A Journey to Wales, Part 4: Chair 024

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Though I’ve been happily married for 25 years, I’ve had a number of intense love affairs – the kind that make you want to write bad poetry and buy good lumber. These affairs are, of course, with pieces of furniture I’ve encountered through the years. And while the opening sentence above might seem a joke, it’s actually not.

When I get fixated on a piece of furniture, I daydream about it. As I drift off to sleep I think of its curves. When I drink my morning coffee I ponder its construction. During the day I build the piece in my head over and over. The only way to stop my obsession is to consummate the relationship by building the piece.

On Friday I visited St Fagans National Museum of History and met my latest dalliance – Chair 024, a three-stick chair in one of the public spaces in the museum. I won’t write a poem about the chair – I’ll leave the poetry duties to other bloggers. But I will share what attracts me to this form, and I will also apologize in advance because I’m likely to write quite a bit more about it in the future.

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First is the overall form. The chair has an armbow with a somewhat shallow curve, a bit like the low-back Cardiganshire chairs I discussed earlier. Yet it has a charming (and unusual) three-stick back with a simple and compact crest rail.

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Second is the seat shape. I’ve not encountered a seat in this shape before and don’t have a name for it. I love how the seat reflects the shape of the arm above and that the seat has extensions at each end that mimic the round hands of the armbow.

I love the beefy sticks. In North America, we tend to prefer thin and tapered sticks, which can lighten the look of a chair dramatically. This chair will have none of that. The sticks verge on 3/4” in diameter and have little or no taper to them.

I adore the hexagonal legs. I’ve been itching to make hexagonal legs because that shape is more common in the historical record than octagonal legs. I’ll write more about hexagons and how they were likely made in a future blog entry.

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Finally, I like the compact size of the chair. It’s not terribly wide or deep, and that characteristic has always been attractive to my eye.

I know that some (many?) of you might fail to see the beauty of this chair. You might even find it ugly, and that’s OK. Girls in my high school thought the same of me. It took only one woman – blinded by love, I suppose – to make me happy for the rest of my life. Except when we visit museums, and my wandering eye finds a shapely oaken leg….

— Christopher Schwarz

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21 Responses to A Journey to Wales, Part 4: Chair 024

  1. elenoymike says:

    Why aAre the sticks of the arms thru holes with wedges? Are they tapered? Did they also use a hide glue? I wonder why they didn’t make them blind holes with no thru hole making the arm smooth?

  2. Jonathan Schneider says:

    It’s a beauty because somebody followed the vision of a distinctive form. Btw I always thought hexagonal was badly mixed with octagonal and people meant the same thing😳

  3. You had me at hexagon!

  4. One of my favourite elements of these chairs is how the arm bow determines the shape of the seat. Chair 24 is a great case in point. Just wonderful.

    • Johnathan says:

      That’s my question exactly, classic chicken and egg; did the arm bow determine the chair shape, or chair shape demand the arm bow? I’m curious to hear about the grain if this is one solid piece. Given the extreme curve it certainly seems so. It would be great if it was a requirement to have chair replicas in a museum to give it a good sit-

      • My understanding from looking at these chairs, and talking to the staff at St Fagans is that the arm determines the seat shape. If you’re using naturally curved branch stock then you have to
        Do as the tree demands 😉

  5. Finn Koefoed-Nielsen says:

    “I won’t write a poem about the chair – I’ll leave the poetry duties to other bloggers.”

    I got this –

    Chair number zero two four
    Was the finest that Schwarz ever saw
    The form made him randy, his legs went all bandy
    And the seat left him cold on the floor

  6. Alfie says:

    Hexagons resulting from knocking the corners off riven triangles?

    • Johnathan says:

      That is such a simple thought, but I’d never considered that before! Especially if using smaller timber, like smaller coppiced pieces, this seems like a very natural progression. I won’t if they let CS lift it to have a look at the grain at the ends of the legs?!

    • My first thought at well. I recently made a split oak fence, and I ended up using hexagonal posts and rails, because it was the easiest shape to create from the triangular riven bolts.

  7. craig regan says:

    You never mention the finish? I like how the worn areas give the chair some warmth and attest to it’s longevity. What was the finish of choice on these pieces?

  8. wb8nbs says:

    There once was a man from Nantucket….

  9. Bob Glenn says:

    Chris, you had me with your description of your thought process after seeing a piece you just had to build. Same here………the chair……not so much. Bob Glenn

  10. AAAndrew says:

    I have to confess. Many of the chair you show I think “Yes, that is a pleasing chair.” Just as I can look at a pretty woman and think, “Yes, that woman is pleasant to look at.” But this chair, from the first picture, I was drawn in. It made me feel like I should be writing into a magazine of my youth you might discover under a bead, “Dear LAP, I never thought it would happen to me, but one day…” That is a chair that just begs to be sat in.

    If I ever hit the big lottery, I’m commissioning Weta Workshops to build me a replica of the Green Dragon Inn from Hobbiton, and I’ll fill it with these Welsh chairs, with one beautiful one just like #024 for the proprietor to sit in.

  11. David Cockey says:

    ” I’ve not encountered a seat in this shape before and don’t have a name for it.”

    Have you sat in the chair? The seat shape looks to me like it would make the chair uncomfortable for most people. Perhaps that is the reason it is not a common shape.

  12. Richard Mahler says:

    That is the chair that would cause any designer of the elegantly different to fall in love! Whoever came up with it understood what it takes to make each element in perfect accord with every other. It proves that elegance is entirely possible with the right lines without being in any way delicate.

    I understand completely how a building project sticks in your brain and you build it again and again before you even touch your materials – it is a compulsive mind trick that serves to make the actual act of making the object almost seem as if you have done it before.

    I am going to have a very difficult time not making a replica of this chair myself.

  13. Daniel Williamson says:

    I really like that chair a lot. Something immediately just “clicks” about it. And there’s a lot to be said for what they apparently did, which is to see what the materials available to you are and work within those constraints to design something. Some of my favorite projects I’ve made spring from simply working with what I already have and getting creative. That for me (until I get more experience in design), is a mindset that really helps get the juices flowing. I love that chair, and can see why it keeps your mental capacities drawn to it.

  14. jglen490 says:

    The chair certainly is unusual, and interesting from a design point of view. However, the overhead view shows that the close angle between the arms would make it extremely difficult to sit back in the chair and be comfortable in doing so, unless there is something wrong with the perspective of that picture. I could almost feel the arm bow pushing in on my ribs.

  15. Matthew Buntyn says:

    Why is the front left (from the viewers perspective) leg rotated in its mortise? Is it to discourage visitors from sitting down?

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