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Lonely Couple | House


In house interiors, a Lonely Couple is isolated from the main conversational area. 


Lonely Couple is present in areas where a complex furniture configuration is unnecessary or overwhelming for the small dimension of the area. The absence of furniture makes the space feel uncomfortable, empty, awkward, and as if “missing a piece”. Thereby, Lonely Couple supports the space, filling it up with chairs that are usually minimal, unobtrusive and visually weightless in order to occupy a minimum of space and allow for fluidity.

Chairs are intentionally paired in a couple of two for visual appearance since one chair appears as a temporary placement. Because side by side chairs can be uncomfortable especially when seated with someone, they can be separated with a small side table. Pairs of chairs that are separated by larger furniture such as a breakfast or study table, a sideboard, or a fireplace are not considered Lonely Couple as the piece of furniture acts as a barrier between the two chairs. In this example, they appear as book ends guarding the centered piece instead of being a couple alone and the larger piece of furniture becomes the center of attraction instead of the pair of chairs.

In Lonely Couple the pair of chairs defines the archetypical practice and therefore constitutes the essence of its purpose and location. The act of sitting, a function intrinsically related to the chair, determines the various purposes of the archetype: sitting to see and be seen, sitting to wait, sitting to relax, or sitting to have a close conversation. Each of these purposes relates to the location of Lonely Couple within the residential space. Lonely Couple invites people to see and be seen in ceremonial spaces within palaces; to wait when found in a transitional area as an entrance hall or corridor; to relax on in a leisure area as a library, a terrace, or the side of a swimming pool or fireplace; and to have a close conversation in a social area, such as a living room. In spaces where the stay is longer, as in leisure and social spaces, the two chairs are frequently found with arms and/or accompanied by the small table to make the stay more pleasurable.

Initially, chairs appeared as items of luxury and were not available or affordable by mass populations. For instance Lonely Couple is first seen in royal palaces as an emblem of status and power in the form of the seat of the king and the queen. In ceremonies, the Lonely Couple appears elevated and distanced from any other element within the space in order to see and be seen. As the crafting of chairs increased, Lonely Couple was more frequently used by the rich and powerful. In chateaus, villas and country houses Lonely Couple is repetitively found gathered along the walls of the various residential rooms, waiting to be pulled away from the walls and be used. In the Palace of Fontianebleau in Paris, rooms are distributed in a way that one has to pass through one space to get to another. Since “[t]here was no particular effort to differentiate room functions or to provide privacy…furniture could be placed in any room to serve whatever function was chosen for it”.1 Although Lonely Couple was visually identifiable in the space, it was not necessarily used as such because when pulled from the wall, the pair of chairs could be separated and gathered to form more complex furniture arrangements making the archetype disappear and therefore temporary in presence. Furthermore, as internal residential planning took a step forward with the introduction of corridors parallel to rooms allowing for circulation without walking through a sequence of spaces,2 permanent furniture configurations dominated the space and Lonely Couple became even less visible.

In the 16th century, during the European Renaissance, the chair becomes more affordable and ceases to be a privilege of the few, entering more extensively into the domestic interior and initiating “the movement toward the increasingly cluttered ‘fully furnished’ interiors of the modern world.”3 At this time Lonely Couple leaves its temporal state to become permanent.

In the 18th century, Lonely Couple is widely present in entrance halls assuming a social and functional character. Positioned in a transitional area, it introduced visitors to the private space allowing for a gentle transition between the exterior and interior.

The notion of welcoming visitors and providing them with a place to wait is further intensified during the 19th century with middle class growth and the rise of cultural protocol. Although built in the early 20th century, the Tugendhat House reflects the social customs of the aspiring middle class of the 19th century were new neighbors would present themselves to the wealthy and elite families of the neighborhood making comfort in the entrance hall a need.4 In the Tugendhat House, Lonely Couple takes the form of a pair of arm-chairs accompanied by a small occasional table with a magazine to make the stay more agreeable.5

In the 20th century, the development of technology allowed for thinner materials such as metal, plastics and plywood which resulted in weightless and seamless Lonely Couples, such as the Barcelona Chairs designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. This concept of visual and physical lightness becomes important in the late century when Lonely Couples are used in corridors where fluidity and saving space are dominant concerns. In 1945, after World War II, Americans started looking forward to a life that included leisure and outdoor activities. Pools, terraces and balconies that fostered a connection with nature became an extension of the domestic interior.

