21 March 2013

the original bean bag

Bean bags have become a ubiquitous and beloved piece of furniture in many households worldwide. With their unique shape and comfortable feel, they provide a casual and inviting seating option that is hard to resist. But have you ever wondered where bean bags originated and how they evolved over time?

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating history of the bean bag. From its humble beginnings to its status as a modern design icon, we will explore this versatile seating solution's origins, evolution, and benefits. Whether you are a fan of bean bags or simply curious about their story, join us on this journey through time as we uncover the fascinating tale behind the bean bag phenomenon.

Origins of the Bean Bag

The bean bag chair, now ubiquitous furniture found in homes, offices, and even outdoor spaces, has a rather interesting origin story. Its humble beginnings began in the mid-20th century when a few innovative minds came together to create something unique and comfortable.

A. The Invention of the Bean Bag Chair

The bean bag chair, as we know it today, was first invented by Italian designers in the late 1960s. Inspired by the post-war era and the need for unconventional furniture, they sought to create a seating option that was both comfortable and versatile.

Their invention was a simple yet ingenious idea. They filled a large fabric bag with polystyrene beads, creating a soft and pliable seating surface. This innovative design allowed the chair to conform to the shape of the person sitting on it, providing a custom fit and unmatched comfort.

B. Early Versions of the Bean Bag

Before the bean bag chair became a mainstream success, a few early versions paved the way for its popularity. In the 1950s, an Italian company called Zanotta introduced a similar concept called the "Sacco," filled with expanded polystyrene beads. Although it didn't gain much attention at the time, it laid the foundation for the future success of the bean bag chair.

Bean bags were also used as training tools in ancient China by students of tai chi. Tai chi is a martial art that teaches you how to develop internal power for self-defence and health. This martial art originated in the 12th century. It stresses slow, graceful movements that help to focus your inner strength. At some point, tai chi masters began to use small pouches filled with sand, dry beans or small rocks. These bags were kept in the air by striking them with various parts of the body. An old video dating back to 1937 depicts a tai chi practitioner kicking one of these bean bags. This video is also considered to be the origin of the footbag, often referred to by the trademark Hacky Sack.

C. Popularity in the 1960s and 1970s

The bean bag chair gained widespread popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming an icon of the counterculture movement. Its casual and laid-back design appealed to the younger generation, looking for alternatives to traditional furniture.

During this time, bean bag chairs were considered a symbol of nonconformity and rebellion against society's rigid norms. They became a staple in dorm rooms, hippie communes, and living rooms of those who embraced the bohemian lifestyle. The bean bag chair perfectly embodied the spirit of freedom and individuality that defined this era.

The bean bag's popularity continued to grow throughout the decades, with various iterations and designs introduced to the market. From brightly coloured fabrics to unique shapes and sizes, manufacturers constantly pushed the boundaries of what a bean bag could be.

It seems like a no-brainer to fill a giant bag with soft pellets to use as a chair, sofa or bed. That's because we now know how comfortable they are. But the first bean bag chair was not invented until the 1960s. In 1968, a patent was filed by William Roger Dean, working for the Royal College of Art, for the sea urchin chair. According to the patent, the sea urchin chair consisted of a spheroidal outer shell made of a synthetic material that was self-supporting yet resilient and pliable. The covers, each filled with individual blocks of foam acted as cushions. Because the sea urchin chair did not contain beads, it cannot be considered the first bean bag chair. But the sea urchin chair was an essential predecessor of a chair invented the following year.

In the 1970s, bean bags were at the height of their popularity. A large number of manufacturers was producing them. You would be hard-pressed to find a household in the First World that didn’t have one. Although some consisted of leather, newer materials, such as nylon and polyester, were commonly being used. Also, other alternate elements for filling bean bags appeared. Many of the first bean bags used pellets made of PVC or extruded polystyrene, but during the 1970s, expanded polystyrene (EPS) was discovered to be more resilient and durable. Most of the bean bags manufactured during this era were spherical, and they often featured bright colours and busy designs. However, very few used high-quality materials, such as those used for the Sacco. Most of them comprised of cheap, inexpensive materials that made them increasingly affordable.

Evolution and Modernization

The bean bag has come a long way since its inception, undergoing various changes and modernizations that have enhanced its appeal and versatility. In this section, we will explore the evolution of the bean bag and its impact on popular culture and interior design.

A. Improvements in Design and Materials

Over the years, designers and manufacturers have continually refined the design of the bean bag, making it more comfortable, durable, and stylish. In the early days, bean bags were often made with vinyl or leather covers filled with tiny polystyrene beads, providing a cozy seating option. However, as the demand for bean bags grew, so did the need for improved materials.

Today, bean bags are available in various materials such as plush fabrics, microfiber, corduroy, and even eco-friendly options like organic cotton. These materials add to the aesthetic appeal and enhance the bean bag's overall comfort and durability. Additionally, advancements in filling materials have led to the introduction of memory foam and shredded foam, providing even better support and contouring to the body.

