The Iconic Industrial Chairs You See Everywhere Have a Fascinating History

Jessica Bennett
·4 mins read

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 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.

Kim Cornelison Photography Inc.

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, ($16, 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.

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.

Related: Wishbone Chairs Are an Iconic Mid-Century Design: Here's How to Score One for Less

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.

Frances Janisch

Still in business today, Tolix continues to manufacture the iconic chairs in Autun, France, where they now sell for 237 euros (about $280). 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. Here are four options you can shop now for less than $60.

Silver Metal Dining Chairs

Add an industrial vibe to your dining room with these shiny steel chairs. The stackable design includes floor protectors to guard against scratches or scuffs. Sold as a set of two, the chairs come in 11 color options, including this natural silver version with a glossy finish. You can also find matching low-back armchairs that are perfect for the heads of the table.

Buy It: Carlisle High Back Dining Chair, ($110 for set of two, Target)

Modern Gray Metal Chairs

This sleek seating puts a modern spin on Pauchard's original design. The legs and seat are modeled after the original, but the curved back and arms update the look for added comfort. A dark gunmetal gray finish boosts the contemporary feel. These chairs are sold as a set of two and ship for free.

Buy It: Carbon Loft Uglem Industrial Dining Chair, ($118 for set of two, Overstock)

Vintage-Look Bar Stools

A riff on the classic design, these industrial-style bar stools embrace the vintage look with a distressed blue finish. The metal frame is topped with a solid wood seat and a detachable back. To accommodate your countertop, island, or home bar, this set of four chairs is available in seat heights of 24, 26, and 30 inches.

Buy It: Hartz Solid Wood Stool ($201 for set of four, Wayfair)

White and Wood Industrial Chairs

A light oak seat warms up the utilitarian look of these dining chairs. To boost the comfort of the powder-coated iron frame even more, place a pillow or cushion on the seat or drape a sheepskin pelt over the back. Available in 14 other colors, the set of four chairs is stackable and includes non-marking feet caps to protect your floors.

Buy It: Trattoria White Side Chair, ($204 for set of four, The Home Depot)