A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous. - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect THERE'S GOOD NEWS and bad news for Thailand's connoisseurs of classic chairs. The good news is the new Thailand Creative & Design Centre (TCDC) atop Bangkok's swanky Emporium shopping centre has assembled an impressive collection of famous chairs through history - and what's more, you can actually sit in them. The bad news, depending on the state of your wallet, is that you must become a member of the TCDC to gain access to its excellent library - 1,200 baht ($245) per year for Thais, 3,000 baht for foreigners - where most of the chairs are arrayed. Visitors are given a teaser, in the form of a couple of classics in the free-of-charge permanent exhibition, entitled What is Design? Marcel Breuer's cantilevered chrome and leather Wassily chair (1926) and Marcus Ferreira's Giramundo chair (2002), a fuzzy cuboid eruption of colourful Brazilian cotton, sit alongside classic design items such as the Tamagotchi and the Volkswagen Beetle. TCDC's director of design resource, Apisit Laistroograi, says the collection of chairs is a vital expression of the centre's philosophy of bringing design to life. 'Since we are in between a library and a design museum, we want our members to see some of the samples of the design icons they see in the books,' he says. 'People can relax in these chairs, touch and feel them and the experience is much richer than seeing a picture in a glossy magazine or a book. The experience of good design allows a student to understand why something has become an icon. We have product descriptions with the designer's details for each chair and if the user wishes to read more about the chair or the designer, we recommend the right book.' One of the star attractions is the Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, which features leather-covered cushions suspended from leather straps from a chrome-plated steel frame, designed for the king and queen of Spain and featured at the World Exposition in Barcelona in 1929. The German architect, who became director of the Bauhaus in 1930, was the master of mixing form and function, and the chair still manages to look at once contemporary and timeless. Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen's Egg chair (1958) is another celebrated masterpiece, with its organically shaped upholstered seat perched on a slender metal base. His equally famous Ant and Swan chairs aren't featured in the collection, although they're pieces that Apisit would like to add in the future, funds and space permitting, along with other missing classics such as Verner Panton's one-piece cantilevered plastic Panton chair, and Eero Aarnio's 1960s Ball and Bubble chairs. There are several pieces by husband-and-wife design team Charles and Ray Eames, pioneers of economical, mass-produced, curvilinear furniture. The collection boasts their Eames Sofa Compact (1954), Lounge Chair Wood (1945), and Lounge Chair and Ottoman (1956), all for furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, as well as their supremely functional office chairs, EA117 and EA119, designed for Vitra (1958). The Eames' Lounge Chair and Ottoman is in the spotlight this year, enjoying its 50th anniversary. Combining what was then state-of-the- art technology with painstaking craftsmanship, the chair - the focus of a new book, The Eames Lounge Chair: An Icon of Modern Design (Merrell, $360) - captured what Charles Eames famously called 'the warm, receptive look of a well-used first baseman's mitt'. The first one produced in 1956 was given to a friend for his birthday, film director Billy Wilder, and the piece captured America's imagination after it made its public debut on Arlene Francis' Home show, which later became the Today show. According to a recent piece in Forbes magazine, 'the moulded plywood exoskeleton and plush leather cockpit ... continues to draw the eye. This is furniture of arresting aesthetic contrast that nevertheless delivers the ahh factor of a La-Z-Boy. It's a rare thing: cosy modernism.' Purists were up in arms when, some years ago, the chair's unsustainably sourced rosewood veneer was replaced with walnut or cherry. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Herman Miller has created a limited edition using Santos Palisander, a renewable variety of rosewood, upholstered with black kid-calf leather - which even at a cool US$6,500 is being snapped up rapidly. Italian design house Poltrona Frau features heavily in the TCDC collection, and Pierluigi Cerri's Lola chair (1997) deserves mention: it's been called the ultimate dining chair, gorgeously minimal yet enticingly covered in fine leather and more comfortable than its Spartan lines suggest. Also featured from Cerri for Poltrona Frau is Isola (2002), a modular, asymmetrical piece that can be configured as everything from a sofa to an ottoman and small tables to a chaise longue, or even a double bed, comprising different sized, leather-covered rectangles. Other standouts of the collection include Australian designer Marc Newson's Wood chair (1988), made by Cappellini (and resembling an infinity symbol prised open at one end), and the Nelson Marshmallow Sofa for Herman Miller (1999), a whimsical conversation-starter if ever there was one. Readers of Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Blink, can read up on the Aeron office chair (1991) designed by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf for Herman Miller, the painful birth of which is chronicled in some detail in the book. Aeron was so far ahead of its time that it shocked and alienated focus groups, but today it's regarded as a design classic. Apisit says it took about 10 months to source, order and import the 40-odd chairs in the collection, all of which are still being manufactured today. He declined to nominate the most expensive, but said some had come in at about 300,000 baht. 'It wasn't about cost. We were more interested in the content of the chair and the history of the designer's thought process while designing the chair,' he says. The collection is noticeably light on Asian designs, and could have benefited by including Japan's Sori Yanagi, whose graceful Butterfly Stool, designed in 1954, is part of the collection at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Two chairs by Thai designers are included in the collection: Korn's 2004 Stone and Steel chair designed by Jitaran Jintapiracha, which looks rather like a squashed beanbag made, naturally, from stone and steel, and Udom Udomsarirat's Palm (2001), a tangled cluster of rattan made by Planet. 'Thai designers are making a name for themselves on the global stage these days,' says Apisit. It's his hope that the classic chairs assembled at the centre will inspire a new generation of Thai designers to create the classics of tomorrow.