A Machine for Sitting: Functionality Meets Design

The Sitzmaschine armchair, a brainchild of Josef Hoffmann, is not merely a piece of furniture but a testament to the marriage of functionality and avant-garde design. Introduced to the public in 1905, this armchair transcends its primary function of seating to represent a design philosophy that blends utility with a strong aesthetic stance. Designed for the Westend Sanatorium, the Sitzmaschine was a beacon of modernity in an era that was on the cusp of technological revolutions in all spheres, including the applied and decorative arts.

J. & J. Kohn and the Craft of Bentwood

The manufacturing prowess of the J. & J. Kohn Company played a pivotal role in bringing Hoffmann’s vision to life. By 1906, the Sitzmaschine, catalogued as number 669, showcased the potential of bentwood furniture to assume forms that were both structurally sound and visually compelling. The collaboration between Hoffmann and J. & J. Kohn was not just a business partnership but a dialogue between design innovation and artisanal craftsmanship, setting a precedent for future bentwood furniture.

Geometrical Jugendstil: A New Aesthetic Language

Hoffmann’s Sitzmaschine is an embodiment of the Viennese Jugendstil, characterized by its geometric clarity and reductionist approach to ornamentation. The rectangular cuts in the plywood and the adjustable back support are not random features but deliberate design choices that echo Jugendstil’s fascination with mathematical precision and architectural principles in design. These elements of the Sitzmaschine armchair reflect a new language of design that speaks in the vocabulary of lines, planes, and curves.

The Marriage of Material and Mechanism

The innovative use of steel rods and stops in the Sitzmaschine armchair was a forward-thinking approach to adjustable furniture. Hoffmann’s integration of these materials was not for mere embellishment but for enhancing the chair’s utility. This functional aspect of the design underscores a crucial philosophy in applied arts: the form is inextricably linked to the function, and materials are the medium through which design communicates.

Ornament as Function: The Legacy of the Morris Chair

Drawing inspiration from the popular Morris chair, Hoffmann’s armchair was not a mimicry but an evolution. The ornamental ovals, serving as reinforced connections between the seat and legs, highlight Hoffmann’s flair for infusing functional components with an artistic touch. The Sitzmaschine armchair thus becomes a modern artefact that blurs the lines between utility and art, a hallmark of high-quality design in the applied arts.

Concluding Thoughts: The Sitzmaschine as High Art

Josef Hoffmann’s Sitzmaschine armchair stands as a monument in the landscape of decorative and applied arts. It is a testimony to the potential of design to elevate a utilitarian object to the realm of high art. The armchair is not just a “machine for sitting” but a narrative of progress, a story of how applied arts continue to shape our understanding and appreciation of the objects that populate our daily lives. Through the Sitzmaschine, we witness the transformative power of design and its enduring impact on the evolution of decorative arts.

In the annals of furniture design, the Sitzmaschine armchair by Josef Hoffmann is a chapter that continues to inspire and challenge our perceptions of the form, function, and future of design in the applied and decorative arts.


Google. (n.d.). Adjustable armchair – sitzmaschine – josef hoffmann – Google Arts & Culture. Google. Retrieved September 19, 2021, from

You may also be interested in

Tulip Armchair by Eero Saarinen (1957)

Design Classic – Influential and important design Designer: Eero Saarinen Material: fibreglass-reinforced plastic and lacquered aluminum and upholstery. Manufacturer: Knoll Associates, New York The Tulip Armchair (model 150), Eero Saarinen’s last furniture design, was part of a five-year-long series of chairs, stools, and tables based on a single cast aluminium stem or pedestal.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.