The History and Evolution of the Saucer Chair

The Saucer chair has a number of different names – moon chair, bowl chair, and bucket chair are some of the others. But the origins of the design and style begin with the Papasan chair which has its roots in the Southeastern Asian region of the Philippines. The true Papasan chair will be made of wicker or rattan, have a circular or moon shaped design, and can safely support the body weight of a normal person without breaking. Of course, there are people who test this limit, but we can neither confirm nor deny the success of those tests. (We need to note that they can also be called Mamasan chairs.)

Since its inception, there has been many other lightweight, weight bearing materials used to create the chair’s frame. But the basic design of sitting in a circular space contrasted with the rectangular, four legged chairs many people accept as the norm is what makes the Papasan chair stand out. Despite having once been seen as unconventional, people have learned that the Papasan style is actually very comfortable for almost everyone without the back pains commonly associated with the more traditional chairs.

Another part of the chair design is the base, which is also circular. When it comes to criticisms of the design, the base gets the brunt of it. Yet it is the base that makes the Papasan the unique chair that it is. Without it, it is just a bean bag chair in a rickety frame. One of the criticisms is that the base is too “busy” but unless there is no cushion or you are lying on the floor, the base is barely noticeable.

Anyone who has sat in a Papasan chair knows that the right cushion maximizes the comfort level of the chair. Because the size and style of the cushion can be customized to whatever is needed for maximum comfort, the chair is very versatile and can be used by just about everyone. The fact that people commonly sleep in these chairs says a lot more about the design of the chair than just the cushion. But don’t rule out the value of a thick, padded cushion.

From a health perspective, the Papasan chair solves one of the biggest complaints about those hard wooden chairs or even sitting on a comfortable sofa. Lower back pain is a common complaint from regular chair sitters (think of the office) and the Papasan design has continually reduced the lumbar problems of many a student and big screen TV watcher. If you get a chair that’s big enough you can curl up in it, using it to double as a more comfortable version of a cot for sleeping. If you doubt the natural health benefits a Papasan design offers, get a cat or dog and see how quickly your chair space is occupied.

In recent years the design is making a comeback, but not solely for fashion reasons but for how the chair fits into the design of modern homes. It is practical, and because of the wide variety of materials and variations of the original design it appeals to people who prefer minimalist designs. Replacing a sofa and recliner with several Papasan chairs, which can save money and make cleaning the room easier. Toss a few cushions to the side, move the lightweight chair, and you’ll quickly see that the entire room can be cleaned without the need for moving heavy furniture.

The Papasan had a great run as a popular chair during the 1970’s in homes and in college dorms and housing. Towards the end of the decade, many of the owners abandoned them to junk yards, garages, and the classified ads. One of the more interesting reasons is that the people who were in their 20’s in the 70’s turned into 30 and 40-somethings by the end of the decade and complained that the chairs were too hard to get up from. This may speak more to the person sitting in the chair than the chair itself.

Yet this very same reason may be why the Papasan is showing a resurgence in popularity. A decline in the Baby Boomer population combined with an emphasis on healthier lifestyles among the young resolve the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” complaint. Complaints about the chair looking downright ugly have also fallen away, as the focus on furniture in some sectors moving away from a home’s elegant appearance to a comfortable, livable home environment. We haven’t noticed any surge of interest from the super-rich in the Papasan chair, but they have their own ways of creating a comfortable living environment.

One of the recommended redesigns that is not related to the base is to have the seat angled to the front to make getting out of the chair easier. Nobody ever complains that the chair itself is uncomfortable, so this minor change could give a boost to its acceptance in homes and apartments. This would make the chair easier to sit in but it seems that same change would reduce its”falling-asleep-in-the-chair” charm. Some chairs have done exactly that but have been renamed to moon chairs or saucer chairs.

The original material the chair frames were made from was rattan, which tended to be hard on the body once the cushion began to thin out. Modern versions of the Papasan are made of metal, which provides even more support strength and is less harsh on the body’s bottom. With the metal construction comes an array of colors that will match virtually any room color, so they are easy to mix and match with existing room furniture set ups. One change to the base has been to make it a solid piece rather than the less attractive wooden design that was the de facto standard in the 70’s.

The future of the saucer chair will depend on whether or not people prefer appearance over comfort. Think of it as a pair of jeans. There are the stylish ones that may not be the most comfortable, then there are the jeans that are comfy but lack style. We all know that you can get both, but it will usually cost you. This fact will likely be the major influencer over the future of the Papasan chairs because the whole point of the chair from the beginning was to provide relatively cheap furniture comfort.


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