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Chairs with charisma.


"The Papa Bear's chair was too hard, the Mama Bear's chair was too soft, but the Baby Bear's chair was just right..." Chairmakers learned in the nursery that people respond to chairs. Not one chair is "just right" for everyone.

A chair can appear macho or feminine, regal or peasant-like, practical or whimsical. Its placement at a formal table can denote rank or status. The character of a single chair can change the mood of a room for better or for worse. Compare the urge to "sit a spell" in an old, inviting rocker with the feelings that arise upon standing in front of a judge's bench, occupied or not. In this Green decade, chairs are even being credited with ecological virtues.

While the chair is the most fundamental of all furniture, and probably the most functional, through the ages it has been the most wonderfully diverse in terms of design. A chairmaker is challenged by the requirements of comfort and strength, sturdiness and flexibility, and he must adhere to a basic format of back/seat/support. Nevertheless, there seems to be no limit to the chairmaker's bent for producing an abundance of remarkable chairs.

Solid and honest

Timeless chairmaking techniques at Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers, Portland, Maine, call for handcrafted solid hardwood and traditional joinery with finishes of boiled linseed oil and hand-rubbed wax. Moser said his models are rural craftsmen of New England who built plain, simple, honest furniture from materials at hand. "We avoid applied ornamentation, but rather let the structural elements themselves serve as decoration," he stated.

Moser's designs have been influenced by early American interpretations of Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheridan; William Morris, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Gustav Stickley of the Arts & Crafts movement; the "Golden Age of the Shakers; Marcel Breuer; and Charles Eames. "Ours is a synthesis of inspirations," Moser said.

Thos. Moser's new Chandler's chair is a contemporary adaptation of a traditional Windsor chair, with a hint of Danish influence. The cherry seat is deeply contoured and provides even weight distribution. A unique, double back rail flexes to provide lower back support. The chair's graceful curves complement round or oval dining tables.

|Environmentally responsible'

"Earth friendly" may be the trendiest designation ever applied to a chair. Kiani USA introduced its "environmentally responsible" line of rattan furniture at High Point. Rudy Chapa, president, says the rattan flourishes in healthy rain forest and is "selectively harvested by hand, using low impact methods. The rattan regenerates within 12 years."

Chapa added, "We are the first company to recognize and promote the fact that rattan, properly harvested, does not disturb the rain forest ecosystem."

The furniture is finished with a water-based lacquer that meets California air quality standards. Cushions are filled with non-chlorofluorocarbon foam and the teak carvings on select pieces are made from plantation grown wood. The production process is said to use both pole and peel, wasting almost no raw material.

Ecologically correct

When Brad Smith of Bradford Woodworking, Worcester, Pa., graduated from crafting small wood items to making chairs, tables and stools, he quickly realized that he couldn't hand turn the legs and be competitive. "So I started thinking in terms of off-the-shelf parts that could be adapted."

Smith checked out a handle factory, and Eureka! it was the complex shape of the axe handle that caught his eye. He ultimately purchased and restored an obsolete, century-old machine that gives the axe-handle legs the rippled surface texture he wants for a rough-hewn look.

With his gift of serendipity, Smith uses pitchforks as back supports, and has begun to incorporate "found objects" into his designs. "I look at old stuff, and sometimes I'm not sure what it is, but if I like the look, I'll use it in a piece." Some of his stretchers are farm machine parts, and he uses disk blades (farm implements), grates, barn flooring and machine hatch covers in his tables. Smith gets an A in ecology.

Stress resistant

A cold-molded plywood chair with compound curves is Skip Ableson's solution to the problem of producing a good-looking, comfortable chair that can stand up to stress.

The slim profile chair is made at Water Street Woodworks, Brooklyn, N.Y., on a limited basis at present, but will eventually be mass produced, he said.

Alternate layers of maple and cherry or maple and walnut veneers 1/16 inch thick are vacuum bag molded, then cold molded with epoxy and finished in a clear satin lacquer.

