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Are you sitting comfor e you sitting comfortably? Gabrielle Fagan asks you to take a seat as she discusses what's hot in the world of chairs.

Byline: Gabrielle Fagan

IF THERE'S one piece of furniture many of us take for granted, it's a chair. While we know they're essential and we regularly park our bottoms on them, few of us look on them as pieces of art.

But that's changing as we become more "chair savvy" and focus on the design appeal of the chair - it's rapidly being recognised as an affordable "star" feature for a room.

Author and BBC Antiques Roadshow expert Judith Miller is a self-confessed chair addict and naturally welcomes the trend. She said: "Chairs are enjoying much more attention these days. Generally, people are much more designaware and knowledgeable and recognise that a beautiful chair, whether antique or contemporary, can really make a style statement in a room." She has studied and viewed some of the most famous and iconic chairs in locations all over the world for her new book, Chairs. It features 100 of her favourite chairs, each illustrated, ranging from early antiques such as a 1680 Wainscot Chair and a 1740 Louis XV Chaise Longue, to modern day collectables by designers such as Tom Dixon.

Judith, co-founder of Miller's Antiques Price Guide, explained: "Designers through history have regularly risen to the challenge of trying to create the perfect chair, which is no mean feat as it has to be light, strong and comfortable.

"One designer, Mies van der Rohe, was quoted as saying that it 'was easier to build a skyscraper than a chair'. It's hardly surprising, because people vary enormously in height and weight, yet a chair has to suit all those."

The mother-of-three has 200 chairs in her home, and changes her seating displays with the seasons. She said: "I rotate them to give my rooms a different look, and store the ones I'm not currently using in my loft. I use them for all sorts of things such as bedside tables and also somewhere to display a collection of treasures.

"So they're certainly not treated as museum pieces - they're used and loved. My Airedale terrier particularly likes a George IV armchair, and if he doesn't think he's getting enough attention he will pretend he's about to bite the upholstered arm, which definitely guarantees I will focus on him!" Her chairs date from the 17th century through to the present day, and each, she believes, tell a story about the way we've lived throughout history. She said: "The chair has always been a status symbol. In early times, chairs were rare and were made for the wealthy. There would only be one chair in a home and the most important person would sit on it, while the lower orders had to either sit on benches or the floor. That's how we got the term chairman - signifying the leading person who had the privilege of a seat."

Nowadays we can all have a seat, but, to get the best seat in the house, follow Judith's tips and our choice of the smartest chairs around.

SNAP UP A SMART SEAT Turn a dream of possessing beautiful chairs into reality by browsing auctions, fairs, antique shops and markets, advises Judith.

"The cheapest way to get a collection of stunning chairs, whether antique or contemporary, is to look out for 'orphans' - single chairs that have been parted from their sets.. These will be a fraction of the price, and you can gradually build up by searching for the same chairs - known as a harlequin set - or simply create your own 'set' made up of a variety of designs."

Take a photograph of the chair you already possess before going out to search for another so you can match it, and, before buying, Judith advises sitting on a chair several times and for at least three minutes at a time to check the comfort level.

"Upholstered seats are usually more comfortable, particularly important if you're looking for dining chairs, and I prefer a curved back to a straight one." Ensure a dining chair with arms can still slide under a table when not in use if you want to save space.

People change position on chairs every 10 to 15 minutes. A comfortable chair should have the seat space to allow the user to move their legs freely, and feet should be able to rest flat on the floor.

She advises looking out for examples of work by designers such as Arne Jacobsen, Ray and Charles Eames and Le Corbusier.

DIVA CHAIRS Those who buy a chair to prove that they have taste and more than a little design knowledge will covet the growing number of inspired ranges offered at high street stores.

John Lewis is just one store with a classic selection. Those with super-model aspirations could bag a curved, moulded plastic Panton chair, pounds 177, one of the most iconic chairs in history, originally created by Verner Panton in the Sixties.

Kate Moss caused a stir when she posed naked on a white one for a cover of Vogue in 1995. The shop also includes chairs by other leading designers such as Charles and Ray Eames.

Or celebrate the design of today. French designer Philippe Starck has turned his hand to yet another cult design, for high-end Italian fashion house Missoni. The Mademoiselle Missoni chair, pounds 476, is made from polycarbonate, and all but the crystal clear legs are upholstered in Missoni's trademark vivid psychedelic fabric.

Fashion trends now heavily influence interior style, and even chairs can follow the look of the season, as is demonstrated by a chair currently on show. It has been "dressed" by a pair of Dutch fashion designers with an elaborate white outfit and huge pussy bow, and is on display at B&B Italia's London store until October 18.

BEST BUY: Dwell's range is inspired by retro and mid-century design. A curved one-piece chair which looks like a homage to a Panton is only pounds 59.

SNUG SEATS Snuggling down into a cosy armchair is surely one of the pleasures of winter, and this seat should feel like a comforting friend at the end of a long day.

Fortunately, these days, that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice style, as designers have worked their magic and ensured that even sink-into-cosy seats can be seen as chic, rather than just plain saggy. As velvet's one of this season's most popular fabrics, chairs upholstered in this soft, sensual fabric would be a fashionable choice. Two favourites are Nick Munro's sturdy looking Collection chair, pounds 795, (below), covered in an ivy green velvet, called Canterbury Willow, and Graham & Green's Dream Button back chair, pounds 1,195, which is upholstered in Midnight blue velvet.

If the budget's tight, go for the Snowdrop armchair, pounds 530 from Sofa.com, upholstered in brushed linen cotton. It comes in a variety of colours but raspberry would suit this season's shades. BEST BUY: A handsome Spitalfield armchair, pounds 695 - another star from Graham & Green - is upholstered in linen.

Seating sources LAURA ASHLEY: 0871 230 2301/ www.lauraashley.com B&B Italia: 020 7591 8111/ www.london.bebitalia.com Digetex: 0161 873 8891/ www.digetex.com Dwell: 0845 675 9090/ www.dwell.co.uk Furniture Village: 0800 7833833/ www.furniturevillage.co.uk Graham & Green: 0845 130 6622/ www.grahamandgreen.co.uk Habitat: 0870 411 5501/ www.habitat.net John Lewis: 0845 6049 049/ www.johnlewis.com OccaHome: 0844 879 4258/ www.occa-home.co.uk Sofa.com: 0845 400 2222/ www.sofa.com

CAPTION(S):

Chaise Longue by Le Corbusier, above; and, left, a Mona Lisa chair from Digitex
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 15, 2009
Words:1255
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