The Orkney Chair at the V&A Museum


One of the many vernacular furniture forms I’m fascinated with is the Orkney chair, which combines joined pieces of wood (sometimes driftwood) plus woven straw for the back.

The chair saw great commercial success starting in the late 19th century when David Kirkness began making them in large numbers in his workshop in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. Kirkness’s shop made upward of 14,000 chairs in his lifetime, according to the V&A exhibit.

The chairs are still made today commercially by such makers as Robert H. Towers, SCAPA Crafts and Fraser Anderson. And there is a robust market for them among antique dealers.


I like them, particularly the hooded version, because they combine joinery with lipwork, where complete chairs would be made of woven straw.

The V&A’s furniture exhibit currently has three of Kirkness’s chairs on display and they are delightful. As always, it’s much different seeing an object in person than on a flat screen.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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4 Responses to The Orkney Chair at the V&A Museum

  1. Michael Carroll says:

    THe hood makes sense as it would keep the user warm as heat from open fires would be captured as well as protecting from drafts.


  2. Walther says:

    These are beautiful chairs. Question: In old movies with beach scenes you sometimes see a hooded lounge chair with a fold back canopy top to facilitate getting in and out of the chair. Have you ever seen them and/or have you any idea where I could get a set of plans? I follow as much of your work as is possible; you are a true craftsman. Thank you for all you do.


  3. caertaylor says:

    I’ve been quite taken with these chairs since I first discovered them. Thank you for giving them a feature. I wonder where you could learn that straw work?


  4. Steve C says:

    Sorry, I don’t see the attraction.


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