In Memoriam: Nicos Zographos (1931–2024), the designer’s designer

By Nico Haven, Thomas Hart, and David Rosenwasser


"Nicos Zographos is a modern master ripe for rediscovery—or just plain discovery.”

- Interior Design Magazine

We recently lost one of the most important and influential designers of the 20th century—and you might never have heard his name.

Nicos Zographos was an architect, furniture designer, and interior designer, and his career spanned 60 years. In that time, he collaborated with some of the most famous and important designers of the latter half of the 20th century, and his legacy continues to resonate even after his passing at the age of 93. 

Zographos paid close attention to the details

In an industry becoming ever more industrialized and geared toward mass production after WWII, Zographos’ bespoke style set him apart and make his pieces valuable and extremely collectible in our eyes.

His meticulous detailing and choice of high-quality materials went above and beyond what many other designers were using in their mass-produced works, which required factories to produce at economies of scale. Chrome plating, wood molding, and metal casting were more feasible and reasonable to produce at such scales, whereas Zographos usually used solid stainless steel (sometimes solid bronze) that was then hand polished.

This is a much more time-consuming and expensive process, but it gives each Zographos piece, similar to Nakashima furniture, a one-of-a-kind personality that was expertly crafted by hand and not impersonally in a factory.

Ever the perfectionist, Zographos tirelessly and endlessly tinkered with his designs. He often took the pieces he designed for private residential and commercial commissions and kept refining them, creating many iterations and variations on 60+ original designs to eventually produce a catalog of over 100 pieces.

The details meant everything to Zographos, and he cared about every detail in every piece produced by his company, Zographos Designs Limited, between 1964 and the 2010s, when Zographos retired and closed the shop. 

Zographos’s CH66 chair in profile rendering (photography by Monacelli Press)
Zographos’s CH66 chair in profile rendering (photography by Monacelli Press)

"Within a business bounded by commercial constraints, [Zopgraphos’] enduring values have significantly influenced both the style and the standards of the modern furniture industry.”

- Peter Bradford, The Design Art of Nicos Zographos

Zographos was one of the last true Bauhaus disciples

Evidence of why the Bauhaus movement has been so influential in modern design, Zographos graduated from his master’s program at the University of Iowa and started professionally designing in a world dominated by Bauhaus acolytes and their philosophy.

Zographos looked up to and idolized the biggest names to come out of the Bauhaus School—especially one of its students, Marcel Breuer, and their last director, Mies Van der Rohe. He embraced their philosophy of simplicity, of form following function, of stripping down a design to its barest essence, its sleekest profile.

The Bauhaus influence is explicit in Zographos’ work, as he clearly drew inspiration for some of his most famous designs from iconic Bauhaus designs like Mies’s Barcelona Chair and Breuer’s Wassily Chair.

Though he didn’t study at the school or apprentice under one of its most prominent figures—like, for example, Mies Van der Rohe being Florence Knoll’s thesis advisor at Illinois Institute of Technologyhe carried the Bauhaus philosophy forward through the rest of the 20th century

Equally as important, however, was the early stint in his career at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Architects (SOM), where he studied and worked under modernist master Gordon Bunshaft.

Mies van der Rohe (image via Flickr)
Mies van der Rohe (image via Flickr)

Zographos' furniture was regularly specified for many famous architects' buildings

Who cuts the hair of a hairdresser? Who prepares meals for a chef? And who creates designs for designers if not the designers themselves?

Unlike the average consumer, the professional client is well-informed and maintains stringent standards of quality and attention to detail. It takes a skilled craftsman of equally high standards to meet the mark of the most prominent players in the industry.

So it underscores Zographos’ impact and legacy that many famous architects of the latter half of the 20th century specified his furniture for their most important and prominent projects. He regularly designed for Walter Gropius, I.M. Pei, Phillip Johnson, Hugh Stubbins, and Gordon Bunshaft, among others. Bunshaft had a number of Zographos pieces in his own home. 

Zographos work is featured in some of the most iconic Modernist interiors from the late 1950s through the 1980s. It can be seen in vintage Interiors Magazines and to this day in well preserved modernist monuments such as the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, where vintage Zographos furniture still graces the interior. 

Another testament to his importance in Modernist furniture design is that an example of his CH66 Chair is included in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

Nicos Zographos's Iconic Designs

CH28 Ribbon Chair (1959)

Zographos designed the CH28 Ribbon Chair while working in the interiors division of the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM).

He acknowledged the inspiration and influence of Mies Van der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona Chair in his designs of this chair, and it’s clear many of the design gestures employed here are similar to Mies’s choices. But while Mies used two separate cushions, Zographos used a continuous leather upholstered cushion with bent plywood in it to give it shape and a gentler curve.

