Machine’ over the years, partly because it had an industrial feel as it was at the forefront of the development of using metal tubing in design in the 1920s; but also because it is essentially a ‘machine’ that uses a system to adapt to the needs of the sitter. It does this by allowing the frame to glide into your preferred angle on the supports and then simply uses the friction generated by the weight of the occupant to stabilise the free flowing cradle to hold it in position within the base.


It’s a deceptively clever piece of design and this function gave the chair its first production name of the  ‘Chaise longue à Reglage Continu’ – the continuously adjustable chaise longue.


Like a number of designs that were produced by Architect/Designers over the years its development was based on an all-encompassing design style for a particular residence. In this case it was the Villa Church private residence in Ville-d’Avray, France in 1928. This was a project that Le Corbusier was working on where the concept was to create a holistic development that drew together a style of architecture that was echoed in the design of the fixtures it contained; most notably the furniture. The chaise formed part of a range of furniture that Corbusier’s team had designed for the project, but that could also be extended into mainstream production. It was therefore subsequently exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1929 where it was documented as having been created by Corbusier and his two assistant designers. This naturally suited him, but all is not what it seems...


If we go back to its roots we can see that the chaise owes much of its design characteristics to a number of predecessors: these include the 1852 R.W Winfield steel campaign chair (which was also cited as an inspiration for Marcel Breuer) and the steel and the reclining arm chair called the ‘Surrepos’ designed by Docteur Pascaud.

Thonet bentwood rocking chair model 7500

However, the main inspiration, mentioned by both Le Corbusier and Perriand, was Thonet’s No.7500 armchair that made its first appearance in an American Newspaper called Harper's Weekly on October 28th, 1876. The 7500 was essentially a rocking chaise on curved bentwood supports with a reclining back and sweeping foot rest. Later models also had arm rests and in looking at the design it’s easy to see the similarities.


Thonet, were the World’s largest producer of bentwood furniture and had patented numerous designs since production began in 1860. With just the No.14 'bistro chair' alone they had sold over 50 million units between 1860 and 1930. They also had an eye on the future and had started producing curved, cantilevered and bent metal framed furniture for a number of Bauhaus designer’s from the mid 1920’s including Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe. These designs incorporated both flat bar and tubular metal production techniques and as such they were a natural choice to produce the new design for Corbusier's atelier.


Despite this precedence production for the chaise was not initially undertaken in Thonet’s main manufacturing facility but instead in France by Thonet Frères. Perriand had persuaded the French branch of the Austrian factory to invest in the project with it only appearing in the main Thonet German catalogue at a later stage in 1931. Thonet named it the B306: 306, because all their furniture models were identified numerically, and 'B' from 'basculante' the French expression for 'tilt up', which of course was one of the main features of the design.


Reassuringly expensive

It’s a supremely functional and stylish lounge chair but also exhibits an extravagance that hints at its manufacturing cost. The base utilises solid steel struts that are bolted to a sub frame that is constructed of curved aeronautical steel panels (also used on the LC6 table) that need to be meticulously welded and filed to produce seamless joints. This was then matched to a close tolerance semi-circular cradle that features no less than 35 straps (or rubber coated coiled sprung wires on earlier models) that in turn supports the full length seat pad. Unsurprisingly this combination of elements and processes made it the most expensive design ever commissioned by Thonet at that time, and this was very much part of the perceived exclusivity of the design concept. This is well documented in Perriand’s memoir where she wrote: "While our chair designs were directly related to the position of the human body… they were also determined by the requirements of architecture, setting, and prestige”.


As it turned out that ‘prestige’ was part of the problem along with the fact it was considered, even with the Bauhaus movement in full swing, to be ahead of its time. Whilst it's often said that it's better to be driving a bandwagon than jumping on it, that's only true if you have enough money to keep feeding the horse*. So it failed. Mostly because it was too expensive to produce but also as it didn’t sell well outside of France it meant there was no demand for it. *Oddly enough early models did have an option of horse hide as an upholstery choice - it never caught on.


Corbusier LC4 chaise original Thonet model

Corbusier and Thonet should have cut and run there and then but in an effort to popularise the design they licensed it to other manufacturers: Le Corbusier to the Swiss company Embru-Werke AG who produced its own version of the chair in Rüti near Zurich in 1934 (Model No. 2072), and Thonet to Basler Eisenmobelfabrik Breunlin and Bigla; but to no avail. By the time production ceased in 1937 only 172 of the original Thonet examples were made and the B306 was consigned to history. And there it would have stayed had Charlotte Perriand not carefully managed a relaunch of the design in 1964.  The Italian job After production ceased Le Corbusier, Perriand and Thonet each held legal rights to the design that over subsequent years manifested in different ways. Le Corbusier, who had become disillusioned with the failure of the design in the retail market, instead spent the 1940s concentrating on writing and architecture; most notably with projects in Marseille, Loire-Atlantique and Chandigarh. During the late 1950’s there was a ground swell of interest in his achievements and a renewed interest in both his architectural work and furniture design. Buoyed by this, and encouraged by the research he was conducting on a new book that he later published in 1960 (L'Atelier de la recherché patiente - The workshop of patient research), he created a short production run of the chaise for his own use and bearing solely his own signature. This did not go unnoticed and as such it set in place a series of events that would finally culminate in the return of the chaise to mass market production.


