From Floppy to Mischievous

The Evolution of a Design

Sergio Rodrigues’ Sheriff Chair was first designed in 1957 and the earliest examples were produced for the Brazilian architect’s store Oca, located in Rio de Janeiro. The oversized sling lounges were referred to as the "floppy" chairs by the woodworkers who made them, thus acquiring the name Poltrona Mole or Soft Chair. In 1961, the chair design was slightly modified for inclusion in the IV Concorso Internazionale del Mobile competition in Cantu, Italy. Top designers from around the world - Arne Jacobsen, Carlo de Carli, Macchi, Iganzio Gardella and Sir Gordon Russell - judged the 438 submissions and awarded Rodrigues first prize for his chair. Following the competition, ISA in Bergamo, Italy acquired the rights to production and the chair became widely known as the Sheriff Chair.

ISA label / Rodrigues seated in a Sheriff chair. Sergio Rodrigues, Cals, ppg. 230-231

Though the Sheriff Chair was an international success and could be found in many world cities, it remained expensive to purchase. Rodrigues had initially been inspired to the design the chair by the photographer Otto Stupakoff who could not afford to own one on his artist salary. In 1963, Rodrigues further modified the design making the chair’s frame flat and demountable in an effort to make it more affordable. This third variation was called the Poltrona Moleca or the Mischievous Chair.

Otto Stupakoff in his Mischievous Chair. Sergio Rodrigues, Cals, pg. 227

The Mischievous Chair dismantled. Sergio Rodrigues, Cals, pg. 15

In 1975, Clement Meadmore included the Sheriff Chair on a list of the thirty most representative chairs of the 20th century. Queen Elizabeth and John F. Kennedy are both reported to have owned the famed Sheriff Chair.

The Sheriff is perhaps derived from the notoriously uncomfortable family of sling chairs, but in this case the anatomical considerations have been superbly handled, and the result is a chair that not only looks extremely inviting and comfortable, but is so. The Sheriff Chair is one of the few modern chairs to have a completely informal appearance; it looks large and important but slouchingly casual, like a millionaire who wears faded Levis. Surprisingly rare in the modern idiom is the way this chair’s appearance promises comfort, as does the creased leather of the Eames’ 670 chair. While many modern chairs are in fact very comfortable, few of them give any visual value to this, because their support systems are cleverly concealed, and their contact surfaces are usually pristine.

—Clement Meadmore, 1975