Rather than the famous X shape in the side profile of the Barcelona Chair, Zographos chose a pinched and polished stainless steel support structure that created a unique and perhaps equally elegant form. 

Alpha Bucket Chair (1964)

Zographos repeated the stainless steel and leather palette from the CH28 Ribbon Chair—it is a palette he used often throughout his career—and applied it to a more heavily cushioned office chair design.

The Bucket Chair utilizes the Alpha base, with curved steel petals expanding out from a central “stem.” The Alpha base is a recurring theme in other chairs, stools, and tables.  

Nicos Zographos Alpha Bucket Executive Chair (image via Rarify)
Nicos Zographos Alpha Bucket Executive Chair (image via Rarify)
Nicos Zographos Designs Limited Stainless Side End Tables (image via D Rose Mod)
Nicos Zographos Designs Limited Stainless Side End Tables (image via D Rose Mod)
Detail of Zographos Side Table (image via Rarify)
Detail of Zographos Side Table (image via Rarify)

Stainless steel tables (early 1960s)

Zographos was obsessive about proportions, thinness, and material quality, something he was able to explore at a finite level with his side tables and coffee tables. He was passionate about incorporating the slight curve at the intersection of leg and support ribbon above.

The tables are built on a base of ultra-slim stainless steel and were paired with glass, rare and highly figured stone tops, or elaborate wood burl veneers.

Regardless of the materials, shape, or function of each table, Zographos sought to create the cleanest, most seamless connections between each of the different pieces, emphasizing the singularity of the design while also expressing the contrast between the stainless steel and luxurious materials used for the tabletop. 

BE.1 Museum Bench (1965)

Zographos again used the upholstered leather and stainless-steel palette in his museum bench, which is in a way referential to Florence Knoll or Mies van der Rohe's benches and daybeds. In his bench, however, the frame is again a showcase of metal craftsmanship on full (side) display, lifting up the fine leather cushion so that it appears to float. 

The piece has a bold elevational profile with small footprint, which is appropriate given that it was designed for a place where everything is part of the overall aesthetic and experience but where the focus is on the exhibited works on display. Its subtly curved steel structure complements the space while not attracting more attention that it should. This is another example of how Zographos employed the Bauhaus philosophy of “form follows function.” 

Nicos Zographos BE.1 Museum Bench (image via Rarify)
Nicos Zographos BE.1 Museum Bench (image via Rarify)

CH66 Chair (1966)

For the CH66 Chair, which would eventually be included in MoMA’s permanent collection, Zographos again took inspiration from the biggest names from the Bauhaus movement.

The upholstered back of the chair draws inspiration from Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Lounge Chair, and the heavy gauged chrome-plated steel tube structure is reminiscent of the cantilever design that Mies Van der Rohe employed in his Tubular Brno Armchair and MR10 Cantilever Chair.

In a departure from his classic upholstered leather cushions or buckets, Zographos instead used a thick saddle leather for the seat and back, which were secured together with coils—a more pronounced detail than seen in earlier Zographos furniture pieces. 

Nicos Zographos CH66 Side Chair (image via Rarify)
Nicos Zographos CH66 Side Chair (image via Rarify)
Nicos Zographos Saronis Chairs (image via Rarify)
Nicos Zographos Saronis Chairs (image via Rarify)
Detail of Nicos Zographos Saronis Sofa (image via Rarify)
Detail of Nicos Zographos Saronis Sofa (image via Rarify)

Saronis Series (1976)

Zographos originally designed the Saronis Series for his father’s house in Greece. In a further expansion upon his earlier work, the Saronis Series used solid oak dowels with brilliantly simple yet solid joints instead of solid stainless steel for its structure.

Zographos also included wrapped leather material inset within the armrests to add softness and comfort. Rather than laying on top, the leather sits perfectly flush with the rest of the wood surface. That further exemplifies how fixated on details—even the smallest ones in pieces designed for his father—Zographos was throughout his entire career. 

Nameplate detail on Nicos Zographos Alpha Bucket Executive Chair (image via Rarify)
Nameplate detail on Nicos Zographos Alpha Bucket Executive Chair (image via Rarify)

Celebrating Nicos Zographos's legacy

We at Rarify were saddened to hear about the loss of this legendary and under-appreciated designer.

As one of the designers we admire most, we are proud to bring his legacy to new audiences as we include many of Nicos Zographos’s pieces in our curated digital collection and continue championing his impressive body of work. We hope you and others will continue to celebrate and cherish his work too. 

Rarify is an evolving collection of iconic, authentic-only furniture by history's most visionary designers. We curate collections of timeless classics and rare, authenticated vintage furniture pieces, as well as the collectible classics of the future.