Striking a chord

Guildmaster hopes to strike an emotional response with its new Americana collection. "Most people who buy our furniture connect with it in a personal way," said Phil Pierce, national sales manager. The line, introduced at High Point in April, has a 19th century, one-of-a-kind character and reflects American and European influences. Guildmaster's No. 65-1490 starspangled heart chair is made of solid, distressed poplar, handpainted in aged red and white with black stained seat, rail and legs.


Wisconsin artist/craftsman Steven Spiro describes much of his work as "anthropomorphic" - having human characteristics. "The pieces seem to take on a spontaneity and life of their own," he said. "While I am working on a design, it seems to have its own momentum. Rarely does a design end up exactly as it was conceived."

Spiro has made 20 versions of the Totem chair. When a person sits in Totem chair No. 14, the sculpture is completed. This chair has a triangular seat of wenge bordered in rosewood and a winged back of bird's-eye maple. It is 64 inches high at its peak, or crown, which repeats the triangle.

It may take two or three weeks to complete one of these chairs, Spiro said, "So I have to make practical pieces to make the dollar equation work out. It is difficult to do only one-of-a-kind art furniture and make a living at it." This year Spiro has exhibited at national American Craft Council expositions in Baltimore, Atlanta and New York as well as in private galleries.

|Commonly comfortable'

A wood frame of classic 16th or 17th century Spanish design has been combined with a space age, slung leather seat in the Andalusian chair that is a perennial best seller for Southwest Spanish Craftsmen. The carved front stretcher, curve of the arm rests and carved finials are from a model that probably originated in the province of Andalusia.

The slung seat design had been used in the space program as "commonly comfortable," according to Tony Searer of Southwest. "When NASA made it public domain, we began to use the design. We have made hundreds of these chairs in every wood and leather color imaginable, in rockers and more contemporary designs," he said. "For a high-priced, unusual handcrafted chair, we have come close to high production with it."

|An air of simplicity'

Jay Spectre's collection for Century Funiture, titled "Century's Perimeters," is "a step towards relaxed sensibility," the designer stated. "Its air of simplicity and rhythm gives it an accessible ease." The cane back party chair features an unusual arm treatment that extends to the middle of the back leg. and a new, light-colored finish, "Suede."

"Style is more than what is visually apparent," Spectre said. "It is psychological." We surmise then, that the object of Perimeters is to make users feel like they are sitting pretty.

Light and charming

King Gustaf III, who reigned in Sweden in the late 18th century, was said to be very much interested in all forms of art and culture. The resulting "Gustavian" style, with its light, color and charm has greatly influenced Swedish design. Country Swedish, Westport, Conn., reproduces period chairs in beech or birch that are hand carved and hand painted in pastel colors.

The Gustavian period Rose chair has delicately carved roses on the back crest and front corners of the seat. Hepplewhite influence is seen in the Wheat Heart chair bearing a sheaf of wheat.

PHOTO : A person sitting in Steven Spiro's winged Totem chair No. 14 completes the sculpture, he says.

PHOTO : The trim profile of Skip Abelson's chairs results from the molded veneer construction.

PHOTO : The arm joins the curved backrest and extends to the middle of the back post of this new cane back partly chair from Century's Perimeters.

PHOTO : Country Swedish, interprets 18th century Gustavian furniture. The Rose (dark green) and Wheat Heart chairs are popular favorites.

PHOTO : A perennial favorite from Southwest Spanish Craftsmen, the Andalusian chair has exposed tenon construction and is crafted in alder.

PHOTO : Thos. Moses' Chandler's chair: cherry knee braces replace stretchers and spindles are wedged for strength.

PHOTO : Axe handle legs of ash, cherry seats and pitchfork backs add character to Brad Smith's chairs.

PHOTO : This timely, star-spandled chair is from Guildmaster's new Americana Collection. Pictured a batik insent in the back cushion of the Kiani chair reflects traditional Indonesian crafts.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:May 1, 1991
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