When I set out to design a new chair, I begin with historical examples. Photos are helpful, of course. But I prefer to lean on chairs I’ve studied in person.
When Lucy and I visited Ireland in 2019, our itinerary was built around museums, people and places that had collections of old Irish chairs. Luckily, all of Ireland is beautiful, so there were always lots of other things to see once I got my Recommended Daily Allowance of old furniture.
After we returned to the States, I spent 2020 building a few more Irish Gibson chairs after studying about 10 examples on the island. During the trip I became enamored with the boxy Irish armchairs. Photos don’t do them justice. This year I decided to explore the boxy armchair form to figure out if it was an appropriate chair for beginners.
The chair shown here is not a copy, but is what I call a “plausible” piece. It’s not designed to fool anyone that it’s an antique. But it would look OK on the movie set of “The Commitments 2: Eurovision Leprechauns.”
The seat is made from a gnarly piece of scrap soft maple, which is similar to European sycamore. The rest of the parts were split out from oak I had sitting around the shop. All the parts were shaved with spokeshaves and planes. No sanding. Heavy toolmarks and tear-out were left as-is.
The finish is what I jokingly call the Far East Wales finish (read about it here). It is not designed to fool anyone that it is an antique finish, but it allows this new chair to fit into a room filled with antiques.
About 10 minutes after finishing the chair, I knew what had to change for the next generation.
This chair’s backrest tilts 10°, which is pretty typical on old chairs. It’s fairly comfortable with a pillow, but I prefer a tilt of 20° (or more) for the backs of my stick chairs. The entasis of the sticks didn’t thrill me. I tapered them too dramatically to fit into the arms. Also, I decided I wanted to see what the chair looked like with octagonal legs.
I started building the next chair before the black wax was completely dry on this chair.
— Christopher Schwarz
14 thoughts on “Irish Chair No. 1: Serviceable, Like Colin Farrell’s Accent”
You’re pretty tall if I recall. Do you feel the chair is too low for you? Could you lengthen the legs and not worry about to much stress on the legs.
These chairs are supposed to be low (for a variety of reasons). This one is 14-1/2″.
But you can easily make it 18″ tall without any risks. These legs are a full 2″ in diameter with 1-1/2″ diameter tenons.
I would be more concerned about stress on my backside after sitting for any while on that flat hard board. It looks to me like it was designed for Puritans to discourage idleness!
The majority of vernacular chairs I’ve encountered have no saddling. What does this mean? Are we too soft?
I think it’s good to remember that many of these chairs would be covered with blankets, a sheepskin or a cushion.
I have several flat-seated chairs in my house and use them with and without sheepskins, which is my favorite thing you can buy at IKEA).
That is a nice, stout, very serviceable sitting chair. I wish you and your merry band were also into rocking chairs. Rockers are also serviceable for sitting, but even more so for both sitting and thinking.
Uh-oh. The r word.
Man, that looks like a mid-century mod! Kinda ‘Eames meets the Jetsons’.
Would you please share the Recommended Daily Allowance of old furniture. Is it based on age and physical factors, or on psychological ones, or might it take into account an individual’s built up tolerances as in alcohol consumption or other controlled substances? Does being around ‘old’ furniture, or copies of the such, have any influence? Will exceeding the recommendation factor into life expectancy? Or should I not be concerned?
I wait with bated breath for the next iteration. My wife is dismayed by my love for octagonal legs…
I may attempt an Irish chair when the book comes out. That is the first one that just jumps off the page at me.
Looks like the simplest intro to Windsoring. Start with a stick bench. Flip. Stick top. Can’t wait to mess it up.
Looks better than nice
Such a simple form, but yet very researched. I like that’s it’s low, it must be comfortable for the lower back. Do the arms move at all having only two attachement points?
The arms are solid. They are 1-1/4″ in diameter with 1″ tenons. Originals I inspected stayed together for 200 years, so I figured it was OK to try it.
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