New Core77 Column: Chair Comfort

chair comfort

I think that some of the modern rules for making a comfortable chair are inflexible, misinterpret the human body and ignore the needs of people on the shorter half of the bell curve.

I wrote up my thoughts for my column for Core77, and you can read it for free here.

Most of my ideas on chair comfort come from making chairs since the 1990s, everything from frame chair, Morris chairs, Windsor chairs and vernacular chairs, which is where my interest is right now.

After years of making chairs based on historical examples, I encountered modern design rules for them. I gobbled them up. But I found them at odds with my own experiences. This column is my attempt to reconcile them.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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14 Responses to New Core77 Column: Chair Comfort

  1. Vince says:

    One contradiction to your disdain of deeply saddled seats is a tall counter stool. When perched high in a small seat (with no back), a sculpted seat can add a sense of security by holding you snug. Sculpted seats are also fun to carve and making them keeps the botique travisher industry in business.

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  2. Keith says:

    One of my first ventures into woodworking was attending a seminar by Tage Frid. I asked during the class how to modify a chair to fit different body profiles. I asked because I’m 6’5″ and tall from the waist up. My wife is 5’12” and is tall from the waist down. I had a La-z-boy “Big Man’s Chair” that was comfortable for me but one of my 5’2″ friends could not sit in it. Tage Frid was short-torsoed from my observation. He said that by the that by the time you sat in a chair most of the differences would go away because of the way your body bent. He’d show me at the break. We measured each other’s height standing and there was like a 10″ difference. Then he said watch what happens when we sit in a chair. So we both sat in the same chair and measured our height from the floor to top of our head. He was shocked to see there was still a 10″ difference. He mumbled something, perhaps in Danish, and just walked away.

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  3. jayedcoins says:

    Dig the article, thanks.

    I love the look of a nicely sculpted seat, but agree that you have to be very mindful of balancing aesthetics and comfort. Also agree that a slightly shorter chair is way more comfortable (and at 5’10” I think I’m pretty solidly in the middle of the bell curve on height).

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  4. Tom Buhl says:

    Great timing. I’m working on a dining chair prototype inspired by photo from the Esherick museum (?). I loved the look (sort of early Danish modern). When doing my sketches to dimensions I felt appropriate, mine looked too tall and skinny (depth-wise). The Esherick chairs were at a dining table but sure look more like lounging or casual reading chairs to my eye. Loved the chairs, but not confident of the appropriateness as dining chairs. So I’m making a prototype and will evaluate. Your thoughts will be most helpful to keep various factors in mind. Thanks, Chris.

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  5. B Lansford says:

    Alas, I have an 18×20 seat for an attempted Welsh stick chair cued for assembly this weekend. Perhaps lowering the height more may increase comfort? Thoughts? Great post. Thanks for the write up.

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  6. B Lansford says:

    Alas, I planned to assemble an American/Welsh stick chair with 18×20 seat this weekend. Suppose I could could lower the seat? Thoughts? Always good info. Nice write up.

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  7. Pascal Teste says:

    Thanks for sharing all of this valuable information, it will be very helpful when I will build my first stick chair. I was wondering if you take into consideration the leg angles (splay) ahead of time to accommodate for the seat tilt which you establish after the chair is assembled? Maybe I’m too technical here and the change in splay is negligible?

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  8. Very good article. Very helpful. I’m much more used to casework, where my eyes alone can tell me wether the proportions are right. A chest of drawers doesn’t have to provide comfort the way a chair must.

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    • Kevin Adams says:

      Some unnamed chairmakers can choose to start at 18” seat height and then end up at 17” when they mess up cutting their legs. I mean, just thinking about some of my friends where this may have happened.

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