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Seats of Power

Chairs are more than just a place to park our butts. They also reflect how we think. “The chair offers a glimpse into our collective ideas about status and honor, comfort and order, beauty and efficiency, discipline and relaxation,” writes Galen Cranz in The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design (W.W. Norton & Co., 1998). According to Cranz, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, “As our ideas change, so do our chairs.”

Two of the hottest chairs on the market suggest how ideas about work are moving. Bix, by Metropolitan Furniture Corp., a Steelcase Inc. company, was inspired by a diner-style booth. The genius of this workstation: It creates a relaxed space by drawing on the familiar social experience of hanging out in a booth. “We wanted people to act natural,” says director of design Jess Sorel. “Smart design helps identify what the action should be.” Bix sells for about $5,100 for a four-person booth.

The Swopper, by Swopper USA, was inspired by physio balls. Sit on one of these big rubber balls, and its soft bounce promotes movement that the body needs. The stool mimics this motion and reflects it in its design through details such as the exposed spring that curls up its base. Designer Henner Jahns says that the challenge was to make a “good-for-you product” look good. “I knew I had to have fun with it,” Jahns says. The Swopper starts at $595.

But really, why should we care about chairs? “The chair is intimately connected with us,” Cranz says. “We sit in it. It holds our bodies. It looks like us — with feet, legs, arms. It is the intermediary between our physical selves and the larger environment.”

Find Bix (www.metrofurniture.com) and the Swopper (www.swopperusa.com) on the Web.FCS