Incidentally 'Le Corbusier' was not his real name. He was christened Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, and adopted a variation of his maternal grandfather's surname, Lecorbesier, in 1920 as play on the French for "crow-like" - if you ever saw a picture of him in profile, you'd understand why.


Charlotte Perriand Tokyo Chaise Longue made in bentwood of bamboo, teak or beech

Anyway... Although Corbusier had resurrected the B306’s design in 1959 in its original form the fact is that Perriand was the first to adapt the design, and as early as 1938. During her stay in Japan she created a beautiful wooden version of the chaise called the Tokyo Chaise Longue. This was made in bentwood (bamboo, teak or beech) not only to lower production costs but also to explore the design from an alternate perspective. Most notably these designs were produced in the early 1940s by specialist Italian Design manufacturers, Cassina who, along with Perriand, were later to become instrumental in the B306’s future.


By a twist of fate when the Thonet trademark was assigned to the Thonet family heirs shortly after the 2nd World war, the rights to the B306 was later assigned to a Swiss holding company; and a decade or so later, to an Italian manufacturer. That manufacturer was Cassina who it is believed acquired the licence because of their previous association with Perriand – and so the circle was now complete. Under Perriand’s guidance the Chaise was reissued under its new name the 'LC4 Chaise Longue' and has ever since been one of the best selling items in the Cassina catalogue.


Into the light

We can now see that Perriand was not only instrumental in establishing the longevity of the design but it turns out that she was also the driving force behind the initial concept. She had hired a local specialist metal working company called Hour and Labadie, and Labadie built the first prototype in her atelier in Saint-Sulpice. She then upholstered it herself using a simple canvas and leather trimmed slip and invited Corbusier and Jeanneret to view it. On this basis whilst the concept of the chaise is most often associated with Le Corbusier, the design should more accurately be attributed to Charlotte Perriand. Finally she emerges from his shadow but is still often referred to as the unsung heroine of 20th Century design, as discussed HERE in this excellent retrospective by BBCs Dominic Lutyens. What to look for when buying Vintage

Unlike many other iconic pieces of 20th Century furniture the B306/LC4 only had two official manufacturers of note so spotting originals is fairly straight forward. Because there was a long gap in production from the 30s to the 60s, with no production taking place by any other manufacturer during that time, vintage models are either by Thonet or Cassina. That said early originals are very, very rare indeed as there were so few originally produced. As far as we know they were not marked in any way so if you were to find someone claiming to be selling an original Thonet model the provenance for it would need to be unsinkable - literally nothing short of Corbusier himself reclining in it smoking his pipe with your Dad as a small child sat on his lap waving a bill of sale would convince me it was genuine!


When production was resumed in the 60's the market was much more receptive and this meant that they were produced in greater numbers with the volume increasing year on year. It therefore naturally follows that the versions you will find available to buy on the Vintage marketplace are manufactured by Cassina. - and as with all vintage furniture, the earlier models from this era are more sought after and more valuable.


Close up of Cassina Corbusier identification marks

When they reissued the design in 1964 it was identified with a serial number impressed into the main cradle under the top edge of the head support frame - and shortly after Le Corbusier’s death in 1965 it was amended to also include his impressed signature. This is also true of all the LC models produced by Cassina where you look for the marks under the top supporting metal tube, and usually under the right hand side arm as you look at the chairs and sofas.  


However, over the years as Perriand’s origination of the design became more apparent, Cassina decided that she should also be acknowledged - and it’s a testament to Perriand that she insisted that all 3 people who formed part of the design team were credited; and so every LC4 now bears their combined series of signatures.


Given all this what we know is that all originals of the 1964 edition will have an impressed mark on the head of the frame, and from 1965 onwards, the impressions will be on both the head and the base. The marks on the base have actually changed in design over the years to include all 3 designers, as previously mentioned, but let's not confuse matters!


The important thing to bear in mind is that because it's a much copied design if anyone ever claims that it's an original from the 60s, or is an 'authentic Italian LC4' and it doesn't have any markings, it's not the real thing.


What's wrong with it?

In a word; accessibility. It’s essentially a bed on a frame and although you can sort of sit on the side and swing your legs over to get into it, your best option is to straddle it and settle down - not easy in a skirt, but then as I never wear one that's not been a problem for me. Getting out again though is a different matter as you’re in a low position so it does require some core strength to get back up to standing. I mean it is a lot easier than getting in and out of a Ford GT40, but having some fitness level is going to help – and if that’s a problem maybe getting in and out of it a dozen times a day might get you there!


