It’s easy to take for granted that the furniture we use is solid and to accept that it often falls into predictable shapes and colors. But there are many builders and designers who find those assumptions a bit dull, and prefer to bring a few visual tricks and creative, playful switch-ups to their furnishing designs. Furniture that has incorporated optical illusions and confounding designs is often witty, attractive, and far more interesting than what we usually find in a standard living room or kitchen.
Optical illusions have been pleasing and annoying people for a long time; as early as the 5th century B.C., the Greek philosopher Epicharmus explained “how our sensory organs are responsible for the deception.” The renowned 18th century French writer Voltaire is known to have said:
“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”
You may already be familiar with old and seemingly timeless illusions like the famous old woman—young woman illusion below, created in 1915 by Illustrator W.E. Hill.
Optical Illusions have been a preoccupation of psychologists, physicians, physicists, and artists throughout the centuries. Pop Art in the 60’s lead to a rise in popular renditions of tricky and trippy patterns in abstracted art, trendy fashion, and home decor.
Now for a few pieces of furniture that incorporate optical illusions:
- Tricky Shelves
In the creative shelving piece below, Bjørn Jørund Blikstad, a designer from The Oslo National Academy of the Arts, plays with our perception of three dimensional space.
As we ponder which elements of this piece are flat and which are open, which are empty and which are full, we lose our familiar grounding in the physical world for a minute, which is what makes pieces such as this so enjoyable. I also love the colorful geometric honeycomb aesthetic it has as it meanders up the wall.
- Tricky Chairs
Another interesting piece that seeks to fool the eyes is this “disappearing chair” by Nendo. The illusion was achieved by using a clear acrylic material for the chair and gradually adding wood colored paint to the surface. The chair seems to be frozen in the midst of vanishing.
- Drawings That are Really Chairs
My favorite furniture project that I have recently discovered incorporating tricks for the eye and brain is the series of furniture by South Korean designer Jinil Park that appears to have been sketched in three dimensions. I find these pieces lovely, fluid, and ghostly. Below is a steel Chair #3.
Dezeen shares this quote from Park:
“The key point of my work is the moments where the line is distorted. They express the designer’s feeling, status, and emotion.”
Park sketched furniture and then he hammered and welded wires to create the illusion of a pen drawing with lines of varying thickness. In this illusion a drawing, which is not considered weight bearing, becomes strong enough to support a person.
“Instinctively I created the conjunction of these thin wires that eventually holds the human weight while a single wire cannot. By this, I could materialize the 2D drawing to 3D generously.”
- More Drawings That are Really Chairs
Tokyo University of the Arts student Daigo Fukawa created a similar but even looser looking set of furniture called Rough Sketches.
These pieces were part of his senior thesis exhibit at the university where he now works, and I think they are bold and quizzical. They turn a furnished room into a mysterious world where it seems that light, quickly drawn marks on the flat plane of a monumental piece of paper are mysteriously solid and strong.
- Canvases That Are Chairs
Another project that takes a different approach to inviting us to sit in an apparently two dimensional artwork is the Canvas project by Yoy, the Tokyo studio of Naoki Ono and Yuki Yamamoto. A wood and aluminum frame are covered securely with an elastic fabric that becomes a flexible sitting surface when the entire structure is leaned against a wall. After the structure is leaned over, you can lean into it and situate yourself in the indention your weight makes in the fabric, which is printed with a realistic and monochromatic image of a piece of furniture.
- Chairs With Magic Shadows
Duffy London’s Shadow Chair is another pleasing example of something that does not appear stable being perfectly safe to sit on. The chairs’ metal foundational shadows allow them to look as if they stand on two legs alone. As the Duffy London site puts it,
“Without a shadow of a doubt this chair will have you mesmerized by its gravity defying abilities.”
- Furniture That Wavers
The pieces below which seem to shift and shimmer are inspired by the concept of memory. They were constructed by Bomi Park, and were shared at the exhibition DMY Berlin 2012. Park used black steel mesh to create these uneven and, from some points of view, wavering furniture structures. As Oddee shares, “[m]emories throughout our lives become blurred and scattered over time.” These pieces have uneven edges and a somewhat vague sense of stability, just like many of our memories.
All of these projects seem to seek to push the edges of what furniture should look like, feel like, and be. These pieces are meant to amuse and surprise as much as they are to support weight and store belongings. They bring unexpected whimsy and flare to the world of home furnishings, and remind us that there are still new ideas out there for how we can live and how the things around us can look.