In several architecturally significant Case Study Houses, designed between 1945 and 1966, Lonely Couple was present in various areas. For example, Lonely Couple was featured in the terrace or pool areas in Case Study House 11 by Julius Ralph Davidson and in Case Study House 20 (the Bass House) by Buff, Straub and Hensman. In the mid-late 20th century and early 21st century, as the house was diversified into multi-functional and multi-social areas, Lonely Couple appeared everywhere, filling any space where emptiness was not an option. Dematerialized airy meshes, polymer materials, organic shapes and transformable chairs occupied corners in living rooms, private and public corridors, the side of fireplaces, and in front of bookshelves, providing for a multiplicity of choices for privacy, a close conversation and a comfortable waiting area.6

end notes

  1. 1) John Pile, A History of Interior Design (New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2000), 112.
  2. 2) Pile, A History of Interior Design, 113.
  3. 3) Pile, A History of Interior Design, 90.
  4. 4) Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat and Wolf Tegethoff, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe The Tugendhat House (New York: SpringerWien 2000), 78.
  5. 5) Hammer-Tugendhat, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 79.
  6. 6) Evidence for the use and the chronological sequence of Lonely Couple as a house archetype was developed from the following sources: 1950 Walter Prokosh House [1951] Walter Prokosch Architect;  Old Greenwich, CT; in John Hancock Callender, "Six East and West Coast Houses," Architectural Record 110, no. 5 (Nov. 1951): 130; PhotoCrd: Joseph Molitor; Kurt E. Appert House [1951] Joseph Allen Stein; Atherton, CA; in John Hancock Callender, "Six East and West Coast Houses," Architectural Record 110, no. 5 (Nov. 1951): 128; PhotoCrd: Ernest Braun; 1960 K. L. Warriner Jr. House [1961] Joan and Ken Warriner; Sarasota, FL; in "Good Design on a $14,500 Budget," Architectural Record 129, Record Houses of 1961 (May 1961): 101; PhotoCrd: Joseph Molitor / 1980 Egyptian House or Halawa House [1983] Abdel Wahed El Wakil, Architect; Agamy, Egypt in Anonymous, "Design that Endures," Interior Design 54, no. 8 (Aug. 1983): 163; PhotoCrd: Christopher Little / 1990 Drager House [1995] Franklin D. Israel Design Associates; Oakland, CA in Betsky Aaron, "Act Two," Architectural Record 66, no. 4, Record Houses 1995 (Apr. 1995): 86; PhotoCrd: Grant Mudford; Adelie Bischoff House and Studio [1997] Stanley Saitowitz; Berkeley CA in Henry Urbach, "Suburban Loft," Interior Design 68, no. 14 (Nov. 1997): 87; PhotoCrd: Richard Barnes; Berkeley Hills House [1997] Marcy Li Wong and Donn Logan; Berkeley, CA in Monica Geran, "Unshakable Evidence," Interior Design 68, no. 9 (July 1997): 96, 97; PhotoCrd: David Wakely; Abercrombie and Vieyra House [1997] Stanley Abercrombie and Paul Vieyra; Sonoma CA in Mayer Rus, "Ciao, Manhattan," Interior Design 68, no. 12 (Oct. 1997): 103; PhotoCrd: Peter Paige / 2000 Naked House, Case Study House 10 [2001] Shigeru Ban Architects; north of Tokyo, Japan in Naomi Pollack, "Amid Rice Paddies, Shigeru Ban Creates Naked House," Architectural Record 72, no. 4, Record Houses 2001 (Apr. 2001): 151; PhotoCrd: Skinkenchiku-sha; Xeros House [2006] Blank Studio; Phoenix, AZ in Suzanne Stephens, "Xeros Residence," Architectural Record 77, no. 4, Record Houses 2006 (Apr. 2006): 140; PhotoCrd: Timmerman Photography; Mezzanine, Hill House [2006] Mark Lee, Johnson Marklee and Associates; Pacific Palisades, CA in Michael Webb, "Hill House," Architectural Record 194, no. 1 (Jan. 2006): 168; PhotoCrd: Eric Staudenmaier.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Mendez, Marta. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary House Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008, 22-33.