The Iconic Industrial Chairs You See Everywhere Have a Fascinating History

Designed by a French metalworker nearly a century ago, this style of chair is now a favorite in cafés and homes across the world.

You might not know this iconic chair's formal name, but you've almost certainly sat in one before. Often finished in a bright color or shiny metallic, the Tolix Marais A chair ($395, Design Within Reach) is a staple at sidewalk cafés and coffee shops. In homes, it makes a practical choice for dining rooms, patios, and nearly every space in between. Although the galvanized steel chair has become a hallmark of the industrial aesthetic, it's now used with practically all decorating styles.

white island and kitchen table with navy walls and brass metal chairs
Kim Cornelison

An American favorite, the nearly century-old seating originated in the Burgundy region of France. It was designed and created by French furniture maker Xavier Pauchard, who began his metalworking career in his family's roofing and repair business. "Whether it was roofs, cookware, or toys, if it was made from tinplate (sheets of iron protected from corrosion by dipping them in molten tin), Pauchard and his father could fabricate or fix it," design historian Amy Azzarito writes in her book, The Elements of a Home: Curious Histories behind Everyday Household Objects, from Pillows to Forks, ($12, Amazon).

Pauchard later opened his own workshop called Tolix, where he was the first in France to adopt the galvanization technique for his furniture designs. This metalworking process involves dipping iron or steel in molten zinc to create a more durable, rust-resistant material. In 1934, Pauchard debuted his Marais A chair, which was (and still is) handcrafted from galvanized steel using a 100-step process.

patio table white chairs stinglights
Ray Kachatorian

Because of its practicality paired with an elegant silhouette, the chair was immediately popular and soon became the quintessential café chair in France. Ideal for both indoor and outdoor use, the original lightweight seating could be stacked 25 high and featured holes punched in the seat to allow for rainwater drainage.

As industrial style surged in the late 20th century, the chair moved from bistros into homes and remains an interior design staple today. The furniture offers sturdy, easy-to-clean seating with a timeless retro-meets-modern look.

enclosed porch with dining table and mint green retro chairs
Frances Janisch

Still in business today, Tolix continues to manufacture the iconic chairs in Autun, France, where they now sell for 292 euros (about $298). On this side of the Atlantic, you can find authentic versions on sites like Design Within Reach for around $400. Reproductions of the industrial-style metal chair are also widely available at more affordable prices.

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