After making Welsh stick chairs for almost 17 years, I am accustomed to strong reactions to the form.
“I hate to tell you this,” said one recent visitor. “But I think Welsh stick chairs are butt ugly.”
Asked another: “You sell these chairs? How much money for a ‘regular’ chair? You know, a ‘normal’ one.”
Or the always fun: “Really? I mean, really?”
These comments don’t hurt my feeling. In fact, I like the fact that the chair’s design is polarizing. I’ve never enjoyed making least-common denominator anything. Chris Williams, the author of “Good Work: The Chairmaking Life of John Brown,” seems to feel the same way. He wrote:
“They are all different – and a smidgen off being ugly to some.”
What keeps me going on these chairs is a short encounter about four years ago. I was getting set up in our storefront in Covington, Ky., and had just assembled a pair of Welsh stick chairs for a customer. Still in the white, they looked like albino porcupines with their pale wood and untrimmed wedges jutting out every which way.
To get them out of the way, I stuck the twin chairs on top of one of the workbenches by the storefront window and turned my attention to something else at my bench.
A few minutes later, I heard tires screech to a stop outside the store. I looked up and a car had jerked to a stop in front of the window. After about 30 seconds, a young woman got out of the car – still blocking the entire street – and she scurried to the store’s entrance. I thought she might have a medical emergency, and I met her at the door.
“What,” she asked, “are those chairs?”
I told her: Welsh stick chairs. She orbited the chairs a few times and asked to touch the faceted legs and stretchers. Meanwhile I watched her abandoned car from the corner of my eye, the driver’s side door still hanging open.
“I saw them and had to stop,” she said. “I want to buy one.”
I explained that these two were bound for the West Coast but that I could build her another. I gave her my contact information and she reluctantly left, looking at the chairs the way my wife looked at our kids when she left them at day care.
I never heard back from the woman, but that’s OK. It is still a good moment when your furniture can stop traffic.
— Christopher Schwarz
20 thoughts on “A Smidgen Off Being Ugly”
I was not a fan of this form until I saw one in person. It was Chris’ at Fine Woodworking Live last year. Then I missed about half of Chris’ presentation because I couldn’t stop staring at the chair. I’m definitely a convert.
Polarizing aesthetic is a prerequisite for cult and classic status.
I like the overall look and the wood used. However, the edges look too sharp, like they were made by machine. Radius all the edges and it would be better. IMHO.
And yet the “edginess” of this is what gets me over similarly constructed traditional Windsors, which have generally made me feel “meh.”
I remember many years ago when CS first posted a pair of stick chairs. It very much stopped me in my tracks and made me rethink my bias against this way of making chairs.
What a great story but what a shame she didn’t reconnect with you later to follow through. It also demonstrates the power of a shop window however unintentional in this instance. I loved reading John Brown’s monthly contribution to the magazine years ago. The section I always went to first.
I understand getting bizarre looks and negative comments. I can’t stand coffee and pizza. I’ve had commitment hearings begun far too often.
I have to say they were a bit strange to me at first. I grew up in a house with old windsor or bow back chairs that had the low comb back. So these kind of reminded of my luggage, where you pull the handle and it telescopes out so you can roll it easier. These look like our old chairs if you pulled the comb back out. But the more i see these the more i like them. But in the neighborhood I grew up in, you knew better than getting out of your car with it running, especially leaving the door open. Good work!
I hope none of those youtube social influencer “woodworkers” decide to make this chair.
If that happens… I’m moving on to something else.
Not that my opinion matters, but I love ’em. They appear to be prancing about – in motion – like a fine bred animal about to bounce with excitement. They scream Happy Day!
The chairs are way too bold to not be polarizing.
I think of you like the Ian MacKaye of the woodworking world. Able to blaze trails in multiple styles. For him, Minor Threat first then Fugazi – two totally different animals – Plus his Dischord business… For you, there’s workbench chic (that’s not a slight) Campaign Furniture, Stick Chairs and the businesses surrounding LAP and Crucible. And with similar ethics. You guys should buy each other lunch sometime. That would be an incredible conversation.
I’ll build one of these chairs some day. The design is a unusual, but it has classic elements as well. Which is what I like; it’s different, not commonplace. And the color of your example is just about perfect to me.
Love it! For years my daily driver was a very nice 1930 Model A Ford Five-Window Coupe. One summer day I heard a little boy as I passed, tugging at his mother’s arm and shouting, “Mom, Mom, look at that ugly car!” I laughed for the next ten blocks. For some “different” is “ugly”. In our culture marketing relies on changing styles as people regularly send their furniture and possessions to the land fills (where most of it should have gone when it was new) or to the thrift store where it will cycle numerous times until it is becomes dumpster food. Build what you like and will use for a lifetime, and don’t worry about its future in this fickle world.
well I Finely started my first welsh stick chair . yesterday I did a glue up of 2 pieces of figured maple for the seat. wish me luck cause I am not using a plan just looking at pics, cause that is the way I build all my projects. I will be posting the build on my FB page THE COUNTRY WOODWRIGHT stop in and check on the progress.
Uh, just remember to not turn the picture upside down at any time. 🙂 Would love to see the finished product when complete!
Yes, all angly and gangly. They remind me of Abraham Lincoln. Personality galore. I think maybe they’re in the uncanny valley of ugly, where beauty increases dramatically before it falls off a cliff.
When i see and make a stick chair two things come to mind, Beauty and simplicity “Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement”
Looking at them and sitting in them are 2 completely different experiences. I like the aesthetics of other chairs more. But for wooden chairs, these are the most comfortable I have ever sat in.
I generally like the Welsh stick style. I’m not sure I understand their characterization as bold or polarizing… but I do like them.
Put me firmly in the love them camp ever since I saw the black versions you made some time ago.
It wouldn’t be good if we all had the same taste in everything.
I would like to think that the ones she saw were the ones bound for Colorado. The form is truly arresting.
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