And just as an aside here: in a recent documentary on centenarians it was found that physical exercise and in particular core strength, was a key factor in living a long and healthy life. This isn't rocket science, and you would think it's common sense, but how that manifests itself and how you can most easily achieve that goal is not immediately obvious.


One of the reasons that people die is through accidents, and in particular, for the elderly, that is the result of a fall; or from complications following a fall. Core strength enables you to hold your body upright and not only means you are more stable on your feet but can also hold your own weight if you needed to support yourself against an object. And what's the easiest way of building core strength? Apart from regular exercise (obviously) sitting down, and then getting up from the floor. Okinawans, who as a group are the longest living people in the World, not only sit on the floor to relax, but also while they are eating. This means they get up and down over 30 times a day which leads to a serious level of core strength, and no doubt a set of stomach muscles like a six pack of Asahi Super Dry. Getting in an out of an LC4 a dozen times a day instead of hitting the gym doesn't sound so crazy now right?

What's right with it? Not only is it one of the most beautifully balanced and timeless pieces of design ever created it’s also the most comfortable chair you’ll ever sit in. The Eames Lounge Chair comes a close 2nd and it does look more inviting with its soft and generous padding, but it’s not as accommodating as the LC4. That said you need to be prepared for the fact that it looks smaller than you might imagine when you see it in real life for the first time; and that’s simply because the angles foreshorten your view of it. But it’s exactly this geometry that makes it deceptively spacious and allows it to adapt, by simply moving the head rest, to sitters of varying heights; anyone from around 5’2” to 6’4” can enjoy the LC4 which is no mean feat for a lounge chair.  And finally, not only is it very well made but, by virtue of the fact it’s a two piece design, it’s also relatively easy to move around. 


The story behind the photograph

This photograph of Charlotte Perriand from 1929 is as iconic as the LC4 chaise itself and has ever since been commented on and written about. It was taken ahead of the Salon d'Automne in Paris to promote and publicise Corbusier's concept stand there and to launch what was later to become the LC range of furniture we know today. Given that this was the 1920s it’s easy to think that she was somehow persuaded to strike the pose by her male contemporaries, but nothing could be further from the truth.


Charlotte Perriand relaxing on a LC4 chaise in a skirt with shadows

Charlotte Perriand lounges on the chaise longue basculante, 1929 (Credit: FLC/ Adagp, Paris 2019)


Corbusier had famously dismissed her when she first turned up at his office in search of a job after completing her studies by stating “We don’t do embroidery here,” so he was known for his sexist attitude. And of course this was at a time where women faced many prejudices in a predominantly male-dominated environment and were often photographed in provocative poses for promotional and publicity purposes. But Corbusier was in South America at the time and had no part in the suggestion or creation of the photo; it was all orchestrated by Perriand herself.


If it were staged by a man, there’s no question that it would be regarded as sexist, and especially so with her wearing a skirt and laid back with her eyes averted; it’s literally the epitome of how women were portrayed as passive objects rather than human beings with personality, humour or agency at that time. But although the photo was taken by a man, in fact her colleague in the exhibition Pierre Jeanneret, the photo was set up in Perriand’s own apartment, in a corner that she had purposely cleared for the occasion.


She staged every aspect of the photo even down to the lighting and shadow to create a brooding Film Noire feeling. Had she been sitting upright and sipping a nice cup of tea wearing some sensible trousers it would be more Enid Blyton than Helmut Newton, so she knew exactly what she was doing; it was a deliberately provocative pose to create press commentary and to publicise the event.


Charlotte Perriand's own design of a ball bearing necklace

And of course it worked – the photo appeared on covers and in articles everywhere and people flocked to the exhibition to see both the chair and Perriand herself. There had never been anyone quite like her and her story was even more compelling because not only was she the model in the photo, but the designer too. Like Eileen Grey, who was also carving out her own extraordinary design niche at the same time, she was in a sense playing the game but doing it on her terms – she wasn’t wearing a steel ball bearing necklace in the photo for nothing…  




David Rokov - December 2023


You can view a video of the cream leather LC4 featured at the top of his article in our video on our channel on YouTube HERE

Our blog is usually updated towards the end of each month with new content focusing on iconic designs and designers. To be notified of new content please subscribe by using the form at the bottom of the page. Thanks!

4 Comments

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Amanda Jane Wilde
Amanda Jane Wilde
Jan 07
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved this article & while I might not ever be able to afford this gorgeous chaise longue, I'm definitely keeping an eye out for a steel ball bearing necklace! 😊

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Guest
Jan 06
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Very enjoyable read and definitely offered something new to learn about.

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Guest
Jan 06
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

An excellent example of history from the object itself to the history of the sitter in the original advertised promo photo. Fabulous writing Mr Rokov.

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Nis Arend
Nis Arend
Dec 25, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

The classic chaise, iconic in my eyes and didn’t realise the depth behind it. Every day is a school day and your blogs are advanced education, thank you.

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