B. The Bean Bag in Popular Culture

During the 1960s and 1970s, the bean bag became a symbol of the counterculture movement and was closely associated with relaxation and nonconformity. It quickly gained popularity among the younger generation, appearing in music festivals, college dormitories, and hippie communes. Movies and television shows of the time often portrayed bean bags as a staple in bohemian and progressive settings, further influencing their cultural significance.

In recent years, the bean bag has experienced a resurgence in popular culture. It has become a favourite furniture piece in contemporary interior design, featured in various magazines, home makeover shows, and social media platforms. Its inclusion in modern living spaces reflects a desire for comfort, versatility, and a laid-back atmosphere.

C. Influence on Interior Design

The evolution of the bean bag has had a profound impact on interior design. Its flexible nature and ability to mould to the body make it a popular choice for creating cozy and inviting spaces. Bean bags allow quick and effortless transformations of a room's layout.

Interior designers have embraced the bean bag as a versatile and functional piece of furniture that adds a touch of informality to any space. Whether used in living rooms, bedrooms, or home offices, bean bags provide a casual seating option that encourages relaxation and creativity.

Moreover, bean bags have also found their way into commercial spaces such as cafes, lounges, and waiting areas, creating a welcoming atmosphere and a sense of comfort for customers.

Benefits and Uses of Bean Bags

Bean bags have come a long way since their inception and have proven to be more than just a trendy piece of furniture. In this section, we will explore the various benefits and uses of bean bags that have contributed to their enduring popularity.

A. Comfort and Ergonomics

One of the primary reasons people gravitate towards bean bags is their unmatched comfort. Unlike traditional chairs with rigid frames and structured cushions, bean bags conform to the shape of your body, providing a cozy and personalized seating experience. The beans inside the bag distribute weight evenly, reducing pressure points and allowing for a more relaxed and ergonomic sitting position.

Bean bags are particularly beneficial for individuals with back or joint pain. The pliable nature of the beans allows for natural movement and support, helping to alleviate discomfort and promote better posture. Whether you're lounging in front of the television or working on your laptop, a bean bag offers unparalleled comfort for extended periods of sitting.

B. Versatility and Portability

Another advantage of bean bags is their versatility and portability. Unlike bulky armchairs or sofas, bean bags can be easily moved and positioned in various locations without much effort. This flexibility allows you to create different seating arrangements to suit your needs or preferences.

Bean bags are an excellent choice for those who frequently entertain guests or have limited space. Their lightweight design means they can be effortlessly carried from one room to another, providing additional seating whenever and wherever required. Whether it's a movie night in the living room or a gathering in the backyard, bean bags offer a convenient seating solution that can adapt to any occasion.

C. Therapeutic Benefits

Beyond their comfort and versatility, bean bags also have therapeutic benefits. The pliable nature of the beans inside the bag makes them an ideal tool for sensory integration therapy, commonly used to help individuals with sensory processing disorders or developmental challenges. Sitting on a bean bag can provide a calming and soothing effect, promoting relaxation and sensory stimulation.

Additionally, bean bags have gained popularity in meditation and mindfulness practices. The soft and supportive nature of bean bags allows individuals to find a comfortable seated position, enabling them to focus on their breath and achieve a deeper state of relaxation. Many meditation centres and wellness retreats incorporate bean bags into their spaces to enhance the overall meditative experience.


In conclusion, bean bags offer a range of benefits and uses that go beyond their aesthetic appeal. From unparalleled comfort and ergonomics to versatility and portability, bean bags have become a staple in modern interior design. Moreover, their therapeutic benefits make them attractive to individuals seeking relaxation and sensory stimulation. Whether you're looking to unwind after a long day or create a cozy seating arrangement for your guests, bean bags are a practical and enjoyable addition to any living space.

In conclusion, the bean bag has come a long way since its humble beginnings. From a simple sack of beans to a versatile piece of furniture, it has evolved and modernized to meet the needs and preferences of people from all walks of life.

The origins of the bean bag can be traced back to the invention of the bean bag chair, which revolutionized the concept of comfort and relaxation. Early versions of the bean bag were crude and basic, but they quickly gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming synonymous with the counterculture movement.

Over the years, the bean bag has undergone significant improvements in design and materials. Today, you can find bean bags in various shapes, sizes, and colours made from high-quality materials that ensure durability and comfort. The bean bag has also made its mark in popular culture, featured in movies, TV shows, and advertisements, further cementing its place in our modern world.

Not only has the bean bag become a staple in interior design, but it also offers many benefits and uses. Its ergonomic design provides optimal support and comfort, making it an ideal seating option for people of all ages. Its versatility and portability allow it to be easily moved and used in different settings, whether in the living room, bedroom, or outdoors. Additionally, the therapeutic benefits of the bean bag, such as relieving stress and promoting relaxation, have made it a popular choice among individuals seeking comfort and solace.

In conclusion, the bean bag has proven to be more than just a trendy piece of furniture. Its rich history, evolution, and numerous benefits have solidified its place as a beloved and practical item in many households. Whether you're looking for a cozy, relaxing spot, a stylish addition to your home decor, or a therapeutic tool, the bean bag has you covered. Why not sink into the comfort and embrace the versatility that the bean bag has to offer?

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