No, this isn't about the 1956 cult classic, the 1978 remake, the 1994 remake, or the 2007 remake.  And it's certainly not about an all-girl ska band with a very cool logo, even if it did happen to have seven members.

Instead, it's about furniture that, for design or functional purposes, partially or wholly envelops its human occupants.  And although the featured furniture might induce mild sensory deprivation, it will not necessarily replace the enclosed humans with unemotional alien lookalikes .


1. Ball

The first entry in this series is the granddaddy of them all, the first meaningful exponent of the pod concept.  Risk-taking, daring, visionary, timeless, it's emblematic of the best trends of the 1960s.  A great example of out-of-the-box thinking in terms of structure and the use of materials.

Most people are lucky to have, at most, one really brilliant idea during their entire lifetime.  Finnish designer Eero Aarnio is an exception to that rule, with several noteworthy furniture creations during the past forty-odd years.  The Ball chair, developed between 1963-66, is undoubtedly his best known piece of work.

Very few products will stand the test of time and won't look dated 40 years later.  But the Ball chair, a deceptively simple upholstered fiberglass half-sphere on a metal pedestal, looks as futuristic in 2007 as it did in 1963.  Its wonderfully clean lines and shiny smooth exterior are still being produced and sold by the German company Adelta.

The first time you sit inside one, it feels qualitatively different from any other chair.  Human beings, like most animals, are instinctively wired to seek the safety of enclosed spaces.  This chair delivers that safety in spades, with immersive tranquility and womb-like protection (on purpose or not, the rear and side profiles are strongly reminiscent of a pregnant woman's belly).  Functionally, it's a more adult and dignified version of the couch forts we used to build as kids.  The soundproofing qualities of the chair's interior have resulted in several audio-oriented variations, including versions with telephones and speakers.

But, just to paint a complete picture, it should be said that the advantages of the Ball chair's design can, depending on circumstances, be drawbacks.  Soundproofing, isolation, and tunnel vision are not always what you want, especially in a single-seater.

2. Bubble

And so, in 1968, Aarnio developed the Ball chair's close cousin, the transparent acrylic Bubble Chair.  It addresses situations where it's desirable to have more light and interaction with the outside world.  However, due to difficulties designing a translucent pedestal, the Bubble Chair requires suspension from the ceiling.  That's a deal-breaker for anyone not 100% confident about the skill of the person doing the installation, or about the structural integrity of their roofing.  There are specific weight restrictions for the ceiling mount, so stick to the original Ball chair if you're planning to balloon to 300 pounds in order to get disability benefits.

The Ball chair's popularity and relatively high cost of manufacture has made it a target for copycats.  I've seen plenty of bootlegs for sale across the USA, from California to Florida.  But, like bad plastic surgery, they're easily discernible and look second-rate compared to the genuine article.  I don't understand the logic of dropping a couple grand on a fugly fake version instead of saving up a few more pennies to get the real deal.  There are some things in life where quality and authenticity are worth paying a small premium for, and I'd put Aarnio furniture under that category.

Posted on Sunday, September 16, 2007
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